Latest Update: 31 December 2013
During the last three months Pakistan has continued to grapple with numerous human rights challenges in an increasingly difficult security environment.
In response to the September Peshawar church bombing, civil society groups formed human shields outside churches in Lahore and Islamabad in mid-October. Groups expressed solidarity with the victims of the Peshawar bombing and gave the message that the majority of Pakistanis opposed militant attacks on the Christian community.
In early October local human rights groups welcomed the government’s continued moratorium on capital punishment and called for a complete review of the death penalty in the country. The government was reported to have scrapped plans to resume executions in the face of international lobbying and after threats by militants to step up attacks. To date no executions have been carried out in Pakistan, although courts continue to award death penalty sentences. We continue to monitor the situation and lobby the Pakistan government not to carry out any more executions.
Following national elections in May 2013, Gender Concerns International welcomed the increased participation of women voters as a step in the right direction in its October report. The international development organisation recommended special funds be allocated from party budgets to fund women candidates and declaring results ‘null and void’ in constituencies where women had been barred from voting. Election tribunals set up to investigate complaints of alleged poll rigging during the May elections were reported in November to have decided only 65 cases out of 339. In December civil society and human rights groups urged provincial governments in Sindh and Punjab to ensure local government elections were conducted according to schedule.
The Walk Free Foundation, an Australian-based rights organisation addressing modern slavery, released its first edition of the Global Slavery Index. As a proportion of the population Pakistan ranked third. Up to 2.2 million people are estimated to be involved in various forms of modern slavery in Pakistan including child slave labour and bonded labour. (International Labour Organisation estimates put the number of child labourers in Pakistan in excess of 12 million). In November and December 37 bonded labourers were freed from a landlord in Mirpukhas, Sindh province.
We continue to receive reports of attacks on Muslim and non-Muslim religious minorities in Pakistan. In November FCO officials met representatives of the UK Ahmadia community who raised concerns about their status in Pakistan. In October the Pakistan Hindu Council in Karachi reported that around 20 Hindu girls a month are kidnapped, forcibly converted and married. They also estimated that around 50 Hindu families per month were migrating from Pakistan to India in response.
The Hazara community in Balochistan continued to face attacks. In November six Hazara coalminers were gunned down by the banned Jaish-ul-Islam group near Macch, Bolan District. Following targeted killings of Shia Muslims in November, and throughout the year, Human Rights Watch called on federal and provincial governments to promptly apprehend and prosecute those responsible for crimes targeting Shias and other groups.
Both Shia and Sunni Muslims were killed during several incidents of sectarian violence in this period. At the start of Muharram in November five Shias were killed in Karachi, followed by what appeared to be a reprisal attack killing six Sunnis several days later. Muharram processions passed off peacefully with the exception of Rawalpindi, where sectarian clashes resulted in 11 deaths and the burning down of a mosque and shops. The city was placed under curfew and increased security measures ensured no further incidents. At the end of December in Karachi four Shias were killed by a bomb outside a Shia place of worship and three members of a Shia party who were candidates to contest local government elections were gunned down.
In October and December the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan urged the federal and provincial governments to hold talks with Baloch insurgents and to investigate properly alleged human rights violations including enforced disappearances, arbitrary arrests, torture, and extrajudicial killings, said to have been committed by security forces and intelligence agencies. In November FCO officials were briefed by UK-based Baloch activists on the situation in the province. Relatives of missing Baloch marched between November and December from Quetta to Karachi. Campaigners from ‘The Voice of the Missing Baloch Persons’ stated that over 14,000 Baloch are ‘missing’.
During the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, observed every year on 25 November, civil society organisations expressed concern at the increasing violence against women in Pakistani society. In the largest province, Punjab, according to a non-official count, 5,151 women have been subjected to violence in 2013, 774 murdered, 217 killed for ‘honour’, 1,569 abducted, 706 raped and 427 driven to suicide. In a report submitted to parliament by the Ministry of Law, Justice and Human Rights for the period January 2012 to September 2013, there were 860 ‘honour’ killings, 481 incidents of domestic violence, 90 cases of acid burning, 344 cases of rape and 268 incidents of sexual assault.
In December a UK-based risk analysis company, Maplecroft, in its annual Human Rights Risk Atlas, placed Pakistan in fourth position out of 197 countries posing an “extreme risk” to the human rights of their populations.
Update: 30 September 2013
The last three months continued to be a difficult period for human rights in Pakistan, as a newly elected government faced a number of security challenges across the country.
In July the Pakistan government announced the conversion of the Ministry of Human Rights into a wing within the Ministry of Law and Justice, a move opposed by local civil society and human rights groups. In August Human Rights Watch noted the “impressive gains” made in Pakistan since the restoration of democracy in 2008, but warned these gains could be lost unless the government halted serious human rights abuses.
In a reflection of the growing sectarianism in the wider Muslim world, it was reported in late July that 60 Shias in Parachinar were killed by two suicide bombers on motorbikes from a Tehrik-e Taliban-linked group, Ansarul Mujahideen, seeking to avenge alleged atrocities against Sunni Muslims in Syria and Iraq. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) reported a 42% rise in killings in Karachi for the first six months of 2013, compared to the same period in 2012.
There continue to be reports about mistreatment and extrajudicial killings by the security forces in Balochistan. In July, Pakistan’s attorney general admitted that more than 500 “disappeared” persons are in security agency custody.
We have also received credible reports from international human rights groups about attacks on human rights defenders in Balochistan and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa provinces. The HRCP reported in September that human rights defenders, including their own staff, were being increasingly targeted and threatened when protecting women. In September the Washington Post reported US intelligence agencies had discovered evidence confirming Pakistani military officials plotting to kill Asma Jahangir, a Pakistani human rights defender.
The de facto moratorium on executions put in place in 2008 by the previous government expired in June. A new President, Mamnoon Hussain, took office in August and, although the new government stated its intention to restore the death penalty, at the time of writing no executions have been carried out. Pakistan has more than 8,000 prisoners on death row, one of the largest populations of prisoners facing execution in the world. We continue to urge the Pakistani authorities not to return to regular executions and recommended to Pakistan during its UN Universal Periodic Review to make the moratorium official.
In September more than 80 Christians were killed and over 130 wounded by two suicide bombers at All Saints Church, Peshawar. The National Assembly unanimously condemned this act and there was a public outcry across all sections of Pakistani society. The Minister for Human Rights and Pakistan, Baroness Warsi, issued a statement condemning the bombings, offering condolences and underlining the UK’s continued support and cooperation with Pakistan in their fight against terror and violent extremism.
In July the Foreign Secretary met with faith leaders at Lahore’s Badshahi Mosque where he discussed issues of religious freedom. In September Baroness Warsi met representatives of UK-based Hazaras at the Foreign Office and heard about the concerns of their community in Quetta.
In August the religious cleric accused of damaging a Quran to falsify evidence in Rimsha Masih’s case was acquitted of all charges due to lack of evidence, as the original witnesses withdrew their statements. In July Sajjad Masih received a life sentence and a fine after being accused of sending blasphemous text messages to religious clerics in Gojra.
During the General Debate of the 68th session of the UN General Assembly in New York, Baroness Warsi hosted a meeting of international ministers, including from Pakistan, to address issues of religious hatred and freedom of religion or belief and to collectively generate greater political will to take action on them.
In August the UN reported a sharp increase in women voters and candidates in Pakistan’s May elections. The number of women voters at every level was counted for the first time and voter turnout for women was an unprecedented 40% of all votes cast. However, reports indicated that women across Pakistan were prevented by male members of their communities from voting. In August women were prevented from voting at a by-election in Mianwali district.
The HRCP reported in September “a problem of pervasive violence against women”. They reported in Lahore alone that police had registered 113 cases of rape and 32 gang-rape cases from January to August this year. The HRCP reported in the first seven months of 2013 that at least 44 women had become targets of acid attacks, seven of whom had died as a result of their injuries. 44 women had been set on fire and 11 had died in such attacks. As many as 451 women had been killed in Pakistan in the name of honour in 2013 by the end of July.
Update: 30 June 2013
Pakistan’s new government took office on 5 June, following elections on 11 May. The elections were a crucial milestone in Pakistan’s democratic history. It is the first time that power has transferred democratically between one civilian government and another, after completing a full parliamentary term. This represents a vital step on the path to a strong, stable and democratic Pakistan. These elections are among the most credible in Pakistan’s history, with an improved electoral register and the highest-ever number of women and first time voters. Disaggregated data on voters is not yet available to determine whether excluded groups and minorities fully participated in the elections. However, the Commonwealth Observation Mission noted with concern the manner in which the Ahmadi community is treated with regard the right to vote. To protect that credibility we and other election observers have urged that all allegations of malpractice be thoroughly investigated.
Unfortunately, the election campaign was marred by targeted violence, with more than 150 people having been killed. Whilst some inter-party violence was observed, much of the pre-election violence was carried out by militants against politicians and political parties, workers, election officials and voters, restricting some parties’ ability to hold political rallies and campaign. Those parties that are perceived as “secular” including the ANP, MQM were particularly targeted. However, rejecting terrorist violence and intimidation, some 50 million people in Pakistan went to the ballot box on 11 May, with only a small number of isolated attacks on polling stations.
In the period April to June, reports of sectarian attacks continued. A Shia lawyer and his two sons were shot dead in Karachi in May, and a Shia doctor was critically injured in June. A Shia doctor was killed in Peshawar in June also. Police are investigating, but no arrests have yet been made. The offices of the weekly magazine “The Lahore”, owned by an Ahmadi family have been under siege for the past two months.
The number of internally displaced people has increased over the reporting period with large numbers moving from FATA to neighbouring provinces; others already displaced have been unable to return to their homes due to on-going security operations against non-state armed actors. More than 1 million people are now displaced in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) and FATA due to insecurity dating back to 2008 and require continued humanitarian assistance. [SOURCE: OCHA Pakistan FATA displacements situation report 6 June 2013]. Polio vaccination teams continue to be targeted, four vaccination workers have been killed in two separate incidents in Swabi (June) and Peshawar (May).
From a freedom of expression point of view, there was unprecedented media activity in the run up to elections, although the past few months have seen some setbacks. The New York Times bureau chief was expelled just prior to elections; Amnesty International received credible reports of threats to journalists during the election campaign; one journalist was killed in April; and seven newspapers in Quetta are being investigated for printing a press release from an “outlawed” organization.
On women’s rights, Pakistan supports the recommendations of the Commission on the Status of Women meeting in New York in April, and met with key government officials to promote the agenda that Pakistani women’s rights activists had agreed for CSW 57. Unfortunately, in June, 14 female students were killed by a suicide bomber on a women’s university bus in Quetta. It appears that this was an attack on education for females. The hospital where the injured were taken was subsequently attacked by a sectarian group.
Update: 31 March 2013
In the last three months Pakistan has moved closer to landmark democratic elections, but marginalised communities have continued to face persecution and deadly attacks.
The start of 2013 has seen a number of terrorist attacks targeting Pakistan’s Shia Muslims. On 10 January and 16 February the Hazara community in Quetta was targeted by bombings which killed over 200 people. On 3 March a bomb was detonated outside a Shia mosque in Karachi, killing at least 48 people. Impassioned demonstrations across the country followed these attacks, putting pressure on the Pakistani authorities to respond. We publically condemned the attacks in company with others in the international community, including the UN Secretary General.
On 9 March allegations of blasphemy were made against a member of the Christian community in Joseph Colony in Lahore which led to violent anti-Christian riots. A mob of several thousand destroyed over 150 homes and other property. Following the attacks, Baroness Warsi spoke to Paul Bhatti, Pakistan’s Minister for National Harmony and Minority Affairs to express her sympathy and the UK’s ongoing commitment to help Pakistan tackle religious persecution.
On International Women’s Day on 8 March landmark domestic violence legislation was passed in the Sindh Provincial Assembly. This is a significant step towards protecting women, children and other vulnerable people in Sindh from domestic violence. It follows several years of hard work by its supporters, including the UK. We hope that Pakistan’s other provinces will follow Sindh’s example.
On 16 March Pakistan’s National Assembly dissolved after successfully completing its full five-year parliamentary term for the first time. This signals the start of an important electoral process for Pakistan. The elections, to be held on 11 May, will be a crucial milestone in Pakistan’s democratic history. The UK continues to support democracy in Pakistan and will be joining other international partners to observe the elections.