Rights and wrongs

Religious minorities have historically been deprived of many of the rights that the majority enjoys, and the year 2019 was no different

On April 30, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) published its annual ‘State of Human Rights’ report for the country. The report has once again highlighted the many areas where Pakistan continues to lag behind on the human rights front.

Divided into separate chapters for the provinces and federating units of the country, the HRCP report further categorises the many sections of the society that remain the most marginalised when it comes to human rights. These include children, women and religious minorities.

Child abuse cases were reported throughout 2019, with underage labourers particularly vulnerable to abuse. 2,846 child rape cases were officially reported last year, while many remain unreported.

Women continue to remain at the wrong of the prejudices of the patriarchal society. The report underlines persistence of cases of violence against women, including the prevalence of honour killings in the country. Women also continue to suffer from workplace discrimination, financial disparity and overall inclusion and access to benefits.

Religious minorities have historically been deprived of many of the rights that the majority enjoys, and the year 2019 was no different. The report underlines the lack of freedom that certain communities enjoy with regards to expressing their religion and beliefs. The HRCP’s report also underlines cases of worship places being desecrated, forced conversions, and the systematic sidelining of members belonging to the minority religions in Pakistan.

While the HRCP report established that certain demographics face more discrimination, it also highlighted many other human rights issues that remain unaddressed by the state. These issues the increasing number of missing persons in the country, and the declining freedom of speech.

“Last year will be remembered for systematic curbs on political dissent, chokehold on press freedom and grievous neglect of economic and social rights,” says HRCP General Secretary Harris Khalique. This year Reporters Sans Frontieres ranked Pakistan 145 out of 180 countries, which is six positions lower than were the country was two years ago.

Many rights activists have criticised many of the policies of the incumbent Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI) government, saying that it has aggravated the human rights situation and contradicted principles of democracy.

“Democracy cannot survive without pluralism and diversity. These actions by the current government violate the fundamental principles of democracy,” says Freedom Network Executive Director Iqbal Khattak.

While the HRCP underlined the many failings of the government, the Human Rights Ministry has criticised the commission for failing to note many of its successes from last year.

“Although the process of changing mindsets, laws and institutions is one that is long and slow, it is critical to keep sight and track of all the steps and progress along the way. To simply deny the progress being made in confronting the massive challenges facing Pakistan today as a result of decades of neglect itself raises question of intent,” said a statement issued by the Human Rights ministry.

The ministry highlighted the Zainab Alert, Response and Recovery Act 2020 and the national action plan against child abuse as major achievements for 2019. The ministry also maintains that steps have been taken to curtail domestic violence, with women’s rights especially high on the priority list amidst the rise of abuse during the ongoing covid-19 lockdown.

The HRCP, in turn, has welcomed the response, but has conveyed that the positives underlined by the human rights ministry have been featured in the annual report.

Other criticism on the HRCP report has come from voices that suggest that the commission missed out on a few important details. Among these is the discussion on the official rights body, the National Commission for Human Rights, which has been dysfunctional for over a year now.

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