On October 13-14, a two-day conference was held to pay tribute to Pakistan’s world renowned human rights activist, Asma Jahangir. The conference ‘Justice for Empowerment’ and was attended by human rights and civil society activists, political leaders and lawyers from around the world. Speakers included Pakistan Peoples Party chairperson Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, Awami National Party leader Afrasiab Khattak, federal minister for human rights Dr Shireen Mazari, former speaker of the National Assembly Ayaz Sadiq, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, and former secretary general of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) Ahsan Bhoon SC Bar Association President Kamran Murtaza.
Ambassadors from various countries also attended the conference, including HE Jean Francois Cautain (head of the European Union Delegation), HE Koebler (Germany), HE Ingrid Johansonn (Sweden), HE Margaret Adamson (Australia) and HE Ajay Bisaria (India). Among international guests who travelled to attend the conference were the Hon. Michael Kirby AC CMG (former justice of the High Court of Australia), Kirsty Brimelow QC (chair of the Human Rights Bar Committee, England and Wales), HE Annika Ben David (Sweden’s Ambassador at Large for Human Rights, Democracy and the Rule of Law), Kamla Bhasin (Indian poet and activist) and Dr Nimalka Fernando (attorney and women’s rights activist, Sri Lanka).
The two-day conference had nine different sessions where speakers shared ideas. The participants of the First Asma Jahangir Conference on Saturday resolved that the imposition of censorship in the name of national interests must end as it is detrimental to the fundamental rights.
According to a statement released by the “The conference resolved that the state must protect citizens’ fundamental rights, lift the ban on non-government organizations and cease the harassment of human rights defenders. All political parties must have a new charter of democracy to set ground rules for protecting the democratic process – and the major political parties must take the lead in doing so. Judicial overreach must be checked, since it impinges on the constitutional role of other state institutions. The Supreme Court must consider formulating parameters for taking suo moto notice. Freedom of expression must not be curtailed by the state and undeclared censorship of the print and electronic media must cease. Parliament must approve a new bill for the independence of PEMRA according to the recommendations of the Media Commission report.”
According to a news “The participants expanded their great gratitude to the vision and legacy of Jahangir while discussing the rule and law situation in the country. They devised strategies for the promotion of justice by strengthening the rule of law and democracy, protection of fundamental rights, ensuring the independence of judiciary and mainstreaming gender-related issues.”
According to former head of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, IA “the whole nation has become silent with the silence of Jahangir. While throwing light on her life, he admitted that she had great courage which could not be measured. “She was a voice of every voiceless. She was committed to defending democracy and rule of the law in the country.”
Awami National Party (ANP) leader Bushra Gohar, gave a during “Strengthening Democracy and Rule of Law” session, and “said that true democracy could not prevail in the country since the military had intervened throughout history either directly or indirectly. While criticising the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government, she said that the situation has become worst for democracy in the country. “Chief justice and Imran Khan have become sandbags and there is a need to know who is behind them,” she added.”
Panelists from Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, the Maldives, Nepal, and the United States (US) “discussed cybercrime awareness, suggesting the need of improvement in the current data protection laws. Furthermore, the panelists also concluded that a distinction should be drawn between cybercrime and cyber-terrorism. “Academic Freedom and Freedom of Expression for Youth and Students” session concluded that there is a dire need to give importance to the autonomous academic freedom.”
at the “Freedom of Expression and Shrinking Spaces for Dissent” session “discussed the oppression and forced disappearances of journalists in Pakistan and around the world. The panel also concluded to empower Article 19 in its true letter and spirit. The “Justice for Empowerment” session included a panel discussion on the outdated and discriminatory labour laws and its effects on the working women.”
According to : “Pakistan must implement legislation to criminalize forced disappearances. The government must prevent the use of torture by adopting the 2014 bill passed by the Senate. The conference resolved that the Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances must prosecute the 153 identified officials responsible for enforced disappearances. The conference also resolved that there was a disproportionately large population of under-trial prisoners, which represented a deep flaw in the justice system.”
, “Pakistan must revise the education syllabus to remove portions that discriminate against religious minorities. The state’s appeasement of religious fundamentalism must end and the Christian minority must be protected in the face of new threats. Laws that discriminate against minorities must be abolished.”
, “the law on sexual harassment against women in the workplace is not being implemented: there are hardly any cases under this act before the ombudspersons despite numerous women reporting sexual harassment. The law should be refined to introduce the crime of “sextortion” and sexual bribery as introduced in Bangladesh. On transgender rights, the conference resolved that the Transgender Persons Act 2018 must be implemented in letter and spirit. It was recommended that a monitoring body for the implementation of current protection laws for the transgender community be established. Broad-based measures must be taken by the government, media, civil society, essential service providers and the education sector to increase awareness of transgender persons and their rights across society.”
If China is seeking to build soft power around the world, maybe they first need to teach their diplomats to stop acting like viceroys.
On Saturday October 13, the Chinese Deputy Chief of Mission, Lijian Zhao, launched a personal attack on former Ambassador of Pakistan to the United States, Husain Haqqani. Mr Haqqani had tweeted a story from The Times UK that referred to the Chinese repression against Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang and was titled “China demands that Uyghur Muslims eat pork.”
The Chinese Deputy Chief of Mission took affront at the tweet and sent out two personal attacks against the well-known author and former ambassador.
It is interesting that instead of denying the story Mr Zhao preferred to attack the messenger. What is well known is that Mr Zhao previously called himself Muhammad Lijian Zhao dropped ‘Muhammad’ after China banned Muslims names.
While the usual PTI trolls hurled abuse on Mr Haqqani and praised Mr Zhao’s tweets, many Pakistanis objected to a Chinese diplomat attacking a Pakistani citizen over sharing a news story.
Many leading Pakistanis on twitter and others around the world rose up in defense of Amb Haqqani.
Marvi Sirmed, a columnist for Daily Times and human rights activist said,
Leading investigative journalists, Umar Cheema and Ahmad Noorani, who have often disagreed with Mr Haqqani, too rose up to defend him.
Alfons Lopez Tena, a Spanish jurist, had this to say
The 18th Amendment to the Pakistani constitution passed in 2010 was supported by all major political parties. In addition to amending Article 6 of the Constitution, the Amendment provided for ‘Right to fair trial,’ ‘Freedom of association,’ ‘Right to information,’ and increased the financial share of the provinces. There has been a concerted effort since earlier this year by the deep state and its allies to rollback certain elements of this amendment.
On October 9th, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) expressed “grave concern at efforts to roll back the 18th constitutional amendment, evidenced by remarks made reportedly by state institution representatives as well as elected members of the National Assembly.’ The Council said it condemned any such efforts, adding that ‘the 18th Amendment is integral to Pakistan’s identity as a federation and a democracy. Equally worrying is the increasingly thin veneer of civilian government in the country, which seems to indicate that the “creeping coup” has not lost any significance since the elections.’”
The HRCP also gravely noted “the continuing judicialization of politics in Pakistan. We should not look to judicial activism to address political controversies and public policy questions. The democratic system must be allowed to take its course.”
Further, “‘The unabated curbs on press freedom in Pakistan are cause for serious concern. Journalists, media house owners and distributors remain under pressure in the form of intimidation, harassment, abductions and violence. Under no circumstances can allegations of treason against journalists who are guilty of nothing more than doing their jobs be allowed to become a convenient tool to suppress freedom of expression and dissent. HRCP also demands that the state revisit the situation of political prisoners in Gilgit-Baltistan promptly and cease using the Fourth Schedule to stifle dissent.”
Finally, HRCP stated: “‘The state’s duty to protect people’s fundamental right to life also means it must address the malnutrition-related deaths of at least 50 children in Thar in September alone, the alarming frequency of mining accidents – primarily in Balochistan – and the rising number of suicides among women in Gilgit-Baltistan. Equally, while upholding economic and social justice is an essential duty of the state, it is critical to acknowledge and enable other actors that are attempting to alleviate poverty and protect human rights. The expulsion of 18 international aid groups from the country and subsequent vilification campaign against them in the electronic media serves Pakistan ill, given that most of these allegations are baseless and absurd. In protecting human rights and upholding social justice, the state needs all the allies it can get.”
Just last week we had written about Prime Minister Imran Khan’s trip to Saudi Arabia and whether Pakistan would send troops to Yemen in order to obtain economic assistance ‘Will Imran Send Troops to Yemen to Get $$$ from Saudi.’
This decision was an attempt by Pakistan to diversify the number of countries that are aiding Pakistan and also seek to reduce the huge loans that will incur as part of CPEC. However, Beijing was not consulted before Islamabad made the announcement and China was not pleased, so Pakistan had to reverse this decision.
According to a recent piece in SCMP, Imran Khan’s government is using “CPEC as a bargaining chip in Pakistan’s complicated, ill-managed relationships with other key partners.”
First, Pakistan “reduced the potential value of the CPEC program to US$50 billion by 2030, down from US$62 billion. In one fell swoop, it decided to starve the western overland route from Xinjiang to the Chinese-operated Arabian Sea port of Gwadar of funding.”
Second, Pakistan invited Saudi Arabia to join CPEC and “develop a massive refinery complex at Gwadar.” Beijing “had no idea the Khan administration was seeking to leverage Gwadar to persuade the Saudis to provide Pakistan with oil on a deferred-payment basis, so as to ease the pressure on its forex reserves and reduce the amount it would need to borrow from the IMF.”
According to Tom Hussain, the reason for this policy is “duplicity” Pakistan “is uncomfortable with the prospect of becoming the focal point of an economic confrontation between the US and China that threatens to escalate into a 21st-century cold war. It has also noted that talks are under way to bring India into the fold of the counter-belt-and-road fund recently launched by the US and Japan, and that the European Union has unveiled similar plans to resist China’s economic expansionism. Pakistan’s economic and strategic circumstances simply do not accord it the luxury of taking sides in a stand-off between behemoths, all of which it is beholden to.”
Ironically, Pakistan also faces charges of duplicity from Saudi Arabia for failing to support the Kingdom in its confrontation with Iran.