New Human Rights Watch report drubs Pakistan

WASHINGTON: Human Rights Watch (HRW) says in its annual report issued this week that President Pervez Musharraf’s government did little in 2006 to address a rapidly deteriorating human rights situation.

The report’s “ongoing concerns” include arbitrary detention, lack of due process, and the mistreatment, torture, and “disappearance” of terrorism suspects and political opponents; harassment and intimidation of the media; and legal discrimination against and mistreatment of women and religious minorities. However, the human rights watchdog group calls the passage of the Women’s Protection Bill a significant development, besides the North Waziristan peace deal with “Taliban supporters” and reconstruction efforts in Azad Kashmir after the earthquake, though the later were marred by allegations of corruption.

HRW calls the women’s bill a “partial step towards ending legal discrimination” which removed some of the most dangerous provisions of the Hudood Ordinances. However, the bill fails to comply with many of Pakistan’s obligations under the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women. Discriminatory provisions of the Hudood Ordinances that criminalise non-marital sex remain in place. The law also fails to recognise marital rape. As in previous years, violence against women and girls, including domestic violence, rape, “honour killings,” acid attacks, and trafficking have remained serious problems in Pakistan. Survivors of violence encounter unresponsiveness and hostility at each level of the criminal justice system, from police who fail to register or investigate cases of gender-based violence to judges with little training or commitment to women’s equal rights.

Pakistan scores poorly on religious freedom as discrimination and persecution on grounds of religion continued in 2006, and an increasing number of blasphemy cases were registered. As in previous years, the Ahmadi community was a particularly frequent target. Other religious minorities, including Christians and Hindus, also continue to face legal discrimination, though the government appears to have instructed the police to avoid registering blasphemy cases against them.

HRW noted that counterterrorism operations in Pakistan continued to be accompanied by serious violations of human rights. Suspects held on terrorism charges frequently are detained without charge or tried without proper judicial process. Counterterrorism laws also continue to be misused to perpetuate vendettas and as an instrument of political coercion. Of the 1,000 terrorism suspects arrested, the government has processed only a fraction of the cases through the legal system. Hundreds of suspects have been handed over to the United States, often for sizeable bounties, with many ending up at Guantanamo.

HRW says it is impossible to ascertain numbers of people “disappeared” in counterterrorism operations because of the secrecy surrounding such operations and the likelihood that the families of some of the “disappeared” do not publicise their cases for fear of retaliation. Until a September peace agreement between the government and tribal leaders and militants closely allied with the Taliban, the Pakistan Army engaged in aggressive counterterrorism operations in FATA along the Afghan border. Access to the region was restricted, but there were steady reports of extrajudicial executions, house demolitions, arbitrary detentions, and harassment of journalists. The government is also faulted for permitting the National Accountability Bureau and a host of anti-corruption and sedition laws to keep in jail or threaten political opponents, particularly members of the PPP and the PML-N. As elections approach in 2007, such persecution is expected to increase.

The annual survey finds that political unrest in Balochistan took a serious turn for the worse in 2006. Though the dispute in Balochistan is essentially political, centred on issues of provincial autonomy and exploitation of mineral resources, the Pakistani military and Baloch tribal militants have increasingly sought a military solution to their disagreements. Nawab Akbar Bugti’s killing plunged Balochistan into further unrest and was followed by a new round of arbitrary arrests and “disappearances”.

HRW notes that though media freedoms have increased in recent years, particularly for the English-language press, free expression and dissemination of information were persistently undermined in 2006 by the murder, torture, kidnapping, illegal detention, and coercion of reporters working for local, regional, national, and international media. Tight controls on freedom of expression have also been a hallmark of government policy in Azad Kashmir. Pakistan has prevented the creation of independent media in the territory through bureaucratic restrictions and coercion.

“President Musharraf remains heavily dependent on the Bush administration for political support, while Pakistan remains equally dependent on the United States for economic and military aid. The United States has notably failed to press strongly for human rights improvements in the country, muting its criticism in recent years in exchange for Pakistan’s support in the US-led ‘war on terror’,” the report says.

Source: Daily Times

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