Will Covid-19 Pandemic Worsen Pakistan’s Human Rights Situation?

All over the world, the weakest segments of society will be the worst hit by Covid19. That is also true in Pakistan. On May 1, 2020, leading human rights watchdog, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), released its flagship annual report ‘State of Human Rights in 2019.’

At the launch, HRCP warned that Covid19 “will worsen human rights record of the country.” HRCP honorary spokesperson I. A. Rehman “termed Pakistan’s human rights record in 2019 ‘greatly worrisome’ and said the ongoing global pandemic was likely to cast a long shadow on prospects for human rights.” HRCP’s secretary-general Harris Khalique observed “Last year will be remembered for systematic curbs on political dissent, the chokehold on press freedom, and the grievous neglect of economic and social rights. The 2019 report also offers standalone chapters on each federating unit and administered territories so that no area remains underreported or missed out.”

According to the HRCP 2019 report “Pakistan has failed to protect its most vulnerable: reports of child labourers being sexually abused in mines surfaced in Balochistan, while news of young children being raped, murdered and dumped has become frighteningly common. Women continued to bear the brunt of society’s fixation with ‘honour’, with Punjab accounting for the highest proportion of ‘honour’ crimes. Equally, Pakistan does not protect those to whom it has a duty of care:  prisoners in the country’s sorely overpopulated jails remain relegated to subhuman level.” The report noted at least 2,846 cases of child abuse.

Not only have has it “become even more difficult to criticise state policy,” but as former HRCP chairperson Zohra Yusuf noted, “coupled with the erosion of social media spaces and a deliberate financial squeeze on the media, ‘led to Pakistan’s position slipping on the World Press Freedom Index.’”

Further, the HRCP report noted, “People continued to be reported ‘missing’ during the year. It is imperative that the government deliver on its commitment to criminalise enforced disappearances. Equally, the continued operation of internment centres cannot be justified on any grounds. HRCP director Farah Zia said: ‘In the case of Balochistan and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa)—both historically under-reported provinces—the acknowledgement of real issues and their political resolution is vital if the state is serious about strengthening the federation.’”

Finally, “Religious minorities remained unable to enjoy the freedom of religion or belief guaranteed to them under the constitution. For many communities, this has meant the desecration of their sites of worship, the forced conversion of young women, and constant discrimination in access to employment.”

According to the HRCP report, “by the year end, there were about 1.8 million cases pending in the courts, as against 1.9m in 2018.” HRCP also noted that “in term of law-making, a total of 107 acts were passed by the parliament and the provincial assemblies: six federal acts and 101 provincial acts.”

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