If Pakistan seeks to make progress towards becoming a democracy, one of the key issues that need to be tackled are its human rights record. At a recent seminar, held by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), a high-profile panel of human rights defenders discussed constitutionalism and human rights.
The panel “included HRCP Honorary Spokesperson I. A. Rehman; HRCP Secretary-General Harris Khalique; HRCP Council member and Supreme Court advocate Hina Jilani; Secretary-General of the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists, Nasir Zaidi; former director of the Pakistan Institute for Parliamentary Services, Zafarullah Khan; former Senators Afrasiab Khattak, Farhatullah Babar and Taj Haider; Justice Shakeel Baloch; senior journalists Muhammad Ziauddin, Hamid Mir and Asma Shirazi; Secretary-General of the Supreme Court Bar Association Shamim Malik; and political activist Dr Aasim Sajjad Akhtar. The seminar was attended by a cross section of society.”
The HRCP “resolution adopted by the panel urged the political leadership to ensure the supremacy of parliament, rule of law, and the people’s fundamental freedoms and rights. It stated that elected representatives should ensure that the system of governance rests on established laws and constitutional norms, instead of ordinances. The resolution also noted how political engineering by undemocratic forces had damaged the democratic process and encouraged selective accountability. The actions of law enforcement agencies, primarily intelligence agencies, should be brought within the ambit of the law through a strong, independent parliamentary oversight mechanism. As per the resolution, the policing duties in the tribal districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa must be handed over to civilian law enforcement institutions. The insidious practice of running internment centres in KP must also cease.”
HRCP also urged “the government to criminalise enforced disappearances in accordance with the International Convention against Enforced Disappearances, and let the public know the outcome of the proceedings at the Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances. Various speeches reiterated that Pakistan’s youth, which has been kept alienated for decades and taken to the streets to claim their rights, must be heeded, not vilified in the form of criminal cases. Human rights defenders and journalists must be allowed to do their jobs and to criticise where criticism is called for. If Pakistan is to progress as a democratic country, the state must form empowered, autonomous local bodies in all federating units of the country. It must restore people’s faith in the judiciary by making it clear that those who abrogate the Constitution will be held accountable. Indeed, HRCP hopes the apex court will overturn the recent regressive judgment of the Lahore High Court. The state must also protect provincial autonomy under the Eighteenth Amendment and the National Finance Commission Award. Provincial autonomy is a democratic right of Pakistan’s federating units.”