Last Updated: Monday, 28 July 2014, 16:37 GMT

Annual Report on Human Rights 2008 - Pakistan

Publisher United Kingdom: Foreign and Commonwealth Office
Author United Kingdom Foreign and Commonwealth Office
Publication Date 26 March 2009
Cite as United Kingdom: Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Annual Report on Human Rights 2008 - Pakistan, 26 March 2009, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/49ce361b46.html [accessed 29 July 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Introduction

In February 2008, parliamentary elections in Pakistan delivered a civilian government after 8 years of military rule. The outcome of these elections reflected the will of the Pakistani people and signalled democratic change in Pakistan. The civilian government faces challenges including serious human rights issues, often related to weak state institutions.

We remain concerned that the government of Pakistan needs to address issues of poor access to justice, impunity, discrimination and violence against vulnerable groups, including women and minorities, non-implementation of legislation regarding rights of children, arbitrary application of Islamic penal and blasphemy legislation, arbitrary application of the death penalty, extra-judicial killings, arbitrary detention and the use of torture, abuse of power by law enforcement officials and enforced disappearances. Sectarian and terrorist acts in Pakistan caused by extremists include indiscriminate killing, inadequate justice through impromptu Shari'a courts, and the destruction of girls' schools.

The February elections were described by the EU Election Observation Mission (EOM) as "a pluralist process in which a broad range of views were expressed, an election that was competitive and a polling process which achieved increased public confidence in comparison to previous elections". The presence of international observers precipitated a number of checks to improve the electoral process, including restrictions on interference, ensuring full and proper media coverage and the release or charge of those detained under the state of emergency. The involvement of international and domestic observers also contributed to the outcome.

The UK participated in the EU EOM, which published a report of the elections on 16 April. This made 83 recommendations to improve the electoral process and wider democratic environment to ensure that democracy takes root in Pakistan. These included recommendations:

  • to support the development of an independent judiciary to provide effective oversight;
  • to harmonise electoral laws;
  • to increase participation (particularly from under represented groups such as women and minorities);
  • to improve voter education;
  • to improve electoral roll;
  • to improve the role of parliament; and
  • to develop an independent election administration and enhance internal democracy within political parties.

Members of the government of Pakistan have promised a debate about the EU EOM report in the National Assembly, although this has not yet taken place. The UK, working with the EU, will help Pakistan take forward the recommendations made by the EU EOM. This is part of an enhanced EU commitment to Pakistan involving assistance and co-operation on economic development, trade, counter-terrorism, non-proliferation, human rights, migration, education and regional co-operation.

On 12 May, the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) lifted the suspension imposed on Pakistan in November 2007 after its members were satisfied that Pakistan had met the conditions for re-instatement, which were:

  • the repeal of the state of emergency and full restoration of the constitution and the independence of the judiciary; this included full restoration of fundamental rights and the rule of law curbed under the state of emergency;
  • for President Musharraf to step down as Chief of Army Staff;
  • the release of political detainees and activists, lawyers and journalists detained under the proclamation of emergency;
  • the removal of media restrictions; and
  • for Pakistan to move towards the creation of conditions for the holding of free and fair elections.

After the elections in February, the two main parties of the coalition government, the Pakistan's People's Party (PPP) and the Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz (PML-N) announced that the new government would restore the judges dismissed by President Musharraf under the state of emergency. Failure to reinstate all the judges led to the eventual split in the PPP-PML-N coalition in August.

In that period between February and August, the judges themselves mobilised what became the 'Lawyers Movement', which had considerable support from the media and the public.

Our position was clear, that we attach great importance to respect for independence of the judiciary as the cornerstone of the rule of law and we supported the efforts of the coalition leaders to find a solution that would see the judiciary restored. We continue to encourage reform that addresses the structural problems hampering the judiciary in Pakistan. We recognise the role of the judiciary as defenders of fundamental human rights protected by the constitution.

As a member of the UN Human Rights Council since 2006, Pakistan has expressed a desire to improve its human rights record but, until recently, had made little progress. In April, Pakistan ratified the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) and signed the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) as well as the Convention against Torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment (CAT). We are supporting the production of a study into the necessary legislative changes and impact of incorporating the ICCPR in Pakistan in order to help officials, legislators and civil society work towards its implementation.

Pakistan participated in the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in May 2008. This mechanism of the UN Human Rights Council presented an opportunity for members, including the UK, to scrutinise Pakistan's human rights record and make recommendations for progress. Significantly, most recommendations committed Pakistan to taking action, which will be reviewed in four years. At the UPR, the UK raised questions about how Pakistan would implement the international conventions it had signed or ratified to safeguard the rights of minorities and how Pakistan would monitor and investigate human rights violations perpetrated by the security forces.

In October, the Federal Cabinet approved a draft bill to set up a National Commission for Human Rights which is currently being considered by parliament. We are funding an awareness-raising campaign to support parliamentarians and civil society's discussion about potential changes to the bill. The commission should have powers to investigate individual human rights abuses and to recommend ratification of international instruments and changes to national legislation. We hope the commission will become a voice in the defence and promotion of human rights in Pakistan, and that the newly appointed Federal Minister for Human Rights and Minority Affairs will be able to address these abuses.


Current concerns

Border areas

The government of Pakistan faces a difficult security situation in the Federally Administered Tribal Area (FATA) bordering Afghanistan. We share Pakistan's concern about the security situation there, which poses a serious threat to Pakistan itself, as well as to UK and NATO International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) interests in Afghanistan. The UK and Pakistan co-operate closely to tackle the terrorist threat from the tribal belt. We support the government of Pakistan's multi-pronged policy, combining security measures with political reform and economic development. We urge that all military action and security measures are part of a comprehensive approach to tackling the threat from violent terrorism and that it occurs within the parameters of international human rights standards.

In the FATA there has been concern that legislation has been used arbitrarily by Pakistan's intelligence agencies to detain suspects in security and counter-terrorism cases. Prime Minister Gillani has set up a Cabinet Committee, which has made a series of recommendations aimed at reforming governance in the FATA. If these recommendations are implemented, they will bring increased accountability and transparency by introducing a right of appeal against decisions by FATA authorities, revising collective punishment provisions to make them more specific to individuals, and ensuring there are written records of all judicial casework.

In Kashmir, we continue to encourage those parties directly involved in the conflict to make progress through dialogue, not violence. This includes calling for an end to all external support for violence in Kashmir, and an improvement in the human rights situation there.

Counter-terrorism

Pakistan is an important partner in our efforts to counter terrorism and we work closely at all levels. We are concerned about reports of human rights abuses perpetrated by Pakistan's intelligence and police authorities, including illegal and arbitrary arrests, enforced disappearances, extra-judicial killings, torture and impunity flowing from a lack of judicial oversight. We ensure our programme of support for building Pakistan's counter terrorism capability addresses the importance of human rights compliance based on internationally agreed human rights standards. We work closely with the government of Pakistan to help prevent extremism through support for development, governance and education.

Death penalty

The number of executions being carried out in Pakistan is on the increase. Approximately 7,000 prisoners are on death row. The majority of condemned prisoners are those convicted under trials that do not comply with minimum standards. Pakistan sanctions the death penalty for 27 offences, most of which go beyond the scope of the expression used in the ICCPR as most serious crimes.

In June, Prime Minister Gillani announced that he would commute all death sentences except for those imposed for the most heinous crimes to life imprisonment. We are encouraging Pakistan to action this commitment. The Supreme Court is currently considering whether this commitment can be upheld for those convicted by Shari'a courts. It is disappointing that executions have continued to take place while this is being considered.

Women's rights

There is a serious need to promote and protect women's rights in Pakistan. Pakistan ranks in the bottom third of the UN Gender Development Index, at 124th place out of 157, and the UN Gender Empowerment Measure, at 82nd out of 93. Further legislation is needed to ensure compatibility with the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. This was raised during the UN Universal Periodic Review. There has been no legislation passed since 2006, when the Women's Protection Act brought rape under the penal code.

In August, it was reported that five women in Baluchistan were buried alive in an honour killing for planning to marry without family consent. The UK, through our EU partners, condemned this extreme violence through an official declaration, which called for the government of Pakistan to bring those responsible to justice.

The growth in extremism in Pakistan badly affects women who continue to be subjected to violence. Cases of acid burning and honour killings continue to be reported. Law enforcement agencies are reluctant to register these cases.

Progress has been made on representation of women in public office, but needs to continue. In the past 15 years the number of women National Assembly members has risen from 2 per cent to 30 per cent. Women are now more visible as political entities. In its report of 16 April, the EU EOM made a number of recommendations to promote the participation of women in the election process. It also recommended that political parties should set aside leadership and decision-making positions to women.

We hope the government of Pakistan takes forward further measures to protect women's rights. We will continue to encourage this progress through a range of political and project engagement. We are working to help Pakistan achieve the Millennium Development Goals in order to deliver better access to employment, economic development, health and education for women and girls.

Freedom of religion

With our EU partners, we have raised our concerns over the situation of religious minorities in Pakistan and the frequent abuse of the blasphemy legislation.Official discrimination, sectarian conflict and violent extremism in Pakistan cause significant problems for minority groups such as the Ahmadis, Christians and Hindus who face discrimination, detention and violence. Although former President Musharraf had made public statements in favour of reform or repeal of discriminatory legislation there has not been progress in implementing changes through the National Assembly.

With our EU partners we have made representations to the government of Pakistan on behalf of the Ahmadiyya community. The EU issued a demarche in July in response to the expulsion of 23 Ahmadiyya students from a medical college in Pakistan. In this demarche, the EU stressed the need for the Pakistani authorities to act consistently to guarantee the right of every citizen to profess, practise and propagate his religion. The students were later able to resume their studies.

During the Universal Periodic Review, Pakistan committed to introduce checks to regulate investigations into allegations of blasphemy and apostasy

Enforced disappearances and illegal detentions

In April, Law Minister Farooq Naek announced that the government was collecting details of disappeared persons, and would release information about them. We are concerned at reports that thousands of people have been detained without access to a judicial process. Through our EU partners, we are encouraging the Pakistani authorities to release the names of those who have been detained secretly and to sign, ratify and implement the International Convention for the Protection of all Persons from Enforced Disappearances.

Freedom of the media

In response to restrictions placed during the state of emergency, the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group required the removal of restrictions on the media as a condition for lifting Pakistan's suspension from the Commonwealth. We also called on the previous government of Pakistan to ensure that all media outlets were free to cover all aspects of the February election process so that voters could make an informed choice. Media freedom in Pakistan is now at a level similar to that before the state of emergency was imposed in November 2007. All private media broadcasters are back on air. On 11 April, Sherry Rehman, the Federal Minister for Information and Broadcasting, introduced a bill in parliament to repeal all the media restrictions imposed by President Musharraf during the state of emergency. A draft Freedom of Information Act is pending cabinet approval.


UK action

We are encouraging human rights reform through our regular dialogue with the government of Pakistan, both bilaterally and through the EU. It is a vital part of our commitment to support the government of Pakistan in building a prosperous and stable society based on parliamentary democracy and the rule of law. We are promoting a framework based on good governance, strong democratic institutions and development and security. This is essential to address the institutional weaknesses that contribute to human rights problems in Pakistan.

Our High Commission in Islamabad is funding and implementing 26 human rights-related projects in addition to funding support through donor organisations. Through the Public Diplomacy Fund, we are supporting projects on women's rights, training and creation of a lawyers' network of human rights advocates and on improving investigative journalism in Pakistan to encourage impartial reporting on political, electoral and human rights issues. Using the Strategic Programme Fund and Conflict Prevention Pool, projects are under way to raise awareness and teaching of human rights issues in schools throughout Pakistan:

  • projects that support for Pakistan's Youth Parliament to promote democratic citizenship in conjunction with other programmes to encourage young people to develop understanding and commitment to democracy;
  • programmes to promote governance, rule of law and human rights among vulnerable youths to encourage articulation of moderate views and counter extremism;
  • projects that support capacity-building for civil society groups; and
  • projects to facilitate trust between the Pakistani military and local communities by cultivating human rights awareness within the military.

The work of DfID in Pakistan is framed by the 2006 UK-Pakistan Development Partnership Arrangement, a 10-year joint vision based on a shared resolve to reduce poverty, address corruption, improve coordination between donors and respect international human rights obligations. DfID also approved that £3.5 million should be spent to support the electoral process in Pakistan, including strengthening the administrative capacity of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) and supporting civil society to increase turnout and educate voters.


Forward look

The UK is committed to supporting a sustained democratic transition in Pakistan. In 2009, we will build on the progress we have made by working with our EU partners to enhance commitment to Pakistan in a new EU strategy. As well as human rights, the EU is committed to assistance and co operation on economic development, trade, counter terrorism, non-proliferation, migration, education and regional co-operation. We will take forward the recommendations made by the EU EOM by identifying ways to support the strengthening of democratic institutions and create a better framework in which to safeguard human rights. Through political and project engagement we will continue to encourage Pakistan's government to promote and protect human rights and fulfil the obligations it has undertaken by signing and ratifying international human rights treaties.

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