Written by Jacques Lecarte
Human rights abuse is one of the most complex and challenging issues in Pakistan today. The EU has expressed concerns about the human rights situation and monitors events closely. The European Parliament is worried about the sharp increase in sectarian violence and religious intolerance, as well as the continuing repression of women in the country.
Current human rights situation
Sectarian and religious violence
The Pakistan Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS) reported a rise in sectarian attacks in 2013; 208 attacks resulted in 658 deaths and 1 195 people were left injured. The number of suicide attacks rose by 39%. Of the 33 sectarian attacks carried out in Baluchistan in 2013, 22 took place in Quetta district, home to the province’s Hazaras and Shia religious minorities. In September 2013, in All Saints Church in the city of Peshawar, 81 Christians attending Sunday worship were killed and 131 others wounded after two Taliban suicide bombers stormed the building. 2014 has seen no substantive improvements, with incidents of sectarian violence continuing to take place. There have been reports of sectarian killings of Shia and Sunni Muslims in all four provinces of Pakistan. Human Rights Watch (HRW) reports that the banned militant outfit Jaish al Islam, which has close ties to Al-Qaida, operates against Shia Muslims with virtual impunity across Pakistan. In Mastung, 23 Hazara Shia pilgrims were killed by a Lashkar-i-Jhangvi (a Sunni terrorist organisation) suicide bomber. In January 2014, six men were killed at a Sufi shrine in Karachi in a suspected attack by the Pakistani Taliban. Sufi shrines in Sialkot and Baluchistan were desecrated and set on fire. The Pakistani Taliban threatened to attack the Kalash and Ismaili communities if they did not convert to Islam. A Hindu temple in Larkana was damaged, in protest at alleged desecration of the Quran. At the end of March 2014, a Hindu temple in Hyderabad was set on fire.
Pakistan does not have separate laws regulating the employment of under-age children for domestic help. The Institute for Social Justice, an NGO working for the rights of child labourers, reported that child domestic workers (CDWs) are often sold, exploited, abused, raped, sodomised, tortured and killed. Early in 2014, in Lahore, a ten-year-old maid was allegedly beaten to death by her employer who had accused her of stealing, while a 16 year-old girl working as a maid was found strangled in her employer’s home.
In March 2014, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), in a press statement, condemned the recent demands of the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII), an advisory constitutional body of the Pakistani government, which had recommended amendments to the marriage laws so that men would no longer require the consent of their existing wives to remarry. The chairman of the CII had also called laws prohibiting child marriage un-Islamic. The CII concluded its 192nd meeting with the ruling that women are un-Islamic and that their mere existence contradicted Sharia and the will of God. At the end of March 2014, the Sindh Assembly passed a unanimous resolution against recent CII recommendations and asked the federal government to do away with the Council. On 17 March two girls were murdered for ‘honour’ in Shikarpur after marrying men from another community. On 12 September 2014 Pakistani authorities arrested some suspects of the assassination attempt on 2013 Sakharov Prize winner Malala Yousafzai.
Polio workers have been targeted, with an estimated 30 killed since December 2012. Radical Islamic militants are deeply suspicious of vaccination, which radical clerics have demonised by as part of a supposed western plot to sterilise Muslim children. They also fear polio campaigns being used as cover for spies.
On 23 January 2014, Mohammad Asghar, a 65-year-old British national with a history of mental illness, was sentenced to death after being convicted under Pakistan’s blasphemy laws. In March 2014, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) released a report on blasphemy law prisoners. The report noted that in Pakistan the law was used much more than in other countries, with 14 individuals on death row for blasphemy, 19 serving life sentences, and many others waiting to be sentenced.
Freedom of expression and the fight against terrorism
Freedom of expression in Pakistan is under increasing pressure. The Pakistani Taliban issued a ‘hit-list’ of more than 20 journalists and publishers. In March 2014, journalist and TV anchor Raza Rumi, known for his outspoken views against the Taliban, escaped an attempt on his life in Lahore. Pakistan ranks 158th out of 180 countries on the 2014 World Press Freedom Index. According to Reporters Sans Frontières (RSF), the government seems powerless not only against the Taliban, Jihadist and other armed groups but also the military, which international observers describe as a ‘state within the state’. Seven journalists were murdered in connection with their work in 2013. The government of Pakistan has accorded unlimited powers to law enforcement authorities and military forces to combat terrorism, through the Pakistan Protection Act of 2014. This virtually legalises enforced ‘disappearances’ and extra-judicial killings by the armed forces and intelligence services, on the pretext of combating terrorism.
In September, a Pakistani court postponed the hanging of a murderer convicted in 1998, in what would have been the country’s first civilian execution in six years. Officials were quoted saying the execution had merely been stayed, however, although Pakistan has had a de facto moratorium on civilian hangings since 2008.
Human rights instruments
Pakistan is yet to formally constitute a national commission on human rights which would have the power to investigate both military and intelligence officials, despite a 2012 law authorising its creation. A UN member since 1947, Pakistan has, however, ratified the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel Inhuman or Degrading Treatment, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, the Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Convention on the Rights of the Child and on the sale of children for child prostitution and child pornography, and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
In March 2012, during its quadrennial UN Human Rights Council Universal Periodic Review, Pakistan accepted recommendations that it has to take measures against religious hatred, and hold to account those responsible for such violence. The government, however, has so far not acted to implement these commitments. Despite the serious problem of enforced disappearances in the country, Pakistan has not ratified the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance. Pakistan is not a signatory of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. Nor has Pakistan signed the Protocol to the Covenant on Civil Rights which aims at the abolition of the death penalty.
Pakistan and the EU
The EU has had a formal commercial agreement with Pakistan since1974. The cornerstone of the diplomatic relationship between the two is now the 2004 Cooperation Agreement on partnership and development. Article 1 of this agreement contains a Human Rights Clause, insisting on respect for human rights and democratic principles. In case of non-execution of the agreement, Article 16 stipulates that either party may take appropriate measures. Up to now, Article 16 has not been used. In March 2012, a new political framework, the EU-Pakistan Five-year Engagement Plan, was endorsed, aimed at strengthening cooperation and exchanging expertise on the functioning of civil democratic bodies, safeguarding fundamental human rights and opposing extremist intolerance.
The EU judged that the elections in 2013 were held fairly. However, in a statement in August 2014, the External Action Service expressed deep concern with the current human rights situation and the rise of sectarian violence in the country. In its most recent resolution on Pakistan adopted in April 2014, the European Parliament expressed deep concern at the sharp increase in sectarian violence and religious intolerance towards minorities, attacks on places of worship, including Christian churches, and the continuing repression of women in Pakistan.