By Intikhab Hanif

LAHORE: Various events and rallies are being organised by the departments concerned of the Ministry of Human Rights and its directorates in all provinces and NGOs to mark Human Rights Day on Friday (today).

According to a report-2010 compiled by Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC), the state of human rights in Pakistan remained grave. The AHRC has encountered cases and situations indicative of continued systematic abuse of human rights as well as areas critically affected by conflict and the absence of the rule of law.

“The Pakistan government has taken positive steps for ending executions. Since November 2008, it did not execute a single person out of the approximately 7,500 prisoners on death row. The years 2009 and 2010 can be termed execution-free years. However, the government has shown its inability to commute death sentences due to strong resistance from powerful groups,” the report says.

On the issue of violence against women, the report says, some progress was made. The bill against sexual harassment was passed by the Parliament while bills against domestic violence and acid-throwing incidents were presented in the National Assembly. These bills faced opposition from powerful groups, particularly fundamentalists. The bill against domestic violence has been pending with the Parliament for almost three years.

The government is trying to get it passed this year. A bill was also passed that decentralised health care, raising hopes for improved women`s health. “Some courage was shown by the government in introducing legislation for women`s rights, but powerful groups blocked enactment of laws against domestic violence,” it says.

The report says that the judiciary enjoys freedom from pressure from the executive, but there are complaints that in some cases the administration was hesitant to implement decisions of the Supreme Court. The judiciary asserted its independence from the executive. The national judicial policy was to eliminate corruption; a special cell was to be set up to eliminate corruption from the judiciary. But the cell has not started work to eliminate corruption from courts. Corruption in the judiciary has increased over the past year because of an increase in pending cases. To fix a date for a hearing, the report claims that it is a common practice to bribe the court staff. This practice is not limited to the lower courts but also occurs at the level of higher judiciary with larger amounts.

The report claims that a complete absence of the rule of law was noted throughout Pakistan. Extra-judicial killings have been a common practice by law-enforcement agencies. The police are running private torture cells in the jurisdiction of each police station, keeping detainees for many days. In rural areas, police stations are notorious for rape. There are many cases in which police have intentionally committed torture at open places to show its power and scare the local population. The incidence of rape and honour killings has also increased, and powerful people are enjoying impunity because of their connections with political parties. Lynching cases have increased because of the failure of the rule of law and weakness of the lower courts.

”Religious minorities remain insecure and unprotected because of the misuse of blasphemy law and ineptness of the government and its authorities with regard to the actions of Muslim extremist groups,” it says.

The report recommends that the government must manage the aftermath of the 2010 floods that affected 20 million Pakistanis. The floods also exacerbated human rights threats within Pakistan, tying civil society and government to disaster relief efforts while causing widespread displacement, illness, and extreme poverty that left disaster victims vulnerable to abuse, kidnapping, and trafficking.

“There is a drastic need for stopping corruption at all levels of government. All forms of violence against women should be made part of the legislation and journalists must be protected and those who attack, torture and kill them must be prosecuted,” it says.

Source: Dawn – 10.12.2010