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HRCP annual report

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan’s annual report, presented on Thursday, paints a troubling picture of Pakistan’s progress on the human rights front despite claims made to the contrary by the government. One of the more worrying aspects of the report is the increase in honour-related killing of women which the HRCP says nearly doubled from the preceding year to 565. This statistic, which is cases that have been reported and hence the actual number may well be higher, shows that despite the passage of the landmark Women’s Protection Bill much more needs to be done to safeguard the rights of women in Pakistani society and reverse some of the discrimination that they have been subjected to for the past 60 years. The high figure means that enforcing and implementing of the WPB should be among the federal government’s top priorities. Already, a senior member of the MMA has said that the NWFP government will not enforce the WPB which is most unfortunate since proper enforcement of the law in that province could greatly benefit women there.

Apart from the provisions of the bill, the government also needs to sensitise the police and other law-enforcement agencies with regard to honour killings. What would help is if parliament passed legislation explicitly outlawing honour killing by equating it with premeditated murder. The role of the police is important because in many cases of such injustice, it comes to light that the local police often refuse to come to the aid of the victim or her family, provide protection to the culprits and resist lodging an FIR (proof of this is that out of the 565 reported cases arrests were made in a mere 128 — slightly over a quarter). It is only when the case is publicised in the media and/or when there is pressure from above that the police act and even then one is not sure of the end result unless the pressure is applied for a considerable period of time and the case is continuously highlighted by the media. Unfortunately, not every family affected by honour killing has access to such resources, and that is exactly why a mechanism needs to be put in place to help them get justice. Another police-related aspect that may help in this regard is to spend funds training and providing the requisite forensic equipment to the investigation branch of the department because this may help bolster the low conviction rate in such cases (the killers are helped by the reluctance of eyewitnesses, many of whom are family or clan members, to come forward and testify in court).

As far as other human rights abuses are concerned, the HRCP was also on the spot in its severe indictment of the government over the missing persons’ issue. Of course, the cases of many people who have disappeared for weeks or months — some reappeared, only to report that they were detained by intelligence agencies — are a clear violation of human rights and make a mockery of the government’s claim that Pakistan is a free country. If nothing, the government should perhaps understand that left unaddressed, this has the potential of giving it a very bad name internationally and its continuing exercise to improve its image may well take a battering. After all, if people believe that the government or some section of it is involved in picking up citizens without any warrant and keeping them in detention incommunicado, then how can the same government safeguard their rights?

Source: The News

Date:2/10/2007

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