The Dismal State of Human Rights in Pakistan
Aakriti Vinayak

Human Rights in Pakistan remain a vexed issue. The Pakistan state and its security agencies instead of protecting its people remains shamelessly in retreat and have habitually trampled on Human Rights in the name of security, religion and territorial integrity. The constant Human Rights violations have resulted in piling up of cases like blasphemy, missing persons and targeted killings. Pakistan continues to rank the lowest when it comes to press freedom, religious tolerance and gender rights. The reporters without borders ranked Pakistan at the 145th position among 180 countries in the World Press Freedom Index 2020 and Global Gender Gap Report 2020 ranked the country at the 151st place.

The current government under Imran Khan has been a party to the worsening human rights situation of the country. At the beginning of his tenure as the Prime Minister, Imran Khan promised an egalitarian vision for “Naya Pakistan” that would be based on: bringing an end to corruption in economy and politics and justice for all irrespective of political and social status. However, under his regime there has been egregious assault on religious minorities, crushing of political dissent and violent attacks on women and transgender people. On the economic front the situation is even worse with common people facing the brunt of price hike and hyperinflation. This is leading to social and economic marginalization of poor and dis-possessed. Imran Khan accuses India for gross human rights violations but in his Naya Pakistan there are unabated honour killings, forced conversions of minority Hindu under-age girls and continued use of blasphemy that carries death penalty to intimidate and settle scores.

Especially, the persecution and forced conversions of minority Hindu girls is on rise in Naya Pakistan. Some of the recent examples are on June 1, 2020 a fifteen year old daughter of Rai Singh Kohli was abducted by armed men in village Rais Nehal Khan of Mirpur Khas district of Sindh and on the same day a nineteen year old Bhagwanti Kohli was abducted and forcibly converted to Islam in village Haji Saeed Burgadi in Mirpur Khas district.1 As pointed out by Tilak Devasher, in “the land of pure” minority minor girls have no hope2.

The worrisome state of Human rights under the current regime was highlighted by the report of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) which was released on April 30, 2020.

“Pakistan continued to bear a dismal human rights record in terms of complying with the constitutional guarantees to its own citizens and the International obligations to which it is a state party. There were no significant developments during the year in the administration of justice, maintaining law and order, criminalizing enforced disappearances, improving the status of women, transgender persons and sexual minorities, ending child abuse, ceasing the shabby treatment of citizens from minority faiths, or addressing the dire socioeconomic problems faced by labourers, miners, farmers, sanitation workers, media persons, nurses, teachers, and fisher folk”.3

The annual report also reiterated that religious communities continue to suffer forced conversions and persecution under the blasphemy laws. The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) in a report released on April 28, 2020 also emphasized that there was systematic enforcement of blasphemy and anti-Ahamadiya laws.4 It also stated that the authorities failed to address forced conversions of religious minorities—including Hindus, Christians, and Sikhs—to Islam, severely restricting freedom of religion or belief.

The most revealing aspect about the HRCP report was that the key trend in 2019 was state efforts to stifle dissent. Harris Khalique, secretary general of the HRCP said that the PM Imran Khan’s government is undermining the supremacy of parliament and democratic norms.5 There have been constant media clampdowns. The authorities have failed to provide adequate protection or hold perpetrators accountable.

Currently, Pakistan is going through worst economic and health crisis. Covid-19 crisis has shaken the country. However, unlike other countries, which are tackling the virus by uniting together Pakistan is dividing the country on religious lines causing further cracks in an already fractured society. Covid-19 crisis has led to dire inequalities and discrimination exacerbating the human rights abuses. HRCP report had cautioned that the ongoing pandemic will worsen the condition of the most vulnerable, including the religious minorities.

Hence a national health emergency like Covid-19 has not deterred the Pakistani government to discriminate against the minorities. In fact, Covid-19 crisis has further exacerbated the religious inequalities in Pakistan. From calling coronavirus as a “Shia virus” and announcing that Hazara areas which are Shia dominated will be secluded from the rest of the Quetta city to denying food rations to Christians and Hindu religious groups, the pandemic has exposed how Pakistan dehumanizes its minorities.6 In an April 13 press release, the USCIRF noted the denial of coronavirus-related food aid to religious minorities and described these actions as “simply reprehensible.”7 It further highlighted the case of the Karachi-based Saylani Welfare International Trust, which denied food aid to Hindu and Christian homeless and seasonal workers on the grounds that such aid was reserved only for members of the Muslim community.8

Further Covid-19 crisis has also led to an economic crisis in Pakistan and the pressure has disproportionally been felt by the minorities. Farahanz Ispahani points out that how economic disturbance caused by the Covid-19 pandemic could lead to more sectarian violence, pressuring the minorities to convert. We see that amidst the global pandemic Pakistan continues to unleash atrocities on the minorities and human rights abuses continue unabated. The recent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) study titled ‘Pakistan’s Response to COVID-19′ finds “that the pandemic has eroded people’s trust in, and respect for, ruling institutions and the governing elite. The health emergency has exacerbated existing structural discrimination and inequalities, and laid bare misplaced socioeconomic priorities”.9 Under Imran Khan the situation of human rights remains dire and “justice for all” remains an elusive dream. It is high time that the international community exposes Pakistan’s the human rights violations and they do not get overshadowed by the other characteristics of the country like terrorism and violence.

  8. Ibid.

(The paper is the author’s individual scholastic articulation. The author certifies that the article/paper is original in content, unpublished and it has not been submitted for publication/web upload elsewhere, and that the facts and figures quoted are duly referenced, as needed, and are believed to be correct). (The paper does not necessarily represent the organisational stance... More >>

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