HRCP: “Inclusive democracy” key to Pakistan’s integrity

Ever since 2008 Pakistan has slowly moved towards a participatory democracy and the 18th Amendment is one of the pillars of this system. The recent attempts to reverse this process and revert to a majoritarian state that brooks no criticism or critique are worrying.

At its 33rd Annual General Meeting the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) noted with concern “the state’s amendment of the requisites of participatory democracy and reversal to the concept of a majoritarian state. This trend must be arrested as it runs counter to the dictates of pluralism. HRCP has no quarrel with attempts to improve the scheme ushered in by the 18th Amendment, but any attempt to curtail the rights and interests of the federating units will undermine the integrity of the state.”

Further, “HRCP is alarmed at the rapidly closing space for civil society organisations in Pakistan. Given that they have played a key role in delivering services where and when the state could not, it is a matter of great concern that they should now be pushed out of operation through registration refusals and undue restrictions. More broadly, any restrictions imposed on freedom of association, which is a constitutional right, are not acceptable. The media has come under intense pressure in the form of job terminations and an escalation in the harassment of journalists – both online and otherwise – who express diverse or anti-establishment opinions. Increasingly, PEMRA has placed undue restrictions on the media, which do not appear to serve any concrete purpose. This has stifled key voices of dissent, with serious implications for Pakistan’s democratic development.”

Also, “HRCP is dismayed at attempts to resurrect military courts. This institution must not be revived and all issues associated with these courts remain cause for concern. Military courts are essentially anti-democratic and there is no justification for letting them continue. The rule of law must be enforced by domestic judicial and police mechanisms that are, and must remain, responsible for maintaining civilian law and order under a civilian mandate. HRCP is greatly concerned at the rise in the number of forced conversions being reported, especially in Sindh. This appears to be a systematic, organised trend and needs to be seen in the broader context of the coercion of vulnerable girls and young women from communities that are already marginalised by their faith, class and socioeconomic status.”

Worryingly, HRCP notes that new areas of conflict have opened up in Balochistan and spread to Pashtun areas. The recent attacks on the Balochistan Levies indicate that pockets of militancy remain a serious problem for the province. HRCP also calls on the state to sign and ratify the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance. Cases of enforced disappearance must not be allowed to fade away once a victim has returned home. The impunity with which people continue to be forcibly disappeared is cause for serious concern and must be addressed if this problem is to be curbed. ‘HRCP urges the state to take concrete steps to ensure that the people of Gilgit-Baltistan enjoy the same fundamental rights enshrined in the Constitution as for other citizens of Pakistan. Gilgit-Baltistan’s constitutional status needs to be established as soon as possible. The enforcement of the Gilgit-Baltistan Order 2018 remains controversial and the sentiments of the region’s people need to be given due weight. The vacant judicial positions in Gilgit-Baltistan’s courts must also be filled as soon as possible.”

Finally, “HRCP notes with great concern the rise in extremism. The recent case in which a university professor in Bahawalpur was murdered by a student simply for planning a mixed-gender gathering for his students, is a dangerous sign. That the student was alleged to have links to the far-right Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan shows how deeply entrenched extremism remains on campuses. ‘The steps taken by the state to deliver on its commitments to curb terror financing and money laundering risks to the global financial system remain, so far, unsatisfactory. It is in Pakistan’s interests to put its own house in order and to ensure that militant outfits are given absolutely no room to operate in the country, given the risk they pose, in the first instance, to the country’s own people.’”

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