PUCL Bulletin, December 2001

Human Rights in Pakistan
-- By (Major) Sangeeta Tomar

Pakistan and India inherited a powerful and pervasive bureaucratic tradition from the colonial rulers. The military played a crucial role in government in Pakistan, due to several factors such as the country's strategic geographical location and the potential for international border disputes and separatist movements inherent in the manner in which the sub-continent was partitioned in 1947 Military leaders have created their own international support networks and since 1958, in alliance with the established bureaucracy and they have controlled Pakistan's political and economic decision- making An examination of the course of Pakistan's history from General Ayub Khan through decades of martial law and periods of party-based government demonstrates how the military interventions have repeatedly subverted and arrested the evolution of the democratic process Despite the fact that there has been no direct intervention by the military by imposing martial law, it continues to dominate decision-making in the critical areas of foreign policy and defence. In addition it has become a powerful economic force and, with a stranglehold on successive bankrupt civil governments, continues to drain the public exchequer.

Social, Economic, and Political Turmoil
As per the Constitution of Pakistan fundamental rights, including equality of status, of opportunity and before law, social, economic, and political justice, and freedom of thought, expression, belief, faith, worship, and association, subject to the law and public morality, shall be guaranteed, the independence of the judiciary shall be fully secured. But in reality, in the absence of proper law-making Constitution all legislative measures during 2000 came in the form of Ordinances. 65 of them were issued. However only 22 of these Ordinances were new measures, the other two thirds of the emergency legislation was in the nature of amendment to or revision of the earlier status. Out of 65 Ordinances 53 were designed to strengthen the State Apparatus, to raise its revenue-collecting capacity, and to make extra-administrative adjustments.
However, in. all these eleven years the army never really relinquished power. It was always there in the background looking over the shoulders of the civilian rulers. The army officers enjoyed all the perks and privileges and the civilian rulers were subservient to them in a thousand ways. During these years of civilian rule not a single government was able to complete its tenure. Seven governments changed during this interregnum of a botched democracy.

Human Rights Situation
The main thrust of this article is to discuss the human rights problems plaguing the women, children, and minorities of Pakistan. It is important to note that Pakistan is primarily an Islamic country and most of the laws implemented were designed with the Islamic interests in mind. A believer in Islam is expected to follow five pillars i.e. Belief (Imam); Prayer (Salaat/Namaaz); Fasting (Sauma/Roza); Welfare due (Zakat) and Pilgrimage (haj) by actions. Belief with heart is one thing; and profession of Islam is another. The non-Muslims minorities in Pakistan are neither the believers in Islam more are expected to follow the five teaching-Pillars of Islam and are not treated equally with Islam. The Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, (1973) as amended from time to time shakes the very foundations of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).

The UDHR declares that everyone has the right to life, liberty, and the security of person. Although Pakistan had agreed with the UDHR when it first was proposed stating, "Islam unequivocally endorsed the freedom of conscience," this has not always been the case with Pakistan.

A. Laws Protecting Women's Rights in Pakistan
The rights afforded to women in the Islamic tradition emanate from its main sources, namely, the Qur'an, Hadith, Jima and Qiyas. Yet, the body of principles informing Islamic law, collectively known as the Sharia do not form a homogenous entity as these depend on interpretations of the sources, particularly the Qur'an and Hadith, influenced by cultural and ethnic differences, historical contexts, colonial pasts, the sect or school of jurisprudence that a particular community subscribes to, as well as political and economic policy of Muslim States.

Pakistan was carved out of the Indian subcontinent to provide a separate homeland for Indian Muslims in August 1947. Pakistan came into existence in the name of Islam and Islam was therefore, integral to statehood itself. In order to chart a course towards constitution- making stamped with an Islamic identity, Pakistan's first constituent Assembly passed a resolution popularly known as the Objective Resolution in March 1949. This resolution became the Preamble to all the constitutions of Pakistan and was eventually made a substantive part of the constitution as a new provision, article 2-A of the 1973 constitution in 1985

Article 25 of the constitution of Pakistan outlining equality before law and equal protection of the law appears to rest alongside the reality that the vast majority of women are placed among the weakest and most disadvantaged groups within a community and hence in need of more than formal statements in equality. It may also be argued that even the equal rights provisions in the constitution permit and indeed, acknowledge women as a separate class and in need of protective/corrective regulations.

Interestingly, Islamic law recognizes a wide range of economic rights for women, in effect, transcends the public/private dichotomy. This includes the right to earn, acquire, access and dispose of their property, both movable and immovable. As adult Muslim may not be coerced into dealing with her possessions by anyone, including close male relatives such as her father, brother, husband and son. But these rights appear to have remained for the large part in the domain of theory; reality being at variance with this formal equality.

In the rural areas of Pakistan, in particular, a clear violation of the rights to inheritance takes place where agricultural land is often not given to daughters and kept in the family. Dowry is considered as an appropriate share of daughters in parental property and women rarely have access to or control over property in their names. Where women do inherit property, the same is mostly taken over and controlled by male heirs through general powers of attorney, gift deeds or relinquishment deeds in favour of the male heirs

The laws protecting women's rights in Pakistan work on paper, but the laws are not being enforced to protect women in the way that they were written. The estimated percentage of women who encounter domestic violence ranges from about 70 to 90 percent according to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP). Rafiq Zakaria in his book The Trial of Benazir, writes, "the husband has an edge over the wife in family affairs but from this we cannot conclude that a man is superior to a woman in every respect". There is no basis for this either in Qur'an or the Sunnah. This is socially tolerated due to the Islamic tradition of the country, in which the men of Pakistan are dominant over the women. It was also estimated by the HRCP that about eight women are raped nationwide every twenty-four hours in Pakistan, and at least half of them are minors.

In addition, the women who file charges endanger themselves to Hudood adultery charges. If the woman cannot prove that she did not consent to the secular activity she could be flogged. or publicly stoned due to the Hudood ordinances. The Preamble to the Hudood Ordinances declare that the object is to modify existing criminal law and bring it into conformity with the injunctions of Islam as set out in the Qur'an and Sunna. The Ordinances divide punishment into two categories: hadd and tazir.

Females and non-Muslim men cannot testify on behalf of the woman, which makes the lack of consent very hard to prove. An incident in April of 1998 involved two Afghan women who reported being raped after being kidnapped from a bus leaving a refugee camp. The driver was detained, but paid a bribe to the police which set him free. The Pakistan Commissiorate of Afghan Refugees, which was responsible for the incident, investigated the accusation, and detained the driver again. A law was passed that invoked the death penalty for people convicted of gang rape, but due to the fact that gang rape is one of the tools used for social control by criminals, landlords, and the police, complaints aren't frequently responded to by police. There also have been many women forced by the police to perform sexual favors in order to be released from custody, while' others held by police are just raped (Islam, Gender & Social Change)

Honor killings are another major human rights atrocity that Pakistan does not seem to be concerned about. A Pakistani woman named Samia Sarwar was shot to death in her attorney's office. Her family had hired a hit man to kill her because she was seeking a divorce from her husband. These cases are most often provoked by the belief that the wife had been unfaithful, and the husband or the rest of the family sees the behavior as being dishonorable. Since the women in Pakistan are subservient to the men, they are indicators of the power of the man they are with, and when the woman is believed to have disobeyed, the man's honor is damaged. The wife is usually killed in these attacks, but if she does survive, she could badly battered, burned by fire, or disfigured by acid attacks. There have been countless instances of these "honor killings" similar to the two-hundred and fifty women in the city of Lahore who were bumped to death in their homes in 1997 of which only six cases had an arrest. As in the case of Samia, her murderers have yet to be brought to justice although the evidence against them would have surely brought a conviction in almost any fair court of law. The laws are very lenient on those who are arrested for such acts. And there are numerous loopholes in the laws that make prosecution of the defenders even mote difficult.
It appears from above discussion that despite formal provision for complete equality between men and women under these laws, yet it is difficult to ignore the fact hat the vast majority of Muslims have come to accept rights as hierarchical, with adult. male Muslims possessing the most rights and women and non-Muslim the least.

B. Treatment of Children
The treatment of children in Pakistan is also in the forefront of the human rights battle. Children are often kidnapped by invading groups, or are sold into slavery by their parents for money or land.

Child Labour
There is also the complicated issue of the correctional system for juveniles. The children are often incorporated with the general population of prisons, and are abused in prison by guards and other inmates. They also can spend a long period of time in prison waiting for a trial, which possibly could seriously hand the child emotionally and physically. There was an instance involving a young boy named Mohammed Saleem who was arrested for involvement in the murder of three policemen. He was tried in a regular court, and sentenced to death. He was finally acquitted and released due to the fact that there was no evidence relating him to the crime. He spent about six months in jail, but he was also deprived of his rights while in custody. He was beaten by the police, never informed about why he was arrested, and with restricted access to council, was tried, and sentenced to death. The province he was in had laws stating that no one under the age of 16 could be sentenced to death, while the boy himself was only 13 to 14. years old. All of these conditions violated the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. The police also have been brutal to other children, including Ghulam Jilani, who died of head injuries hours after being arrested on theft charges. The police had said that the boy attempted suicide by hanging himself.

C. The State of Intolerance
Another controversial human rights issue in Pakistan deals with so-called Blasphemy Laws. The punishment for "defiling the name of the Prophet Mohammed" is death, If desecrating the Koran" is punishable by life in prison, and "insulting another person's religious beliefs" receives up to ten years in prison. These blasphemy laws are being used "as tools of religious persecution."

The freedom to express opinions continued to be challenged through the year 2000, with any opinion contrary to the beliefs held by orthodox religious groups drawing fervent protests from them. The freedom to think and the encouragement to express new ideas thus remained severely restricted. Fears of an onslaught from religious elements also meant that in practice certain topics, especially those linked to religious belief or the possibility of separating state from religion, continued to lie beyond the realm of most debate. Thus, the liberty of thought, conscience, and religion remained strictly limited. The impact such restrictions on thought are having within a society that has become increasingly closed from year to year stifling innovative or independent thinking, are perhaps best exhibited in the growing uniformity of discussion and the declining standards of debate, whether within institutes of higher learning or on the broader national platform. Examples of the growing lack of tolerance continued to come in through the year:.. The most serious indication of the increasingly intolerant environment came in the death of at least ten members of the Ahmadi community, who were killed as a direct consequence of the views they held. In March, a senior judge of the Lahore High Court, while commenting in response to a newspaper query, held that in his view the suggested changes in the blasphemy law were being considered because of the efforts by western governments to act against Islam. The judge, who had in 1999 advocated Ahmadis beaten up if found propagating their religion in any way, also appeared unrepentant about these comments.

1. Laws on Blasphemy
With pressure from human rights groups, both local and international, growing, the federal government announced on April 18 that as a step towards improving its record on human rights, it was planning measures to avoid the misuse of law. It was stated that as part of this process, in all cases involving blasphemy, the case would be referred to the concerned Deputy Commissioner (DC). It would be referred to police only if the DC was satisfied the case warranted police intervention and an FIR (First Information Report) would be registered only after this. The innocuous move aimed at curbing the registration of false blasphemy cases brought swift and fierce attack from religious groups, which threatened countrywide protests unless the minor change in procedure concerning blasphemy laws was taken back. Despite government efforts to reassure religious leaders, the threats continued and on May l6General Pervez Musharraf announced a restoration of the previous procedure. The failure of the government to implement even this change, offering some protection against the misuse of the law, indicated the extent of religious intolerance in society and the vulnerability of governments to pressure from religious forces.

2. Freedom of Religion
A considerable increase in violence against religious minorities was recorded during the year, with Hindu communities in Balochistan facing some of the worst threats in their history. Though only Ahrnadis are restricted under the law from practicing their religion, due to increased social intolerance, members of all minority religious communities faced discrimination and harassment. In many cases, even administrative efforts failed to rescue them from the wrath of communities within which they lived. In other episodes the administration failed to make even an attempt to offer protection. In repeated episodes, the places of worship of minorities were attacked. Frequently, the attacks appeared to have been orchestrated by local clerics and extremists, who incited people to violence in previously peaceful settlements. The fact that hundreds were forced during the year to flee their homes after facing persecution because of their religious beliefs alone reflected the state of religious tolerance in society. There have been numerous other cases recently concerning the blasphemy laws, showing that freedom of speech and expression of ideas are not complete in Pakistan.

The vacuum created by the military regime's strategy of discrediting and sidelining political parties and their leaders was ideally suited to the orthodox clergy, and its militant formations took little time to move into the space left behind as political parties were pushed away. In a series of alarming actions, the clergy struck out fiercely against minority groups, especially the Ahmadi community, and non-governmental organisations {NGOs), particularly those that tried to promote he rights of women. The outpourings of vicious hatred from these clergymen, in direct violation of law, not surprisingly resulted in numerous incidents of violence, harassment, and even cold- blooded murder. The fact the authorities stood by as silent spectators indicated clearly that they were in fact colluding with the extremists against those peacefully, and lawfully, practicing their beliefs or undertaking development work aimed at uplifting communities.

The heightened violence and intolerance within society was also exhibited by the numerous cases of blasphemy registered against individuals. In repeated instances this appeared to stem from disputes of various kinds. The orthodox clergy took a minor administrative adjustment proposed by the government in investigating cases of blasphemy, aimed at attempting to check precisely such misuse of the law, back within weeks following pressure exerted.

Pakistan is a troubled country that is in the need of serious civil and human rights reform. The government needs to take stronger measures to ensure the safety of women in public and in their own homes. The government of Pakistan also needs to abide by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that it had agreed to long ago. Women in Pakistan also must be treated as equals to men, and not as being subservient. The police and the courts also need to be reformed to protect the rights of the victims, and not let the guilty get away repeatedly. The children of Pakistan must also be protected for they are the future of the country. They cannot be sentenced to death unless they are of age. and have committed a legitimate capitol offense. In addition, the freedom of speech and religion must be protected. The persecution of people for what they say and believe must stop. When these problems are corrected, the country of Pakistan will surely be a better place to live for all, and will most likely prosper in the years following the change.

The author is an Ex-Major, presently working as Asst. Registrar, (Legal Division), NHRC

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