Hu­man rights pri­or­i­ties

The Financial Daily - - NATIONAL -

OI.A. Rehman

n Mon­day, when the nations of the world cel­e­brate the 70th an­niver­sary of the sign­ing of the Uni­ver­sal Dec­la­ra­tion of Hu­man Rights, the Pak­istan gov­ern­ment too will be ex­pected to not only count what has been done to guar­an­tee the peo­ple's hu­man rights, but also to re­flect on what re­mains to be done.

The first task for the state, for ob­vi­ous rea­sons, is to im­prove its ca­pac­ity to pro­tect the rights of all cit­i­zens to life, lib­erty and se­cu­rity, es­pe­cially of the so­cially and eco­nom­i­cally weaker sec­tions of so­ci­ety. Quite high still is the num­ber of peo­ple who lose their lives due to pre­ventable causes, such as lack of the min­i­mum nec­es­sary health cover, road ac­ci­dents, killing of women for mens' hon­our, so-called po­lice en­coun­ters and tar­get­ing of re­li­gious/ eth­nic mi­nor­ity com­mu­ni­ties and sects.

Even the high rates of in­fant and ma­ter­nal mor­tal­ity seem to have been dropped from the list of na­tional con­cerns. The right to dig­nity of per­son is de­nied to a pre­pon­der­ant ma­jor­ity with near-to­tal im­punity for its vi­o­la­tors. The labour unions and stu­dents and civil so­ci­ety or­gan­i­sa­tions (CSOs) are com­plain­ing of ex­tra­or­di­nary re­stric­tions on their right to free­dom of as­so­ci­a­tion. The Exit Control List is be­ing bla­tantly abused to deny the right to go abroad. En­forced dis­ap­pear­ances amount to the de­nial of all the three ba­sic rights - life, lib­erty and se­cu­rity. And women and mi­nori­ties have been kept wait­ing for years for a fair dis- pen­sa­tion.

Per­haps the most se­ri­ous hu­man rights is­sue to­day con­cerns the me­dia's free­dom of ex­pres­sion.

The list of hu­man rights is­sues that de­mand at­ten­tion on a pri­or­ity ba­sis is quite long. We should like to re­strict this dis­cus­sion to three groups of cit­i­zens whose sup­port the state needs for the de­fence and pro­mo­tion of hu­man rights and who are re­ceiv­ing a raw deal - CSOs, hu­man rights de­fend­ers and the me­dia com­mu­nity.

The tra­vails of CSOs have been in the pub­lic de­bate for years. The au­thor­i­ties have paid lit­tle heed to protests and warn­ings against the ban­ish­ment of in­ter­na­tional NGOs, and a con­certed drive is on to stran­gu­late na­tional CSOs, in ut­ter vi­o­la­tion of the law and con­sti­tu­tional rights. One shud­ders to think of the harm this my­opic pol­icy is go­ing to cause.

The whole world is aware of the role of hu­man rights de­fend­ers in pro­mot­ing re­spect for hu­man rights in any coun­try. Pak­istan es­pe­cially needs good hu­man rights de­fend­ers to help it meet its obli­ga­tions to its cit­i­zens.

A bare read­ing of the UN dec­la­ra­tion on hu­man rights de­fend­ers should en­able the Pak­istan au­thor­i­ties to re­alise that "ev­ery­one has the right, in­di­vid­u­ally and in as­so­ci­a­tion with oth­ers, to pro­mote and to strive for the pro­tec­tion and re­al­i­sa­tion of hu­man rights and fun­da­men­tal free­doms at the na­tional and in­ter­na­tional lev­els." The state must guar­an­tee hu­man rights de­fend­ers their right to life, free­dom of assem­bly, free­dom of as­so­ci­a­tion, free­dom of ex­pres­sion, opin­ion and protest, free­dom to ac­cess in­for­ma­tion and to com­mu­ni­cate with in­ter­na­tional bod­ies, the right to re­ceive funds and the right to an ef­fec­tive rem­edy.

It is es­sen­tial to ac­cept as a hu­man rights de­fender ev­ery­one who re­acts to hu­man rights vi­o­la­tions, re­ports these to the au­thor­i­ties as a jour­nal­ist or as an ac­tive cit­i­zen and strives for re­dress.

Per­haps the most se­ri­ous hu­man rights is­sue to­day that de­serves to be at the top of the gov­ern­ment's agenda is the de­cline in the me­dia's free­dom of ex­pres­sion and the wors­en­ing of its eco­nomic prospects.

There was an up­surge of hope in the hearts of many a me­dia per­son when Prime Minister Im­ran Khan squarely de­nounced cen­sor­ship as a weapon used by weak regimes that wished to hide some­thing while his gov­ern­ment be­lieved in com­plete trans­parency and had noth­ing to con­ceal. It seems he was speak­ing about some other coun­try or he had not been told of the con­cerns the me­dia com­mu­nity has been ex­press­ing for weeks on end.

These con­cerns are about the eco­nomic cri­sis in both elec­tronic and print me­dia caused by dis­crim­i­na­tory poli­cies. As a re­sult, a large num­ber of jour­nal­ists from both elec­tronic and print me­dia have been ren­dered job­less. There are com­plaints of cen­sor­ship of a kind never ex­pe­ri­enced be­fore, and per­cep­tive writ­ers are re­fer­ring to a bleak fu­ture for the me­dia. If me­dia per­sons are not re­li­able wit­nesses in their own cause, their or­deal can be judged from some of the re­cent re­ports and com­ments on their con­di­tion.

In Septem­ber last, the Com­mit­tee to Pro­tect Jour­nal­ists (CJP), an in­ter­na­tional watch­dog of sound stand­ing, is­sued a re­port ex­press­ing con­cern over the de­cline in press free­dom in Pak­istan.

In the same month, the rec­om­men­da­tions made to Pak­istan af­ter the Uni­ver­sal Pe­ri­odic Re­view or­gan­ised by the UN Hu­man Rights Coun­cil in­cluded a call to pro­tect in­de­pen­dent jour­nal­ists. Last month, Jus­tice Faez Isa of the Supreme Court was so in­censed at of­fi­cial control and man­age­ment of the elec­tronic me­dia that he is re­ported to have ob­served: "You want to make the chan­nels bow down, so that they say what you want them to say. Is this Pak­istan? Did we gain in­de­pen­dence for this?"

Pak­istan is still in the list of coun­tries where the rate of jour­nal­ists get­ting killed is quite high. But as a re­cent re­port by Free­dom Net­work showed, the state has demon­strated lit­tle in­ter­est in ap­pre­hend­ing the cul­prits or in pros­e­cut­ing the few that get caught.

The other day the Coun­cil of Pak­istan News­pa­per Edi­tors ex­pressed its deep con­cern over the con­di­tion of the free­dom of the press in the coun­try and said the press was liv­ing in a state of ex­treme suf­fo­ca­tion and un­nec­es­sary re­stric­tions.

And the en­tire me­dia is se­ri­ously ap­pre­hen­sive of what the pro­posed reg­u­la­tory law will hold for it, since the mo­ment vol­un­tary reg­is­tra­tion of a pro­fes­sional group is re­placed with reg­u­la­tion, the cur­tail­ment of free­dom be­gins.

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