Latest 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.