November 12th 2021
By Rehan Piracha
Extremist groups should be held accountable for the killings of thousands of people before any negotiations can take place for bringing them into the national political mainstream, said Hina Jilani, chairperson of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), on Friday.
“If the government attempts to bring such extremist groups into the political mainstream by disregarding their violence, then the ideology of these groups will not only hurt democracy and the democratic and political culture in the country, but the State will also not be able to protect the fundamental rights guaranteed in the Constitution,” Jilani said on how the government should deal with the Tehrik Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and the Tehrik e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP). She was addressing a press conference at the HRCP office.
HRCP was not opposed to the inclusion of political workers of any kind, into the national mainstream, she said. HRCP believed that only civilian politics can run the democratic system in the country, she added.
“One must not forget that religious fanaticism carries an element of violence in its circle and unless this violence is dealt with there is no benefit from bringing them into the mainstream,” she pointed out.
The HRCP chairperson said that the government’s choice to negotiate with the TTP was unconscionable.
“This capitulation to a far-right militant group that is responsible for an estimated 80,000 Pakistani deaths is a grim portent for progressive, secular voices,” she said.
Jilani said HRCP was also gravely concerned by the government’s failure to impose the writ of the state even after at least seven police officers were killed during the recent violence perpetrated by supporters of the TLP.
“The government’s negotiations with the TLP will embolden other proscribed organisations that have no compunction in seizing the little civic space left to ordinary people,” she said.
Inflation, extremism threat to democracy
She said that the deteriorating state of human rights in the country has reached a tipping point.
“In a situation where people are caught between spiralling food inflation and the insidious rise of religious extremism, continued attempts by the establishment and the ruling government to marginalise Parliament represent an existential threat to the country’s democracy,” the HRCP chief said.
Constant attempts at political engineering and the exploitation of ethnic divisions could set back Pakistan’s fragile democracy by decades, Jilani said.
“HRCP also strongly opposes any amendments that curb the power of local governments,” she added.
Jilani said the political opposition has a duty to its constituents to present solutions to the inflation crisis.
On behalf of HRCP she also urged the government to seriously reconsider the neoliberal development models it has adopted.
“These measures are neither pro-poor nor rights-based. If the state cannot provide its citizens with livelihoods and shelter, it has no right to take away what little they have,” she said.
Surge in violence against women, children
Citing a surge in violence against women, children and transgender persons, the HRCP chairperson demanded the government take immediate measures to strengthen children’s protection bureaus, women’s shelters and gender-based violence courts, and better equip women police officers.
“HRCP also continues to monitor the situation of Afghan refugees in Pakistan and strongly urges the government to develop and implement a coherent policy towards refugees that guarantees their right to security and freedom of movement,” she said.
Protection of minorities
Jilani said HRCP welcomed the Supreme Court’s decision to penalise the miscreants who attacked a Hindu temple in Karak district in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
“This sets an important precedent and should make it clear that the state will not tolerate any attacks on religious minorities’ places of worship,” she said.
Regrettably, this action alone is not enough to protect freedom of religion or belief, she said. “We reiterate the need to implement the 2014 Tassadaq Jillani Supreme Court judgment, establish an independent statutory national commission on minorities, enact legislation against forced conversions, and revisit the recommendations of the Senate’s 2018 report on the blasphemy laws,” the HRCP chairperson said.
Responding to a question, Jilani said that the State should treat the Ahmedi community with rights and protections similar to other minorities in the country regardless of them not accepting the status of minority.
Draft law on enforced disappearance inadequate
While HRCP supported the urgent need to legislate against the practice of enforced disappearances, Jilani said, it was concerned that the draft legislation did not make adequate provision for deterrence or prosecution, or for holding state agencies accountable for employing the practice as a tool of intimidation.
Journalists protection law must safeguard freedom of expression
The HRCP chairperson said they welcomed the passage of the Protection of Journalists and Media Professionals Act, but the procedural rules that had yet to be issued should not infringe on the right to freedom of expression and opinion, nor should the process of issuing these rules be needlessly delayed.
“It is deeply ironic, however, that this law is at odds with the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act 2016 and proposed—draconian—Pakistan Media Development Authority Ordinance,” she pointed out.