Events of 1993
Human Rights Developments
The continuing power struggle between the prime minister and the president dominated political developments for much of the year. With the exception of Pakistan's support for Muslim militants in Kashmir and elsewhere, human rights issues attracted little international or domestic concern; nor did they feature significantly as an issue in the October parliamentary elections that returned Benazir Bhutto to power as Prime Minister.
The riots that followed the destruction of a sixteenth-century mosque in Ayodhya, India, in December 1992 were replicated in Pakistan. Hundreds of Hindus were assaulted throughout the country and at least six, a woman and her five children, burnedto death. Hundreds of homes and some 120 temples were burned or damaged. In many of the incidents, local police and government officials passively watched and did not intervene to stop the violence.
The sudden death of the army chief of staff, Gen. Asif Nawaz, in January, upset the traditional balance of power between Pakistan's ruling troika: the President, Prime Minister, and army commander. Irregularities surrounding Nawaz's death prompted calls for an inquiry that was still underway as of November. On April 18, the power struggle between Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and President Ghulam Ishaq Khan culminated in the President's dismissal of Sharif's government. In a landmark decision on May 26, the Supreme Court declared the President's actions unconstitutional and restored Nawaz Sharif as prime minister. But under pressure from the army, both Ghulam Ishaq Khan and Nawaz Sharif resigned, and an interim Prime Minister, Moeen Qureshi, and President, Wassim Sajjad, were appointed.
Qureshi implemented a number of reforms which attempted to address political corruption, curb the activities of drug traffickers, and tax agricultural lands. In addition, his reforms curtailed the ability of a number of groups to illegally influence election results.
In October elections were held for the national and provincial assemblies. Popular disgust with the political leadership was apparent in the low voter turnout of 40 percent, and 15 percent in Karachi where a local party enforced a boycott. Although no single party won an absolute national majority, the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) led by Benazir Bhutto took the most seats and formed a government. The principal Islamic parties received a record low number of seats.
The political turmoil had little effect on the country's pervasive human rights problems. Legal discrimination against minorities was particularly apparent during the October election. Members of Pakistan's Hindu, Christian, Ahmadi, Parsi, Sikh, Buddhist, Bahai, and Kalash minority communities had been banned from contesting general seats in elections since 1985 and were restricted to voting in a system of separate electorates for minority candidates. Electoral discrimination affected not only minorities but also residents of the federally administered tribal areas whose representatives are elected not by the general population but by a limited number of local notables.
The Ahmadi community officially boycotted the October election to protest their designation as a religious minority. Ahmadis had suffered widespread discrimination by the state as a result of being declared non-Muslim in 1974. Moreover, in the past several years hundreds of Ahmadis were arrested on charges of "insulting Islam" and "posing as Muslims" under the Anti-Islamic Activities Ordinance of 1984. The broad and vague provisions of a series of laws known collectively as the "blasphemy" laws, also dating from 1984, which strengthened criminal penalties for offenses against Islam, were used to bring politically-motivated charges against members of the Ahmadi and Christian communities as well as against some Muslims. Several hundred people were arrested under these laws over the years, including Salamat Masih, a eleven-year-old boy arrested in May 1993 on charges of writing blasphemous statements. As of November, two men, a Christian and a Muslim, had been sentenced to death for blasphemy and the cases remained on appeal.
Women in Pakistan also continued to suffer severe discrimination under the law. Over 60 percent of women in Pakistani jails were sentenced under Islamic penal laws called the Hudood ordinances. Because of the bias against women in the courts and unreasonably high standards of proof for rape allegations, rape victims were prosecuted under these laws for adultery or fornication. Before the October election, Benazir Bhutto repeated her earlier promise to repeal the Hudood ordinances, although it remained unclear whether she would be able to muster the political support to do so.
Abuse of women in custody continued to be reported. On February 27, policemen from the Tando Jam police station near Hyderabad severely beat a fourteen-year-old low-caste Hindu girl, Shakina, after arresting her on charges of theft. Pakistani women were not the only victims. Hundreds of Bangladeshi women were jailed in Pakistan and subjected to similar treatment after having been smuggled into the country – at a rate of over one hundred a month – and forcibly sold into prostitution or domestic servitude. No prosecutions for trafficking in women, however, took place during the year.
Torture and deaths in custody occurred throughout the country, particularly in Sindh province where some forty cases of deaths in custody and "encounter" killings of suspected criminals or political detainees were reported in the first six months of the year. Torture was used both to extract information and to intimidate or humiliate the victim. Police also routinely tortured detainees in order to extract bribes. In May 1993, Nazir Masih, a Christian, was beaten to death in police custody in Faisalabad, reportedly because he refused to provide alcohol for the police. Beatings, electric shock and crushing the muscles with a heavy roller were common forms of torture.
Proscriptions against child labor were ignored, and children often worked as bonded laborers. Over 6,000 children a year were being kidnapped and smuggled to the Gulf States where their small size and light weight made them ideal camel jockeys. The state did little to combat the trade, and Pakistani human rights organizations claimed local officials were involved.
A law providing for automatic bail for children under age fourteen was rarely applied, and thousands of children were held in jails throughout the country.
The Right to Monitor
Human rights groups generally functioned freely in Pakistan during 1993. However, on April 1, three staff members of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, including the organization's director, I.A. Rehman, were detained by police and documents from the commission's office confiscated. The three men were released later that day. The police questioned them about a poster published by the commission which depicted Pakistan's president beating the country with the eighth amendment to the constitution – an amendment which gives the president overriding powers over the prime minister and national assembly. The police confiscated all the posters and several other papers from the office. In response to protests by civil rights organizations and the press, the deputy commissioner of police reportedly issued a statement accusing the Human Rights Commission of publishing an "objectionable poster."
Throughout the Cold War, Pakistan enjoyed a close relationship with the U.S. because it was seen as an important ally against Soviet influence in the region. To that end, U.S. policy was concerned with supporting Pakistan as a military power. Human rights concerns never figured prominently in the relationship. Following the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan in 1989, Pakistan's relationship with the U.S. deteriorated precipitously. Growing concern in the U.S. about Pakistan's nuclear weapons capability and the threat of an arms race in the subcontinent culminated in the suspension of all U.S. economic and military aid to Pakistan on October 1, 1990. However, commercial arms sales have continued.
In late 1992 and early 1993, the U.S. increased pressure on Pakistan to end its support for militant groups in Kashmir. After the U.S. threatened to include Pakistan on its list of countries sponsoring terrorism, Pakistani officials launched a public relations campaign to counter the charges and by mid-year claimed that the flow of arms into Kashmir had been stopped. A police crackdown on suspected militants from Tunisia, Saudi Arabia and Egypt living in Peshawar resulted in scores of arrests and deportations. On July 14 Pakistan was removed from the U.S. State Department's terrorist watch list. Public statements have tended to focus on the holding of elections. At an October 28 background briefing for the South Asia press corps, a senior administration official commended Pakistan for conducting "as free and fair an election as you can get in that part of the world." During a visit to Pakistan in November, Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia Robin Raphel raised the case of eleven-year-old Salamat Masih, detained in May on blasphemy charges. Within hours the boy was released on bail, but charges were not immediately dropped.
The Work of Asia Watch
In a report issued in June on the conflict in Kashmir, Asia Watch condemned Pakistan's role in supporting abusive militant groups. Following the killing of twenty Somali civilians by Pakistani troops on June 13, Africa Watch urged Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali to ensure that the soldiers responsible were returned to Pakistan with the recommendation that the government of Pakistan carry out court martial proceedings.
In September, Asia Watch issued a report on Pakistan's blasphemy laws which concluded that these laws impose dangerous restrictions on internationally recognized rights of freedom and expression and freedom of religion, and have led to serious abuses particularly against the country's minorities.
An Asia Watch mission to investigate bonded labor took place in October. The report was planned for 1994.
Disclaimer: © Copyright, Human Rights Watch