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The mirror on the wall

HRCP's report not just enumerates human rights violations, it recommends what could be done to bring in the urgent change we need

The mirror on the wall

Each year, the annual report released by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan reflects the reality we live in through a series of figures, summaries of events and stories that provide us a glimpse into the lives of people. The document is a valuable one. It brings together a host of data in a country where too little exists to document quite what happens all around us. Too much of what we hear is anecdotal and not backed by fact.

This year too, the HRCP report for 2013 offers us a sometimes alarming insight into what happens across our country. We learn, for example that at least 869 women were killed last year in the name of honour. At least 56 were killed simply for giving birth to a girl child and hundreds of others committed suicide. They were not alone in death. Over 200 Hazara Shias who were mowed down by militants in Balochistan and other sectarian attacks killed over 687 people. The mob violence of past years returned in many places with minority groups often facing the worst wrath.

A new group of vulnerable people appear to have joined the list of those in particular danger. Eleven journalists were killed and many injured in 2013. We of course see the pattern continuing into the current year. The number of unemployed people made a steep rise upwards, rising from 3.40 million in 2010-11 to 3.72 million in 2013. In figures not starkly dissimilar from those reported in previous years, around two million Pakistanis continued to act as slaves in one way or the other and there was little progress in terms of literacy or health cover for people while the polio endemic continued, facilitated by the killing of at least 20 vaccinators during the year.

This tied in with a wider, more general breakdown in law and order, with 3,218 persons killed in Karachi — a 14 percent increase since the previous year, 694 killed in 45 suicide bombings and at least 14,000 murdered. The large quantities of arms and ammunition seized during the year contributed to these deaths.

The picture then is, seen from the point of view of people, a grim one. It is also true that the actual figures could paint a still darker reality. The statistics put together by HRCP in what constitutes the most detailed assessment of human rights in the country are based on press reports, and as we all know many cases of violence are not reported in print.

From behind the dark clouds, rays of light however shone through. It is noted that Pakistan, for the first time in history, completed a peaceful democratic transition while the number of women contesting general seats in 2013 was 218 percent higher than in 2008. This is a trend to be welcomed, even if we still need action to ensure more women are registered as voters and are able to participate in the electoral process.

A great deal else is required as well. Going well beyond a mere compilation of figures, the HRCP report backs them with crisp analysis and recommendations, proposing what could be done to bring in the urgent change we need. It advocates better implementation of laws with active legislative work by provincial assemblies noted, the concerns raised by new anti-terrorism laws are commented on — and the flaws in existing laws, such as the vague requirements laid down in Articles 62 and 63 of the Constitution, regarding the piety of those contesting elections, brought to attention. The need for a strong, independent Election Commission is raised.

We are also asked to think about the role played by the Supreme Court, its’ possible over-stepping of constitutional boundaries with respect to the role of specific institutions, the number of suo motu notices taken by it and attitudes adopted towards elected politicians, including an elected prime minister. The report of course lays down the facts for us to consider. But by doing so it makes us think a little more deeply about the role of the various players who have through 2013 placed a footprint on the history of our country, and what this means for our future.

This future is one we need to think about. We need to think very hard. With activists such as Parveen Rahman killed early in 2013 in Karachi, and others targeted at various times in other places, it seems even those attempting to do some good are not to be allowed to continue. The continued disappearance of people, torture and the turning up of bodies in Balochistan adds to the bleakness. Our country is not a happy place; too many people suffer with factors such as the energy crisis contributing to unemployment. Small pools of light, such as the continued moratorium on the death penalty, create only limited hope – or a sense that things may change.

But that change is essential. It has to come. The HRCP report puts forward a carefully collected and clearly assessed set of reasons for this. It also suggests how this change can be achieved, even when things look especially grim. But we see also momentum from within civil society. What we need to see is greater governmental commitment and a genuine desire to rescue a country lost amidst a labyrinth of problems.

At times, even reading through the report, it may seem there is no way out. But the openings, even if small, are there. We simply need to find a way to reach them. The HRCP report makes a set of highly pertinent comments on how this can be achieved. It indeed sets out the road map. As such it is a document not to be neglected but carefully studied as one that can lead us, step by step, away from the problems we face so that people can live better lives. The secret to this of course lies in taking a holistic look at matters, looking at the report as a whole and remembering that improvement in the various areas mentioned in it is essentially tied together. One cannot be resolved without also dealing with the other, and keeping in mind that while some spheres require more urgent attention, our country is a unit within which the tackling of one issue can lead to an improvement in other areas too. Policy needs to be devised keeping this in view — but most important of all is the need to find the commitment to put policies in place.

Kamila Hyat

kamila hayat
The writer is a freelance columnist and former newspaper editor. She may be contacted at [email protected]

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