Pakistan’s Human Rights Record Worsens While its Leaders Point Fingers at Others

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Pakistan’s leaders are always the first to champion religious freedom and human rights of Muslims around the world but when it comes to Pakistan, its own record remains abysmal.

Earlier in June, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) released its annual report on the state of human rights in 2023. The report “details how civic rights in Punjab continued to be sidelined throughout the year with alarming escalation. The absence of a functional provincial legislature effectively deprived Punjab’s citizens of their right to fair representation. The interim government also persisted beyond its mandate, going against the spirit of true democracy.”

As per the HRCP report, “there was also no end in sight to Punjab’s political tussles, which worsened after PTI leader Imran Khan was arrested on 9 May. Violent protests broke out in which a corps commander’s house was attacked, but the state’s excessive use of force to quell protestors was a far cry from restoring public order. Instead, party workers and leaders were subjected to a brutal crackdown in the form of raids, arbitrary detentions and short-term enforced disappearances. Such repressive tactics against dissent significantly impacted the fundamental rights to freedom of expression, freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of association.”

The HRCP noted worryingly that “the vulnerability of marginalised groups in Punjab increased, particularly women who experienced a rise in gender-based violence during 2023. Child sexual abuse also persisted, with 75 percent of total cases in Pakistan originating from Punjab. Furthermore, faith-based attacks intensified, especially on Ahmadi sites of worship, clearly violating freedom of religion or belief. This culminated in a shocking incident where Christian homes and churches in Jaranwala were set on fire.”

In welcome news, HRCP pointed out, “the sedition law was struck down by the Lahore High Court for being repugnant to the protection of fundamental rights. The court also ordered an end to forced child labour and directed the Child Protection and Welfare Bureau to take more stringent measures against perpetrators. However, the state displayed a stark negligence to citizens’ economic and social rights. For instance, unchecked rising inflation placed a significant economic strain on farmers and labourers, sparking outrages and mass protests. Several public health crises also emerged, with outbreaks of measles and dengue affecting a large number of citizens, and then again when air quality levels in various districts reached critically hazardous levels. HRCP notes that the state must take decisive action to uphold citizens’ rights in Punjab, particularly of those from marginalised communities, without further delay.”

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