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An Assessment of Pakistan’s Human Rights Record

Coat of Arms of Government of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan
Govt. of Pakistan

Ever since Pakistan became a sovereign state, the issue of human rights has been one of grave importance. The partition of India in the second half of 1947 saw one of the worst massacre, as thousands of individuals were slaughtered, made homeless, raped and abused in the process of migrating to the homeland of their choice. Governments on both sides of the newly drawn borders could not do much to prevent this; they were silent spectators to one of history’s most bloody moments.

Universal Declaration of Human Rights

In 1948, when the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was presented in the United Nations General Assembly; Pakistan was among the 48 states that voted for the adoption of the Declaration. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights passed that year with 48 votes in favor, no votes against it and 8 abstentions. The declaration became an integral part of Pakistan’s constitutions, all three of them, and still is an integral part of the fundamental rights enshrined in, and guaranteed and safeguarded by the current constitution.

Pakistan, however has seen much ups and downs in its political arena. The Constitution, when first suspended by the first coup d’état, saw unlawful arrests, exiling of influential political figures, and unreasonable restrictions being imposed upon the citizens, as the Martial Law administrator General Ayub Khan said that he believed in “Democracy with Discipline” (there wasn’t any democracy, just the innocent civilians being disciplined along military lines). During the era of Gen. Yahya Khan, when East Pakistan, now Bangladesh was fighting for its independence and dismemberment of Pakistan, the Pakistan Army committed severe human rights violations, which may be classified as atrocities and war crimes. The army massacred many professors scientists and doctors in the East, and was accused of rape and torturing prisoners to death.

Public  flogging in Pakistan during the Zia regime
Public flogging in Pakistan during the Zia regime – Human Rights Violation?

After Prime Minister Bhutto was ousted from office in another coup d’état, and General Zia-ul-Haq took over; the country saw its worst nightmare. The Constitution was ridiculously amended and new laws were promulgated in the process of ‘Islamization’. These new laws, aimed at legitimizing Zia regime, provided the administration far-reaching powers to suppress political activities. Public floggings became a common sight, political parties, trade unions, student unions, all were banned; those who dared to question Zia’s legitimacy or actions were tortured to death. The Hudood ordinances, provided for the punishments of victims of rape, and took away the rights of inheritance of women.

After Zia’s era, the Constitution was abrogated twice by Gen Musharraf, however this did not accompany large-scale human rights violation. Musharraf’s attempts to control the judiciary backfired, and the protests eventually lead to Musharraf leaving the country, and the presidency. The situation has improved greatly since. General elections were held in Pakistan in 2008, that saw the coming of a democratic government, which introduced the Constitution 18th Amendment act 2010, which reversed many of Zia-ul-Haq’s changes, and introduced articles, to safeguard the right of education and grant the right to a fair trial.

Islamabad Police beating up a protester
Police Brutality – quite common in Pakistan

Judiciary and the Election Commission in Pakistan are now fiercely independent; this means that the right to a fair trial and right to participate in the country’s government for all Pakistanis are now secure. Much has still to be done; prisoners are still being tortured in jails, child molestation is still taking place in underdeveloped urban areas of Pakistan, according to UNICEF reports.

Sindh Police beating a protester in Karachi
More Police Brutality – you just cannot stand up against injustice

Pakistan, although has a democratic government, there are still incidents of human rights violation by the government. The Pakistani constitution, for example, guarantees the right to freedom of expression, subject to “reasonable restrictions imposed by law in order to protect the glory of Islam…”. This provision is being used as a tool to impose censorship on media and access to Internet. YouTube, the world’s most popular video sharing platform is not in Pakistan, just because a few videos insult Islam. This action of censorship, in my humble opinion, is violation of an individual’s freedom of speech, expression, choice and right to information as granted by the universal declaration of human rights and the constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan and law.

The government has also failed to protect the right of life of its citizens; many people fall victims to target killing and terrorism each day. There have been instances of the law-enforcement agencies doing just that: in June 2011 the paramilitary forces shot dead an individual in a public park accused of armed robbery.

Protesting against Human Rights Violation in Pakistan
The poster says it all – protesting against Human Rights Violation in Pakistan

The situation of human rights abuse is improving in Pakistan, ever since the democratic forces have come to run the country. Pakistan, however has still a long way to go, before it transforms itself from a security state to a welfare state, which safeguards all the rights of its citizens without any discrimination of any kind whatsoever.

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In the name of love

In-the-name-of-LoveLove has many different meanings in many different contexts. But does this broad term encompass vandalism, robbery, arson, murder, terrorism? Many would disagree; many did just all this in the name of love. Someone made a blasphemous video insulting Prophet Muhammad (P.B.U.H.); this ignited the sentiments of the Muslims and resulted in attacks on the US and European Embassies around the Muslim world, which included the murder of the US ambassador to Libya.

Wednesday 19th September 2012: the federal government of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan announced Friday 21st September 2012 as Ishq-e-Rasool (S.A.W.W.) Day, a public holiday to enable the people to show their love for Prophet Muhammad (P.B.U.H.). The move might not had been entirely religiously motivated; the Islamic fundamentalist political parties in the opposition had issued a call for strike as a protest against the said video.

It was announced by the Interior Ministry that cellular services would be suspended throughout the nation on Friday 21st October 2012, to prevent any undesirable incident. Cellular blackouts are now a common feature under Abdul Rehman Malik’s ministry.

Thursday 20th September 2012: In Islamabad, the federal capital of the Islamic Republic, protesters marching towards the US embassy in the Red Zone’s Diplomatic Enclave scuffled with the police; this evolved into skirmishes between the protesters and the security forces. In hours this escalated into a battle, and the Pakistan Army was called in. Protests also erupted in other cities of Pakistan as well other Muslim countries around the world.

Friday 21st September 2012, the Ishq-e-Rasool (S.A.W.W.) Day: Protests in all major cities began after the Friday prayers; before that an uneasy calm prevailed. The demonstrators and the criminals alike took to the streets and vandalized public and private property: petrol pumps, banks, cinemas, restaurants, shops, and many public places were vandalized, robbed, burnt and many people lost their lives. At many places the protesters and the law enforcement agencies were involved in street gun battles, in which many were injured and some lost their lives. At the end of the day, 189 suspects found themselves in police custody, and 27 were dead.

All in the name of love; love for the person who never cursed even those who tortured and persecuted him, love for the person who was sent as a blessing to humanity, love for the Prophet of the religion which means peace.

Protesting about something which one may consider offensive is one’s right, but protesting in such a way, is that even acceptable? Not at all, as I believe; this believe is shared by all I know. That day, Facebook statuses denouncing such acts flooded every Pakistani’s news feeds. Every sane and literate person hated what was going on outside in the streets.

But why did all this happen? The answer lies in the mentality of the masses, majority of which are illiterate. Literacy rate has been very low here in Pakistan, even when the definition of a literate person is “one who can read and write their own name”, funny, isn’t it? Their mentality has been altered; they have been brainwashed, hatred has been seeded in their minds. What Pakistan needs at this moment is a strong, well-funded educational infrastructure. For only educated and sane people seem to realize that love isn’t what many showed what it meant to them that day.