Respect for human rights | By Malik M Ashraf


Respect for human rights

PAKISTAN is a signatory to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and has also ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and International Covenan on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights which together make up the International Bill of Rights to other international covenants on human rights.

In fact, Pakistan has abiding respect and commitment for human rights, particularly rights of minorities.

Pakistan Resolution of 1940 which formed the basis of creation of Pakistan while indicating the areas that would form the new state of Pakistan also emphasized equality in regards to the rights of its citizens including the minorities in these words” that adequate, effective and mandatory safeguards shall be specifically provided in the Constitution for minorities in the units and in the regions for the protection of their religious, cultural, economic, political, administrative and other rights of minorities with their consultation.”

The Constitution of Pakistan also guarantees equality of all citizens including minorities which are allowed to profess their religion with liberty. Article 25 says: All citizens are equal before law and are entitled to equal protection of law.

There shall be no discrimination on the basis of sex. Article 20 stipulates: Every citizen shall have the right to profess practice and propagate his region and every religious denomination and every sect thereof shall have the right to establish, maintain and manage its religious institutions.

The priority and significance given to respect for human rights is corroborated by the fact that Pakistan has separate Ministry for Human Rights, National Human Rights Commission and a National Commission on the Status of Women which is an outcome of the national and international commitments of the government of Pakistan like Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action 1995 and National Plan of Action for Women in 1998.

The National Commission on the Status of Women was established with the specific purpose to examine policies, programmes and other measures taken by the Government for women’s development and gender equality, review laws, rules and regulations affecting the status of women, monitor mechanisms and institutional procedures for redress of violation of women’s rights and individual grievances, encourage and sponsor research to generate information, analysis and studies relating to women and gender issues, develop and maintain interaction and dialogue with NGOs, experts and individuals in society at the national, regional and international level and any other function assigned to it by the federal Government.

The social status of women in Pakistan is one of systemic gender subordination even though it varies considerably across classes, regions and the rural/urban divide due to uneven socio-economic development and the impact of tribal, feudal and capitalist social formations on women’s lives. The Pakistani women of today do, however, enjoy a better status than in the past.

A series of legislative, administrative and policy measures as well as institutional reforms have been introduced in the country with a special focus on vulnerable groups, to ensure the enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedom by all Pakistani citizens.

Acts of Parliament to deal with the phenomenon of domestic violence, harassment of women at work place and measures to ensure gender equality are a testimony to the commitment for upholding rights of women. Resultantly women are participating in all national spheres and even have special quota in services.

The PTI government has shown even greater interests and commitment in protecting rights of women.

It has promulgated Enforcement of Women’s Property Act 2020 to make sure that women get their due share in the inherited property.

It has also enacted laws to discourage rape and sexual abuse of children. There is zero tolerance for crimes against women and children at the government level.

In the backdrop of rape of a woman on a motorway President promulgated Anti-Rape Ordinance 2020 prescribing speedy trial of rape cases with women and children as victim and allowing for chemical castration of those convicted of such offences.

The Ordinance also made provision for establishing special courts throughout the country to decide the rape cases within four months.

The law also provided establishment of Prime Minister’s Anti-Rape Crisis Cells to ensure that medico-legal examination of the victim was done within six hours of the incident. It also made provision for maintaining countrywide registry of sexual offenders with the help of NADRA.

As regards rights of children, all provinces have enacted laws to prohibit and punish child labour such as The Balochistan Child Protection Act, 2016 and Sindh Prohibition of Employment Children Act, 2017. An amendment has also been introduced in the ICT Employment of Children Act 1991, which proscribes domestic labour by children under 14 years of age.

Moreover, the National Commission on the Rights of Child has been constituted under the National Commission on the Rights of the Child Act, 2017 to monitor child rights, child labour situation in the country and to take punitive measures to redress grievances of the victims.

To deal with sexual abuse of children the PTI government has enacted The Zainab Alert, Response and Recovery Act 2020 necessitated in the backdrop of increased incidents of kidnapping, raping and murdering innocent children.

Minorities also enjoy equal rights protected by the Constitution and the Government. The PTI government has also taken steps to protect rights of minorities by promulgating ‘The Protection of Religious Minorities Act, 2020.

As is evident from the foregoing, the government and state of Pakistan are fully committed to protect human rights and adequate legal apparatus and administrative measures have been taken in this regard.

However, there is no denying the fact that incidents of violation of human rights with regard to women, children and minorities do happen sporadically which are to a great extent attributable to the existing social fault lines, rather than any slackness on the part of the government and the state.

It is corroborated by the fact that in the recent past the government and even the judiciary have taken very strict actions against burning and vandalizing of two Hindu temples which could have been a reaction to what is happening in India with regard to Muslim worship places.

A special police force is also being raised to protect worship places of the minorities and preventing forced marriages.

Our judiciary also provided justice in high profile cases of convictions under the Blasphemy Law nullifying the propaganda by some international actors to portray the situation in Pakistan in dismal colours.

— The writer is former Director General Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, based in Islamabad.

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