LAHORE: The Asma Jahangir Conference 2018 under the theme ‘Justice for Empowerment’ successfully concluded with fiery speeches from PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, ANP leader Afrasiab Khattak, Human Rights Minister Shireen Mazari and former National Assembly speaker Ayaz Sadiq.

A wide range of discussions focused on the protection of fundamental rights, justice for all and impunity for none, freedom of expression, and challenges to implementing ‘Rights Legislation’.

The conference resolved that the state must ensure human rights of citizens and protect their fundamental rights, lift the ban on non-government organizations and stop harassment of human rights defenders.

“All political parties must have a new charter of democracy to set ground rules to protect the democratic process and major political parties must take the lead in doing so. Judicial overreach must be checked as it is impinging upon the constitutional role of other state institutions and the Supreme Court must formulate parameters for taking suo motto notice, panellists noted.

Speakers were of the view that the freedom of expression must not be curtailed by the state and unannounced censorship in print and electronic media must be lifted. They urged parliament to approve a new bill for independence of the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA).

Panellists noted with concern that electoral laws that were not implemented in the 2018 General Elections. They said that there should be thorough accountability of the Election Commission of Pakistan by presenting its performance report to parliament.

“Pakistan must implement legislation to criminalise forced disappearances. The government must prevent torture by adopting 2014 bill passed by the Senate.” The conference resolved that the Commission of Missing Persons must prosecute 153 identified officials responsible for enforced disappearances.”

They said that the government should revise the syllabus of educational institutions. “The state’s appeasement of religious fundamentalism must end and the Christian minority must be protected in the face of new threats. Laws that are discriminatory against minorities must be abolished.”

On violence against women, panellists said that the law on sexual harassment against women at workplace was not being implemented. “There are hardly any cases under this act before the ombudspersons despite a large number of women reporting sexual harassment in surveys. The law should be refined to introduce the crime of ‘sextortion’ and sexual bribery as introduced in Bangladesh.” It was said that the Transgender Act 2018 must be implemented in letter and spirit. It was recommended that a monitoring body for the implementation of current protection laws for the transgender community be established.

The conference called for visa-free policies to be introduced to reclaim solidarity among South Asian countries. “There is a need to revive South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) co-founded by Asma Jahangir.”

Referring to gender equality, the conference called for equal treatment of women by law. “There is a need to change the way media portrays women in order to transform mindsets and attitudes regarding the role and status of women in society.”

Experts said that attempts aimed at rolling back of provincial autonomy and entitlements granted by the 18th Amendment as well as by the constitution, such as the National Finance Commission Award, must be resisted. “Pakistani federalism must be based on cooperation between constitutionally autonomous provinces and empowerment of the local governments. The role of parliamentary committee in judicial appointments to the superior courts must be revived.”

While referring to promulgation of refugee laws, it was said that Pakistan needed to conduct a survey on internal migration and research. “Pakistan should accede to the 1951 Refugee Convention and promulgate refugee law.”

On death penalty, there was clear consensus that currently the system does not provide due process of law and until this is in place death penalty leads to irrevocable gross injustice.

Head of the European Union Delegation Jean Fracois Cautain German Ambassador Martin Koebler, Swedish Ambassador Johansonn, Australian High Commissioner Margaret Adamson, Indian High Commissioner Ajay Bisaria also attended the conference. Loads of international guests, judges and human rights defenders were also in attendance.

The conference was hosted by the Asma Jahangir Foundation and AGHS Legal Aid Cell. The organizers committed to holding an annual conference in order to keep the mission of Asma Jahangir alive. Among the distinguished guest speakers were Chief Justice of Pakistan Mian Saqib Nisar, Chief Justice of Lahore High Court Mr Yawar Ali, former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, former Punjab IG Rana Maqbool, IA Rehman, Farhatullah Babar, Akhter Hussein, Farooq Sattar, Shazia Marri, Bushra Gouhar, Kamran Arif and others.