Pakistan: 2016 saw highest number of disappearances in six years, HRCP report finds

HRCP’s Asma Jahangir, flanked by Salima Hashmi, speaks at the report launch on Wednesday. — White Star
HRCP’s Asma Jahangir, flanked by Salima Hashmi, speaks at the report launch on Wednesday. — White Star

ISLAMABAD: The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) spokesperson, Asma Jahangir, on Wednesday said courts that are responsible for protecting human rights have been infringing on the rights of the people.

“People speak highly about the military courts and claim they provide timely justice but they decided 274 cases during two years. On the other hand, civil court decides 60 to 70 cases in two months,” she said at the launch of HRCP’s annual report, the State of Human Rights in 2016.

Ms Jahangir also argued that the death penalty could not reduce crime, adding that there has been rise in sexual harassment, disappearances and targeted incidents against Ahmadis.

She noted some positive moves as well, such as the Hindu Marriage Law in Sindh, but said it should be extended across the country.

Human rights watchdog releases annual report

Problems for liberal individuals have also increased, Ms Jahangir said. “They are being picked up after being declared security risks,” she said.

She added that the minimum wage is not implemented in the government or private sectors, the level of education among women is still low and fewer women are registered voters compared to men.

She said the HRCP is also concerned that refugees were being forced to return while others were not receiving support. NGO representatives cannot go to south Punjab, the Federal Administered Tribal Areas and other parts of the country without no objection certificates.

When asked about tensions with neighbouring countries such as Afghanistan, Iran and Indian and their impact on human rights, she said human rights are affected during war-like situations, which is why there should be peace at the borders.

When asked about the bloggers arrested for allegedly blaspheming on social media, the spokesperson said the report on them cannot be made public without their permission.

“However, what the media and a judge did on the issue of blasphemy on social media is extremely sad. [The death of Mashal Khan], who was killed in a university in KP, was tragic. It is unfortunate that people have started killing and robbing in the name of religion,” she said.

When asked a campaign recently launched by the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority that involves SMS messages against blasphemy on social media, Ms Jahangir said she has never seen blasphemous material on social media but some elements that have their own interests not only see it but also react to it.

“There are 95pc Muslims in the country and the other 5pc non-Muslims have no interest in blasphemy. The PTA’s message is not understandable and I do not know why it feels every person is committing blasphemy,” she said.

Senator Farhatullah Babar, who attended the launch, told Dawn said that now people can be stopped for speaking in the name of national security.

State of Human Rights in 2016

The report found that human rights violations were observed in most sectors and institutions, and noted incidents of enforced disappearances and the exoneration of two convicts after their executions.

According to the HRCP, three million cases were pending in court in 2016, and violence against judges and lawyers heightened the sense of insecurity among members of the legal profession.

A total of 15 people – 10 Muslims and five non-Muslims – were booked for blasphemy, and two Muslims and two Christians were sentenced to death for blasphemy. Three human rights activists were killed, the report said.

Another 728 Pakistanis were added to the ‘missing persons’ list in 2016 – the highest number in at least six years – bringing the total to 1,219 according to the Inquiry Commission on Enforced Disappearances.

In Gilgit-Baltistan, 13 out of 23 murders registered in 2016 were incidents of honour killings. At least 187 women were murdered in the first 10 months of 2016 in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, 40 of them in honour-related violence. Punjab witnessed an increase in cases of rape, gang rape and abduction, while bank robberies, thefts of motorcycles and mobile phones rose suddenly in Karachi.

Another 728 Pakistanis were added to the ‘missing persons’ list in 2016 – the highest number in at least six years – bringing the total to 1,219 according to the Inquiry Commission on Enforced Disappearances.

Freedom of movement was also stunted in 2016, mainly due to poor law and order, militancy and counterinsurgency measures and natural disasters. It also remained dangerous for women, transgender people and some religious minority communities to travel.

The report said the killing of six journalists and a blogger, as well as the fallout from some news reports, escalated the environment of intimidation of the media and increased the level of self-censorship by the media.

Despite several legislative developments to strengthen the women protection system, the number of cases of violence against women did not decline significantly.

In addition, 44pc of children suffered from stunted growth, while the total number of sexual abuse cases – including abduction, missing children and child marriage stood at 4,139 in 2016. This is a 10pc increase from 2015, bringing the number of child abuse victims to 11 per day.

Around 48pc of schools in the country lack toilet facilities, boundary walls, electricity and drinking water, the report said. The federal government and the provincial governments of Punjab and Balochistan also cut their budgetary allocations for the sector despite claiming that education was a priority.

Pakistan is also losing 9pc of its GDP annually to damage from environmental degradation. Pakistan is ranked among 10 countries where most urban residents lack access to proper sanitation, and 80pc of Pakistanis are consuming contaminated or unsafe water. -DN

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