New threats to rights

The Pak Banker - - 4editorial - I.A Rehman

TO­DAY all bet­ter-gov­erned na­tions of the world are likely to ex­am­ine ways and means of im­prov­ing their hu­man rights stan­dards. In Pak­istan, on the other hand, a per­sis­tent de­cline in re­spect for hu­man rights will be a ma­jor cause for con­cern.

Some peo­ple, es­pe­cially those in author­ity, may find it hard to be­lieve that hu­man rights are un­der in­creased threat. They could re­call the steps re­cently taken to pro­mote the hu­man rights of Pak­istani cit­i­zens. Let us first see what ben­e­fits govern­ment ini­tia­tives have of­fered to or­di­nary cit­i­zens.The present govern­ment earned con­sid­er­able good­will by end­ing the pol­icy of in­dif­fer­ence to­wards in­ter­na­tional hu­man rights in­stru­ments. By the end of 2009, it had rat­i­fied both the covenants of 1966 (the Covenant on Eco­nomic, So­cial and Cul­tural Rights and the Covenant on Civil and Po­lit­i­cal Rights) and the Con­ven­tion against Tor­ture. It had also signed the Con­ven­tion on the Rights of the Dis­abled Per­sons. Since the con­ven­tions against racial dis­crim­i­na­tion (CERD) and dis­crim­i­na­tion against women (CEDAW) and on the rights of chil­dren (CRC) had been rat­i­fied ear­lier, Pak­istan could claim to have rat­i­fied the core hu­man rights in­stru­ments.

How­ever, the govern­ment has shown lit­tle in­ter­est in ful­fill­ing the re­spon­si­bil­i­ties as­sumed by be­com­ing a party to the hu­man rights treaties. Peo­ple still do not have the right to work, women do not have the right to equal wage and so­cial se­cu­rity is in­ad­e­quate and limited to a small part of the pop­u­la­tion. Re­spect for civil and po­lit­i­cal rights has de­clined and tor­ture re­mains as en­demic as ever. One does not know the sta­tus of the re­port un­der the Covenant on Eco­nomic Rights that Pak­istan was to sub­mit by June 30 this year.

It might be said in the govern­ment's de­fence that hu­man rights are un­likely to get pri­or­ity in a state that is fight­ing for its sur­vival. Such my­opic ideas must be given up forth­with be­cause ef­fec­tive hu­man rights guar­an­tees will strengthen peo­ple's loy­alty to the state, pro­mote peace within so­ci­ety and strengthen the state's ca­pac­ity to meet chal­lenges to its in­tegrity.

No­tice may also be taken of the ad­di­tions made by the 18th Amend­ment to the fun­da­men­tal rights in­scribed in the con­sti­tu­tion. The recog­ni­tion of the right to fair trial, the right to know and the right to free pri­mary and sec­ondary ed­u­ca­tion can only be wel­comed but it is not clear how many sea­sons will pass be­fore these new en­ti­tle­ments can be en­joyed by all cit­i­zens. Con­sid­er­ing the govern­ment's poor record in en­sur­ing due im­ple­men­ta­tion of the law against sex­ual ha­rass­ment at the work­place or even in match­ing the achieve­ments of civil so­ci­ety or­gan­i­sa­tions, and the scan­dal sur­round­ing the lapse of the Do­mes­tic Vi­o­lence Bill, the space for op­ti­mism is min­i­mal.

In nor­mal cir­cum­stances one might have been con­tent with a plea for the cre­ation of a spe­cial cell for ex­pe­dit­ing im­ple­men­ta­tion of do­mes­tic and in­ter­na­tional hu­man rights in­stru­ments. But Pak­istan has not seen nor­mal­ity for a long time. At the moment, there is an ur­gent need to ad­dress the sit­u­a­tion caused by new forms of dero­ga­tion of hu­man rights.

First, the right to re­dress against hu­man rights abuse has suf­fered an un­par­don­able eclipse. Cases of in­vol­un­tary dis­ap­pear­ances are be­com­ing uglier and uglier. Some agen­cies that are reg­u­larly paid out of the tax­pay­ers' money have de­clared that they are an­swer­able nei­ther to the ex­ec­u­tive nor the ju­di­ciary. They claim to be above law.

In­deed, no law is be­lieved to be in the field to reg­u­late the work­ing of some of the state's most pow­er­ful func­tionar­ies. That the Supreme Court's no­tice-server can be de­nied en­try to an of­fice un­der state con­trol re­veals the ex­tent to which the right to re­dress has been ex­tin­guished.

No de­tailed state­ment is needed to ex­plain the im­por­tance of the scheme of re­dress in any sys­tem of law and hu­man rights. A state's ad­her­ence to hu­man rights is mea­sured not only by it for­mal recog­ni­tion of these rights but also, and more es­sen­tially, by the ef­fi­ciency and ef­fec­tive­ness of its re­dress mech­a­nisms. The peo­ple of Pak­istan have had a long ex­pe­ri­ence of re­dress mech­a­nism ever since the Bri­tish au­thors of the Crim­i­nal Pro­ce­dure Code in­serted Sec­tion 491 into it over a cen­tury ago. If the high­est court in the land can­not ques­tion some state func­tionar­ies in a hu­man rights case, then Pak­istan is with­out a re­dress sys­tem worth the name. A grave threat to peo­ple's rights is man­i­fest.

Se­condly, in the fight against ter­ror the prin­ci­ple of com­pen­sa­tion for wrong­ful de­nial of lib­erty has been for­got­ten. Only a few years ago, the high courts, es­pe­cially the Sindh High Court, had started or­der­ing pay­ment of com­pen­sa­tion for il­le­gal de­ten­tion. The prac­tice has ap­par­ently been sus­pended/ dis­con­tin­ued.

Mean­while, big pow­ers (such as the US and Bri­tain) are com­ing round to the idea of com­pen­sat­ing and re­ha­bil­i­tat­ing those de­tained on sus­pi­cion of be­ing ter­ror­ists or handed over to third par­ties.

Not so in Pak­istan. Take the case of Ka­mal Shah of Dir. Ka­mal Shah says he was picked up from his vil­lage and trans­ported to Ba­gram air base in Afghanistan . Af­ter three years of in­ter­ro­ga­tion, he was found in­no­cent (or picked up by mis­take) but he had to suf­fer cap­tiv­ity for an­other two years. On repa­tri­a­tion to Pak­istan, he was kept in a Peshawar jail for some time be­fore he was re­leased. Mean­while, one of his two wives de­serted him and his old fa­ther ran up debts amount­ing to Rs60,000 to Rs70,000 on at­tempts to trace him. Re­sult: Ka­mal Shah can­not go back home till the debt is re­paid.

It is pos­si­ble Ka­mal Shah's case is not as clear-cut as he says but some­body in author­ity has the duty to ver­ify his claim and se­cure him due com­pen­sa­tion. There are many oth­ers who have suf­fered unau­tho­rised de­ten­tion but they do not open their mouths for fear of reprisal/vengeance by their erst­while tor­men­tors. Thirdly, while it is pos­si­ble to get away with in­sti­ga­tion to murder (an­nounce­ment of re­ward for killing Gen Mushar­raf and Aa­sia Bibi), Sherry Rehman's pro­posal for a re­view of the Pe­nal Code's chap­ter on 'Of­fences re­lated to re­li­gion' can­not be dis­cussed dis­pas­sion­ately.

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