Last Updated: Friday, 31 October 2014, 10:08 GMT

Human Rights and Democracy: The 2010 Foreign & Commonwealth Office Report - Pakistan

Publisher United Kingdom: Foreign and Commonwealth Office
Publication Date 31 March 2011
Cite as United Kingdom: Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Human Rights and Democracy: The 2010 Foreign & Commonwealth Office Report - Pakistan, 31 March 2011, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4d99aa805f.html [accessed 31 October 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.

The 2010 UN Development Index ranked Pakistan at 125 out of 169 countries, down from 112 in 2008. Global indices relating to gender, children's rights and corruption showed Pakistan near the bottom. Women and vulnerable groups faced legal discrimination and high levels of abuse and violence. Weaknesses in the rule of law, along with a dysfunctional criminal justice system, restricted access to justice for the vast majority of those who needed it. NGOs continued to make allegations of extra-judicial killings, other ill treatment and torture by state agencies. Devastating flooding in August coupled with poor governance resulted in the ineffective delivery of basic services such as education and healthcare. Freedom of expression and of religion or belief remained limited, in part because of repressive measures by the state, but also because of increased religious conservatism within society, and the activities of violent extremist organisations. The ongoing conflict in the border regions caused a huge displacement of the resident population, and associated rights violations.

Internal instability, conflict and humanitarian disaster have taken their toll on human rights. However, the current administration did make some progress, notably ratification of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention against Torture (although with reservations); reform of the constitution to decentralise power; and moves towards electoral reform. The democratically elected government of Asif Zardari passed the halfway mark of its term in office, a notable landmark in a country where no elected government has seen out its tenure. A vibrant media and civil society continued to flourish, albeit within certain parameters, and the judiciary, although heavily politicised, remained highly independent of the executive.

Pakistan remains one of our highest foreign policy priorities, and 2010 saw ministerial visits from the Foreign Secretary William Hague, Home Secretary Theresa May, International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell and Minister without Portfolio Baroness Warsi. Implementation of Pakistan's international human rights commitments is integral to ensuring long-term prosperity and stability, and is in our national interest.

In 2010 the FCO continued to work closely with other UK government departments, the government of Pakistan, other governments and NGOs to address key human rights challenges. In particular, we focused on supporting the government of Pakistan in ratifying and implementing key international human rights instruments; tackling the discrimination and abuse faced by women and minority groups; and enhancing international coordination on human rights. Our lobbying contributed to the government of Pakistan's decision to ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention against Torture, although we are concerned by the reservations that it made when doing so. Our support also helped the Ministry for Women's Development to make significant progress towards the criminalisation of domestic violence, along with other legal measures to remove discrimination against women. We also provided capacity building and support to civil society groups to support their work in speaking out against extremism and intolerance, and in support of democracy and reform.

The year 2010 was an extremely challenging one for Pakistan, and 2011 is likely to follow a similar course. It is estimated that 20 million people were directly affected by the unprecedented flooding. We are working closely with Pakistan and international partners to ensure that there is a credible recovery plan in place.

We will continue to intervene on human rights issues in Pakistan where we believe we can make a positive difference. For 2011, our focus will be on four key priorities: to support an end to discrimination and violence against women; to strengthen freedom of expression, religion and belief; to encourage stronger implementation of Pakistan's international commitments; and to build the capacity of civil society and bodies mandated to challenge the state's effectiveness on human rights, such as the Parliamentary Committee for Human Rights.

Elections

The elections of 2008 were described by the EU as relatively fair and free. Election observation missions made several recommendations about how the electoral process could be improved. The Election Commission of Pakistan, with the support of the international community, continued to push ahead with its five-year strategy for electoral reform, which began in 2009; this is focused on policy, administrative and legal reforms. Some real progress was made during the course of 2010. The list of registered voters continued to be revised by the National Data Registration Agency in conjunction with the Election Commission, who also put in place several internal reforms to improve the way they work. We have been highly supportive of these efforts and have lobbied the government and parliament on the need for such reforms. There is senior political support for change in this regard but the momentum needs to be maintained to ensure freer and fairer elections, scheduled for 2013.

Access to justice

The justice sector in Pakistan is under-trained, often politicised, corrupt and under-resourced. The courts currently face a backlog of more than 1 million cases. Successful convictions are rare. Police investigations are often seriously flawed, based on allegation rather than evidence, and trials cannot be described as either fair or free in many cases, being marked by delay and intimidation. The government has made little progress on a comprehensive national strategy towards improving the situation, instead focusing on ad hoc measures such as increasing police salaries in Punjab. This is in part because the responsibility for formulating and implementing policy rests with the provincial rather than the federal-level government. The chief justice of the Supreme Court published a national judicial policy to tackle some of these issues amongst the judiciary in 2009, which in 2010 achieved a slight reduction in the huge backlog of cases.

Because the problems are on such a significant scale, we focused on particular issues or areas where we can make a difference. In 2010, we worked with local partners to improve the awareness of legislation around juvenile detainees which led to improved handling of these cases in several large districts across Pakistan.

Project work focused on informing local police and other officials about forced marriage and child abduction issues to prevent them from happening, particularly to UK nationals, and to handle these cases sensitively when they occurred. This work received positive feedback from those involved. With an estimated 2,000 deaths due to terrorism in Pakistan in 2010, we also worked with the police and the military to strengthen their legislative framework to tackle this violence. We delivered training to the Pakistan military and police that incorporated relevant human rights components, which was monitored and evaluated within this context.

Rule of law

The rule of law is fundamental to tackling many of the challenges faced by Pakistan, from the effective protection of human rights to poverty reduction and good governance. It is at the heart of a stable democracy and strong civilian institutions. However, the rule of law remains weak. This has led to widespread allegations of human rights violations and a poor response from the criminal justice system to the continued terrorist and sectarian violence which killed thousands of people in 2010.

This issue is a matter of concern for the Pakistani people; 39% felt law and order was the most serious issue facing the government in a 2010 UK-Gallup poll. The British Council's "Next Generation Report" showed 30% felt injustice was the main reason for violence and terror in Pakistan. The reasons behind weaknesses in the rule of law in Pakistan are complex, and require significant senior political will to overcome them.

In addition to terrorist-related atrocities, 2010 saw continued and serious allegations of disappearances, abductions and extra-judicial killings made against state security forces and the police by international and national human rights organisations. In response to a video, purporting to show extra-judicial killings in Swat, posted on YouTube and aired on BBC News on 2 October, the Chief of Army Staff launched an official enquiry which has yet to report publicly. We raised our concerns with the military and the government at the most senior levels. Human rights bodies continued to record deaths in police custody, which they alleged were the result of torture or other ill treatment.

Civil society organisations reported enforced disappearances and extra-judicial killings, including targeted killings, in Balochistan. As a result of civil society lobbying, in early 2010 the Supreme Court called on the Ministry of Interior, the military and the intelligence agencies to defend themselves against allegations of enforced disappearances involving hundreds of specific individuals. The government, military and intelligence agencies were called before the Supreme Court and several people were released from illegal detention. The Ministry of Interior established a cell to examine the remaining "missing persons" and committed to work with all parts of the security apparatus to report back on the whereabouts of these individuals. The UK, alongside EU partners, supported these moves towards greater transparency and continued to advocate full disclosure of the whereabouts of all those missing.

Death penalty

Twenty-seven offences carry the death penalty in Pakistan, and the country has more than 7,000 inmates on death row. There is significant public support for capital punishment, including for blasphemy offences. However, in 2010, no one was executed by the state. In October 2009, the prime minister began a consultation with provincial governments about the legislation governing the use of the death penalty. This consultation is ongoing and there is a de facto moratorium on its use. We welcomed this, but continued to work with civil society, and lobby the government and parliament – alongside the EU – to reform the relevant legislation with a view to abolishing the death penalty.

Torture and other ill treatment

The media and civil society made regular allegations of torture in 2010. Torture is prohibited under the constitution of Pakistan. A large number of these alleged incidents are reported to have occurred in police or security agency custody during attempts to extract confessions or force cooperation with an investigation. Similar abuse has also been widely reported in prisons, perpetrated by both officers and inmates.

The extent of such abuse is hard to determine given the nature of the problem and the lack of accurate data, but the number of allegations remained fairly consistent. In 2010 the Pakistani government ratified the Convention against Torture and the Ministry of Human Rights is clear that its intention is to prevent such mistreatment of individuals. However, by the end of 2010 Pakistan had yet to withdraw or amend the reservations it had lodged against some of the core provisions of this treaty when ratifying it. It had also not amended the national law to bring it into line with international minimum standards.

Prisons and detention issues

At the end of 2010 the prison system was operating at 194% capacity, with more than two-thirds of all detainees in 'pre-trial' detention, detained for months or years before facing trial. Most detainees endured harsh, basic conditions and limited recourse to legal aid. In 2010 efforts were made by the government of Pakistan to segregate vulnerable prisoners by reducing the number of juveniles in detention and placing women in female-only detention centres. However, a lack of reliable data makes it difficult to assess the extent to which these efforts have been successful. The president has also led efforts to improve the conditions for those convicted or awaiting trial for capital offences. The current government claimed to have released all "political prisoners" – which numbered in their hundreds during the Musharraf era – but there is limited objective evidence available to support such statements. There is no effective national policy towards managing the increasing numbers of detainees.

In 2010, we worked with senior prison officials in different provinces in Pakistan to enhance their understanding of international best practice, exposing them to offender management in the UK, and our ongoing efforts to improve and reform our own system.

Human rights defenders

Civil society in Pakistan is vibrant and energetic, with thousands of NGOs involved in advocacy and grass-roots support. However, NGOs can face threats from violent extremists, bureaucratic hurdles and political pressure. As a result, the NGO community does exercise a degree of self-censorship. During 2010, we engaged with the government of Pakistan on behalf of specific NGOs that have faced particular problems, urging the government to protect the fundamental rights of all citizens, as laid out in the Pakistani constitution. Through the EU, we raised our concerns regarding human rights defenders with the government of Pakistan.

There was slow progress towards setting up a Human Rights Commission for Pakistan. The federal Ministry of Human Rights has undertaken to pass the necessary legislation in 2011. A Human Rights Commission for Pakistan will be a vital pillar to help ensure that the fundamental rights of all Pakistanis are upheld by working to provide a more secure environment in which NGOs can operate.

Freedom of expression

In 2010 media freedom continued to improve, with more of the press openly challenging the government and increasingly the military and security agencies over matters such as enforced disappearances. The constitutional reforms included a new article which guaranteed the right of every citizen to freedom of information. This was partly influenced by a UK-funded project to promote the value of improved freedom of information in support of better governance. We worked closely with the Ministry for Information to support its work to formulate a freedom of information law, through the provision of information and exposure to the UK system and the challenges we have faced in implementing such a law.

However, despite these positive developments, Reporters Without Borders rated Pakistan as 151 out of 178 countries in its "Freedom Index 2010", making it one of the most dangerous countries in the world to be a journalist. There were several high-profile cases last year where journalists were attacked by unknown assailants. Several journalists were killed in the border areas in terrorist incidents.

In order to restrict media reporting of issues deemed to be of national security, the Pakistani government made moves to amend the current legislation governing the activities of the media by imposing fines and the threat of imprisonment for any reporting considered to be detrimental. These changes are still proceeding through parliament. The government also intervened to block transmission – via the state regulatory authority – of several channels, including the BBC Urdu radio service. This action was challenged in the Supreme Court, who ruled in the media's favour, ending these restrictions. Effective self-regulation has yet to take root, and much of the media is heavily politicised and partisan, and liable to interference by powerful corporate owners. Overall, the media continued to become more open and hold the government to account, although some outlets remained focused on conveying the "official" position on many issues. We lobbied strongly at senior levels against media restrictions.

Freedom of religion and belief

The assassination of the governor of Punjab in early January 2011 because of his outspoken position in favour of religious tolerance indicated an increasing culture of intolerance and violence perpetrated against minority groups and their supporters. The blasphemy legislation continued to be misused to target both Muslims and non-Muslims, often resulting in prison sentences. In one high-profile case, Asia Bibi became the first woman to be sentenced to death for blasphemy. Several people accused of blasphemy died in custody, or were murdered by unknown individuals when they were granted bail or acquitted. Attacks against Christians and other religious minorities, particularly Ahamadis, continued, with suicide bombers in Lahore killing more than 100 people in May. The case of Shazia Masih, an adolescent girl employed illegally as a domestic servant who was allegedly tortured and murdered by her employers, underlined the marginalised position of the Christian community.

The government's Ministry of Minorities, along with the president and the prime minister, have made public their commitment to protect minorities and their freedom to worship. Some positive measures have been taken such as reserving quotas in the public sector and parliament for minorities and setting up complaints procedures for those encountering discrimination or abuse. However, this is countered by a growing culture of intolerance led by religious groups who have stepped into the gap left by the government's inability to deliver justice or basic services. We continued to support those who wish to see reform through lobbying and project work. Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State Alistair Burt has engaged regularly on this issue with Pakistan's Minister for Minorities Shahbaz Bhatti. Unfortunately efforts by the Pakistani government to reduce the abuses associated with the blasphemy law have been stalled by public opposition to any reform following the assassination of Governor Taseer, and there is little likelihood of much-needed reform in the near future.

Women's rights

International and national NGOs report serious concerns about the extent of violence against women, with discrimination against women enshrined in law. The 2010 UN Development Programme Gender Equality Survey showed that women represented only 21% of the workforce. Human Rights Watch estimated that 90% of women in Pakistan are affected by some kind of domestic abuse. Violence against women, including sexual violence, continued to be reported by the media in 2010. The Federal Shariat Court issued a highly unwelcome judgment reinstating its right to act as the court of final appeal on cases of rape, which it had previously given up in response to significant domestic and international pressure during the previous decade.

We actively supported the work of the Ministry for Women's Development, both financially and politically. The ministry drafted, and at the end of 2010 was currently working with parliament to pass, two bills to criminalise domestic violence and to make it easier to convict those responsible for acid attacks, or similar crimes against women. However this legislation became stuck in parliament owing to opposition from the religious conservatives. There continued to be a strong and outspoken civil society campaigning on women's issues. Several high-profile roles in government are filled by women, including the speaker, who is the first female speaker in South Asia, and the president of the Supreme Court Bar Association. Women played an active role in the parliament this year, tabling as much as 80% of the legislation according to one monitoring body, and actively debating key issues on the floor of the assembly.

We continued to work to support civil society and those parts of government which aim to support and protect women. Progress remains slow, and moves towards greater empowerment for women are challenged by the gradual growth of a culture of intolerance within Pakistani society, exploited by extremist groups for their own agendas. However, ministerial and senior-level intervention, UK-supported activity around international days to mark women's rights, and a campaign of action to prevent domestic violence helped to reinvigorate the public debate and maintain momentum towards reform. Through public engagement with women parliamentarians and activists, we also helped to protect and encourage these leaders to challenge abuse and discrimination and reduce the risk of reprisals.

Children's rights

The situation for children in Pakistan was not significantly improved in 2010. Despite the efforts of civil society and the international community, UNICEF and Save the Children estimate that millions of children still suffer as bonded labourers, often as a result of their parents' poverty. Access to primary school education remained limited, with only 57% of children enrolled. Progress to further education was also restricted. According to the UN Development Programme, 2010 statistics showed that only 23% of women and 46% of men had a secondary education and the education received was often of poor quality. The floods in August adversely affected children in terms of their environment, education and health, with the Department for International Development (DFID) estimating that more than 10,000 schools were damaged or destroyed. This was exacerbated by terrorist attacks in the border regions that often focused on schools and female students.

For these reasons, a central part of our development programme is to improve the quality, access to, and availability of primary schooling in Pakistan. Improvements have been made at national, provincial and community levels to the way the education sector functions, but there is still some way to go before Pakistan can be said to have reached the Millennium Development Goal for education of ensuring that all children have access to a full primary school education. We continue to lobby the government at all levels and to work with civil society to advocate for education reform and better conditions for children.

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