What about HR abuses?

By Zubeida Mustafa
Source: Dawn

THIS paper reported last Saturday that during the in camera briefing to legislators, the DG ISI offered to resign if parliament so wished. He should simply have submitted his resignation when he reportedly admitted that an intelligence failure had taken place. Prima facie, this was inefficiency at its worst.

But what about wilful human rights violations allegedly carried out by intelligence agencies in Balochistan? The high number of enforced disappearances and the discovery of bodies of political activists — brutally murdered and with marks of torture — raise many questions. Some of them have been asked by the Supreme Court as well but remain unanswered. Shouldn’t someone be held accountable for that? Or do these violations mean little as they affect the Baloch who have been treated with contempt anyway?

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, which has worked since 1987 to create public awareness about human rights, has recently published its 10th report titled The State of Human Rights in 2010. It testifies to the utter failure of the state to protect the rights of its citizens. These have been guaranteed by the constitution — the 18th Amendment adopted last year has added a few more rights to the existing list — while a number of international conventions ratified by the government lately have further enhanced the number of rights that governments must protect.

This report must be made compulsory reading for all state functionaries including the armed forces. It is regrettable that notwithstanding all the rights listed on paper Pakistan is a country whose citizens are the most devoid of basic rights that are the hallmark of civilised societies. The people of Pakistan have learnt to lead a dehumanised existence irrespective of who rules them — be it a military dictator or a civilian government. Even a cursory look at the HRCP’s report gives one a fairly good idea of the wide range of human rights abuses in the country.

The HRCP report points out that political participation is weak in Pakistan. I believe that is one reason why human rights are trampled over so easily. The fact is that thriving and effectively functioning democratic structures are the surest safeguard against human rights violations. But, as the report documents comprehensively, our democracy suffers from far too many weaknesses.

First of all, members of parliament have failed to perform effectively their role of lawmakers and watchdogs of public interest. What more can one expect of them when barely 45 per cent of them attend the proceedings of the National Assembly? According to one account, 87 members had not uttered a word by way of participation in the first three years of the Assembly’s term.

There is no denying that an authoritarian regime that exercises arbitrary power without any checks and balances will inevitably misuse its powers and not show any respect for the rights of citizens. But when democracies also fail to operate within the framework of the law and the constitution, how can this aberration be explained?

The fact is that the trappings of democracy do not make a government truly democratic in spirit and style. Having been denied an uninterrupted experience of democratic rule and major leaders of each and every political party without exception having supped at the table of military dictators, it is not surprising that military rulers find ready acceptance. Steeped in an autocratic political culture that our leaders imbibed from their military patrons, they are not capable of showing any respect for the rule of law or human rights. Even their foreign-educated offspring relapse into their autocratic mindset on their return.

The other guarantors of human rights could be the people themselves. But not ours. Used to living for long in a state of disempowerment and ‘ineducation’, the people have still to develop a nuanced understanding of their rights and emerge from their state of helplessness to assert themselves and demand what they are entitled to. The absence of a political culture based on the rule of law has not created the enabling environment for the implementation of human rights.

The fact is that respect for human rights calls for a state of mind and a way of life imbibed by the people over a long period of time in a democratic dispensation. With the military pulling the strings for 64 years — be it from behind the scenes or after planting itself in the front — democracy has never had the chance to strike roots. In that case, how can you expect the people to be the defenders of their rights?

Worse still, having being denied education, the people have reconciled themselves to their oppression. Thomas Jefferson, the American president, observed, “If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, it expects what never was and never will be.” Education is known to have a direct correlation to democracy. Prof Edward Glaeser from Harvard University attributes this to the skills and motivation provided by education to a dispersed population to work collaboratively to “defeat dictatorial coups and executive aggrandisement”.

Tasneem Siddiqi, who presided over the afternoon session of a recent conference on ‘history and the people’, put it succinctly. In Pakistan, the problems of the people are not identified and analysed. There is therefore a disconnect between the masses and the intellectuals, who do not practice activism and advocacy. How will human rights be protected?

12 thoughts on “What about HR abuses?

  1. The fact remain Pakistan still a police State and police knows only one word,”abuse,” and abuse of all kind. In my 32 years of journalism i have reported hundreds of such cases and have not seen any change either in the military or democratic rule. But situation has worsened particularly in Balochistan. No one is questioning recovery of the bodies of the missing person. Not a single person has been punished for keeping a person under wrongful confinment. Recent disclosure that over 350 person still missing, bodies of 157 found is simply shocking but i doubt anyone will be accountable. All those police officers who were allegedly involved in the murder of Mir Murtaza Bhutto remain in office, get promotion during all this period. Police officers who were allegedly involved in the crime against women in the 90s retd as “good officers.” despite Gen(retd) Shafiq’s report against them. There is no right for human in this part of the world…. some of you may find in law books.

  2. Respected Zubeida Mustafa Sahiba,

    Thank you for highlighting the Human Rights issue which was completely overlooked in the briefing exercise. Without human rights being respected there can be no empowerment of the people here or anywhere else.

    I agree with Mazhar Abbas Sahib, the situation has worsened in Balochistan and even Baloch elsewhere are under threat. Some two weeks back 9 male members of a Sherani Marri family who were shifting from Hub to Karachi were whisked away and have not been heard of since.

    Without respect of human rights there can be no empowerment of the people and without empowerment of the people the military and establishment cannot be disempowered.


  3. Mazhar, Balochistan is neglected by the mainstream media as well. I fear that like the case of Bangladesh, we’ll start speaking out when it’s too late

    1. Respected Zohra Yusuf Sahiba,

      I think that it already may be too late because the atrocities perpetrated have brought about a groundswell which has been absent in the past when it was limited to certain areas only but now it encompasses entire Balochistan.

      There certainly is apathy towards the human rights’ abuses there. As they say it is never too late to do the right thing.

  4. It’s a sorry tale. As pointed out, and a lot of ‘intellectuals’ also know it, that we have been ruled directly or indirectly by the military. So what now??? What should we do???

    Democracy itself needs around ten years to strengthen its roots before it starts improving the Human Rights conditions. Who can expect the present democratic leaders to think of these issues anyway?

    As far as the media is concerned, one must try to highlight some commercial benefits to make the people in this wildly and poorly growing industry to give this issue its due consideration.

    1. To wait for ‘Nau Man Tael’ before Radha can dance will be a life long wait and too late to do anything. Ten years is a long time.

  5. Reference your paper published in the Daily Dawn of 18 May, 2011. Zubeida, you say at the end of the paper that there is disconnect between the masses and the intellectual. Although I have not read HR Commission report on the state of human rights in 2010, yet I feel that let alone the human rights, human beings in Pakistan, whether intellectuals or masses are in shambles – in a very poor state both financially, socially and politically. They are in fact, the ruled by the rulers – British have gone yet the pseudo-British have replaced. Because of illiteracy pervading – and as long as it remains so, and it will remain for a long time – the things can not improve. Intellectuals contributions, like yours, I am afraid, bypass the present regime of literate people in Pakistan.
    I am sorry to have put in a note of despondency, and yet I do not see, in the present environs, light at the end of the tunnel. I would appreciate if you enlighten me.

    1. We should continue to raise a voice of protest. Some change may come, even though it takes time. But when we don’t say anything it amounts to our acquiescence which will only encourage further abuse. That is why raising our voices is important.

  6. I agree we need to keep highlighting human rights abuses so people can see the connection between living with justice and democracy. We need all the national institutions to follow a people friendly policy and their actions should reflect it.

    Pakistanis have suffered enough with double speak and lack of transparency.

  7. even more than your article i would blindly follow your comment:

    We should continue to raise a voice of protest. Some change may come, even though it takes time. But when we don’t say anything it amounts to our acquiescence which will only encourage further abuse. That is why raising our voices is important.

  8. What about HR abuses?

    The seasoned writer Madam Zubeida Mustafa has thrown light on the issue of human rights abuses in Pakistan. My heart bleeds when I take a glance of the scenario. Our leaders are invariably in the habit of playing down the human rights abuses not withstanding the significance of the matter. Be it a military rule or the so called democratic dispensation the situation is more of the same as far as the problem of rights abuses is concerned

    Abdul Wahid Shabab

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