Yet again, No country for minorities!

Irrespective of what PM Khan may say about Naya Pakistan being all inclusive and caring for its minorities, the latest blasphemy incident in Ghokti, Sindh, has demonstrated once again why most human rights watch dogs call Pakistan one of the worst human rights offenders.

On Saturday September 14, 2019, protests began in Ghotki when an FIR (first information report) was filed against a principal, who is a Hindu, of Sindh Public School based on the complaints of Abdul Aziz Rajput – the father of a student – who claimed that the Hindu principal had committed blasphemy. This led to protests by local residents demanding the policy arrest the principal, calling for a shutter-down strike and massive street protests.

As Dawn reported, “Videos of stick-wielding protesters were shared on social media on Sunday, in which they were seen vandalising a Hindu temple and damaging the school where the alleged incident took place. Ghotki Senior Superintendent of Police Farrukh Lanjar, while talking to local reporters, said that police were controlling the law and order situation in the area.”

PTI MNA Ramesh Kumar Vankwani, head of the Pakistan Hindu Council, said that “the case has been handed over to Hyderabad Deputy Inspector General Naeem Shaikh who will further investigate the matter. He added that the principal was at an undisclosed location for safety reasons and will be handed over to Shaikh. “I have talked to Sindh Inspector General of Police Kaleem Imam who has assured me the police will fully protect the accused, therefore, I am going to hand [the principal] over to police either in Karachi or in Hyderabad today,” he said. The MNA said that the protesters had vandalised three temples, a private school and multiple houses belonging to the Hindu community and added that he had asked police to register an FIR against people involved in the riots.”

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan also shared a video of protesters breaking the infrastructure of the school and expressed concern over the situation.

Where we really stand in the world: Only 1 Pakistani University in Top 500 in world

In the recently released Times Higher Education World University Rankings for 2020, there is only one Pakistani university in the top 500 — Quaid-i-Azam University (QAU) is in the 401-500 bracket of this ranking.

Of the 1400 universities across 92 countries that form part of this ranking, there are 14 Pakistani universities. There are 56 Indian universities in the rankings with 6 Indian universities in the top 500 and 1 in the top 350. China and Japan form 45 percent of the Asian entries, and even Iran has 40 universities.

As a Dawn report stated Pakistani universities need to take international rankings seriously because “participation in rankings brings a positive competition; it raises participants’ international standing and improves job market for graduates of those universities. And the main contending points in the ranking race are research, teaching, international outlook, industry income and recognition through citations in recognised journals. Unfortunately, these important areas are not our mind, hence there are no world-class elite institutions in Pakistan.”

In a country with the world’s second-highest number of out-of-school children (OOSC) — an estimated 22.8 million children aged 5-16 not attending school – and where the majority of the state’s resources go into the military, it is no surprise that education is not given its due.

Pakistani Human Rights activist rendered stateless by Deep State

The citizen of every country has a fundamental right to a passport and no one should be deprived of this right simply because the state does not agree or like his / her actions or work. Baseer Naveed, a highly respected human rights defender, has been rendered stateless by the government of Pakistan which has deprived him of his passport, freedom of movement and the right to adopt a nationality of his choice.

In a recent plea the International Human Rights Council, Hong Kong (IHRC-HK) stated concern “about the malicious and unlawful actions of government of Pakistan against its Executive Director, Mr. Abdul Baseer Naveed who has become the Stateless—neither is he citizen of Pakistan nor of Hong Kong, where he has been residing since 2006.  The Pakistani government has deprived him of his passport, freedom of Movement and right to adopt nationality of his choice.”

Baseer has been a “permanent resident of Hong Kong since 2013, he applied for naturalization of SAR in 2017 which was approved by department of Immigration of Hong Kong on February 12, 2018 he was asked to provide renunciation of his Pakistani nationality and Passport. Mr. Baseer duly applied for renunciation through Pakistan Consulate in Hong Kong, on February 21, 2018. He received the cancellation of his national identity card from NADRA on 29.06.2018. His renunciation was approved in May 2017 by the Immigration and Passport office of Ministry of Interior, Government of Pakistan. However, in the meantime, some intelligence agencies of Pakistan and Consulate general of Pakistan, Hong Kong submitted adverse reports against him and the same department has cancelled his Renunciation on August 27, 2019, saying “Renunciation Certificate of Pakistan Citizenship cannot be issued as your credentials have not been verified/ recommended by concerned security agency.” Meanwhile Mr. Baseer’s passport expired on August 11, 2019 and as the Consulate of Pakistan has kept his passport, Mr. Baseer was also deprived of his passport. The situation has become precarious for Mr. Baseer who has been  rendered stateless which is unethical and illegal as provided by international norms and conventions. He will not be able to go outside Hong Kong nor will he be able to return to Pakistan.”

As an elected member of United Nations Human Rights Commission, Pakistan must abide by its Conventions and Covenants. “The Universal Declaration Human Rights (UDHR)  Article 15 of the UDHR provides that “everyone has the right to a nationality” and that “no one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality nor denied the right to change his nationality. citizenship and the right to be free from arbitrary deprivation of citizenship is a human rights requiring  all states  to respect the human rights of all individuals without distinction. Article 12 of the ICCPR prohibits arbitrarily deprivation of the right to enter his own country. The General Assembly, in its resolution 50/152, also recognized the fundamental nature of the prohibition of arbitrary deprivation of nationality. International conventions require States to introduce safeguards to prevent statelessness caused due to loss or deprivation of nationality.”

In its appeal IHRC-HK said “The government of Pakistan should stop the arbitrative actions against the human rights defenders. The concerned officials must be instructed to immediately issue the renunciation certificate to Mr. Baseer which has been pending before the Pakistani Mission Hong Kong and take action against the concerned officers of Pakistan Mission, Hong Kong for keeping his case in limbo for more than a year and three months. We hope that the issue be amiably resolved without causing any further undue delays and hardship to our Executive Director.”

Concerns regarding police custody deaths

Deaths in police custody have been on the rise in Pakistan, especially the province of Punjab. According to police records, five prisoners have died in police custody over the last three years. Analysts believe that conditions in lock-ups are a major contributing factor. Last week alone in Punjab, there were three incidents involving death in custody in Lahore, Gujjarpura and Rahimyar Khan.

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has taken serious note of four incidents involving suspects’ deaths in police custody. “The latter case, in which Salahuddin Ayubi, a mentally disabled man accused of robbery, died allegedly as a result of custodial torture has, understandably, led to public outrage. Yet torture and ill treatment in custody are entrenched practices that are considered at best ‘acceptable’ and, at worst, ‘necessary’. Moreover, there are invariably delays in the post-mortem reports that should follow on the heels of any allegations of custodial death. Earlier, in August, HRCP investigated reports that two young Hindu boys in Mirpur Khas – accused of murder – were allegedly tortured to death while in custody.”

According to the global watchdog Human Rights Watch, “despite the establishment of model police stations, there has been little meaningful change in the system of imprisonment. Suspects spend an unnecessary amount of time lying lock-ups and waiting for authorities to proceed in the charges against them.”

The HRCP met with “police authorities in Punjab and Sindh, and reiterated that the use of torture and humiliating, inhuman or degrading treatment is unacceptable – irrespective of the accusation or charge. HRCP has been reassured by the authorities in Punjab that they are willing to work closely with the Commission to protect human rights standards as an integral part of police procedures. The inquiry into Salahuddin Ayubi’s death in custody is a positive sign, but respect for the inviolable human rights of those in custody must be embedded into police training and structures – matched by the necessary resources – if the police are to serve as protectors rather than antagonists. Moreover, such efforts need to be bolstered by an enforceable legal framework that criminalises torture, something on which the state must not procrastinate any longer.”

‘Pakistan’s Enforced Disappearance Nightmare Continues’

The government of Pakistan’s appointed Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances admitted in June 2018 that it had received 5,177 cases of alleged enforced disappearances since its inception in 2011. According to a news report “During the past 15 years, families of separatists, members of ethno-nationalist political parties, peace activists, members of Islamist factions, and critics of the military have frequently accused authorities of either orchestrating enforced disappearances or failing to help in finding their loved ones. The northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province together with the merged areas of the former Federally Administered Tribal Areas have the highest number of cases. The commission’s data says that out of 2,157 reported cases in the region, the commission has resolved 967 cases and is still working on 983.”

According to Amnesty International’s March 2019 report titled ‘Enduring Enforced Disappearances,’ “Enforced disappearances have long been a stain on Pakistan’s human rights record. Despite the pledges of successive governments to criminalize the practice, there has been slow movement on legislation while people continue to be forcibly disappeared with impunity.”

The United Nations Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearance “has more than 700 cases pending from Pakistan. The number of cases of victims of enforced disappearance recorded by victim groups are much higher. Victim groups and the civil society have serious concerns with regards to the effectiveness of Pakistan’s COIED, primarily that it is not using its powers to investigate and hold the perpetrators accountable and that it does not have civil society or the victim groups representation on its board.”

Today, August 30, on the International Day of Victims of Enforced Disappearances, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan expressed “solidarity with all victims of enforced disappearance the world over. Our thoughts are also with those Kashmiris who have been forcibly disappeared as part of the state crackdown in India-held Kashmir.” 

HRCP called “on the Pakistan government to carry through its long overdue promise to criminalise enforced disappearances under the Pakistan Penal Code. The state must also acknowledge allegations that the official data sorely underreports the numbers of forcibly disappeared persons – something that many victims’ groups and human rights organisations have consistently pointed out. This makes it all the more necessary for the findings of the 2010 Judicial Commission on Enforced Disappearances to be made public. HRCP draws urgent attention to the need for Pakistan to sign and ratify the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance. ‘Internal political instability or any other public emergency’ are no grounds for justifying enforced disappearances. Equally, the internment centres to which numerous forcibly disappeared persons have been traced, must be declared unconstitutional. As such, these centres are black holes and have no place in a democratic structure that entitles a detained person to know what they have been charged with, the right to a fair trial and the right to remain in contact with their families and with legal counsel.”