April 27, 2023
The year 2022 was a year of political unrest and instability: the legislature and executive struggled with a crisis of credibility, and the judicial overreach, instead of solving ensuing constitutional and political crises, only made matters worse.
Draconian colonial-era laws continued to be used against political opponents, and people’s rights to privacy and dignity were violated through audio and video leaks, while those who leaked enjoyed impunity. Perhaps worst of all, terrorism rose its ugly head again, especially in the north-western region of Pakistan in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan.
These observations were made in the annual report released by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), The State of Human Rights 2022.
On the upside, some progressive legislation was put into effect, both in the federal parliament and the provincial assemblies. These included laws against workplace harassment, torture and custodial deaths, decriminalizing suicide at the federal level, and laws for raising minimum wages, enhancing punishment for crimes against children, providing universal healthcare, restoring student unions, regularising katchi abadis, setting up and empowering provincial human rights and women rights commissions, and providing for the welfare of senior citizens at the provincial level.
Issues faced by the transgender community
One of the key issues highlighted by the report was the one faced by the trans community across Pakistan with regard to steadily rising violence, and lack of legislation.
The Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act was passed in May 2018 after much vetting and consultation. The federal Act, based on Articles 19, 25, 26, and 27 of the Constitution, prohibits discrimination in access to employment, education, healthcare, public spaces, and services on the basis of sex, gender identity, and gender expression.
But four years after its enactment, the law became a controversial document when a Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) senator from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Mushtaq Ahmed Khan, launched a bid to have the Act repealed for promoting ‘the legalisation of homosexual marriages’. In the following months, draft bills were submitted in the Senate to amend the already promulgated Act and bring it into conformity with Islamic injunctions.
According to HRCP’s media monitoring, 12 trans persons were murdered, 10 trans persons were victims of sexual violence, and one trans individual was kidnapped.
The South Punjab Education Department opened a school for the transgender community in Bahawalpur on 12 March and in Dera Ghazi Khan on 1 August. The first transgender school was also inaugurated in Lahore on 8 December. In October, the federal government launched a 24-hour helpline for trans individuals to register their complaints. In November, the first-ever Moorat March was held in Karachi, allowing members from the transgender community to voice their concerns. In November, the federal government banned the release of the censor board-approved film Joyland that depicts the story of a man and a transgender person. This ban was overturned, but Punjab continued to ban the film. The Sindh government fixed a 0.5 percent job quota and 1 percent reserved seats in the local government for the trans community.
Climate crisis & floods
The last year was marked by catastrophic floods that were induced by climate change. Over 33 million people were affected, at least 1,739 lives were lost and 12,867 injured. Crop damage constituted 82 percent of flood damages, followed by livestock at 17 percent. Sindh was the worst-hit by the floods with around 823 deaths, over 12 million people affected and a large number displaced. More than 20,600 schools and 4.4 million acres of agricultural land were destroyed. In Balochistan, 336 lives were lost due to the floods. The floods also destroyed over 700 basic and rural health units, washing away most of the province’s scant health infrastructure. In October, approximately 69 percent of flood-affected older people did not have shelter.
Laws and law-making
A total of 207 laws, 62 federal and 145 provincial, were enacted in 2022. Legislating through presidential ordinances continued during the year. Other laws included the Protection Against Harassment of Women at the Workplace (Amendment) passed in January; the Criminal Laws (Amendment) Bill, which criminalises enforced disappearances, was returned to the National Assembly from the Senate in October where it was further amended instead of being sent to a joint parliamentary sitting, effectively delaying the law’s enactment; another amendment bill to the same law decriminalized suicide.
After six attempts, the Torture and Custodial Death (Prevention and Punishment) Act received presidential assent in November. The KP Assembly passed significant legislation raising the minimum wage to Rs 26,000, establishing stricter punishments for crimes against children and providing universal health care under the Sehat Card.
The Sindh Assembly passed significant legislation to restore student unions, initiate the regularisation of katchi abadis and empower the Sindh Human Rights Commission. The GB Assembly passed legislation authorising the setting up of a commission on the status of women, establishing the right to food and providing for the welfare of senior citizens.
The death penalty
During 2022, 98 death sentences were handed out, a drop from the 129 awarded in 2021, however, no executions were carried out with a de facto moratorium in place following a 4-year spree of 519 executions after the APS attack.
Pakistan’s death row reduced significantly from 7,164 in 2012 to 3,226 in 2022. In August, the Control of Narcotics Substances Act 1997 and Railways Act 1890 were amended to replace punishments of death with life imprisonment.
In November, Pakistan opposed a UNGA resolution calling for a moratorium on the death penalty, stating that it only applied capital punishment after adhering to the full due process of law.
Law and order
Around 318 people were the victims of target killings during the year – 384 cases of honour killings and 1,952 reported cases of sexual violence took place.
A total of 376 terror attacks took place in 2022, the highest in five years, in which 533 people were killed and 832 were injured. The majority of the deceased were security personnel. These included the attack on a Shia mosque in Peshawar killing 63 people, an attack on a counterterrorism centre in Bannu and a suicide bombing at the University of Karachi.
Jails and prisoners
Prisons in Pakistan remained sorely overcrowded with 88,687 inmates at an occupancy rate of 136 percent. 71.5 percent of the inmate population comprised under-trial prisoners. In September, the IHC chief justice visited the Adiala Jail following a report by the NCHR and termed prisoners’ maltreatment a “grave violation of human rights”. The court ordered the setting up of a complaints centre in the jail.
In October, Guantanamo Bay inmate Saifullah Paracha was repatriated to Pakistan after 17 years in detention without ever being charged with a crime. Around 434 Pakistani citizens, including 45 fisherfolk, were lodged in Indian jails. In a report submitted to the National Assembly, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs revealed that around 12,000 Pakistanis were jailed abroad with 7,195 in the Middle East. Consular access and adequate legal representation remained an issue for these prisoners.
Enforced disappearances and intimidation of families seeking justice continued throughout the year. According to the COIED, at least 2,210 cases remained unresolved. There was an uptick in enforced disappearances in Balochistan following a suicide bombing at the University of Karachi in April. On 28 April, Baloch student Bebagr Imdad was forcibly disappeared from Lahore and was released 13 days later. In June, Doda Elahi and Gamshad Baloch were forcibly disappeared from Karachi and returned a week later. Baloch writer Lala Fahim Baloch was abducted in August.
Two female Baloch activists were disappeared, with four Baloch men who had been disappeared earlier being murdered in an allegedly staged encounter in October 19 State of Human Rights in 2022.
In June, journalists Nafees Naeem and Arsalan Khan were abducted in separate incidents in Karachi and released after 24 hours.
Police reports stated that there were 3,901 rapes, 325 gang rapes, 316 honour crimes, 61 acid attacks and 1,022 domestic violence incidents registered in the country.
Sindh police confirmed a 200 percent increase in rape cases in the province, with a less than 1 percent conviction rate. In February, Zahir Jaffer was sentenced to death for Noor Mukaddam’s murder. In March, five people, including primary accused Usman Mirza, were awarded life imprisonment in an infamous sexual assault and harassment case. Also in March, the government challenged the LHC’s acquittal of Mohammad Waseem, brother of model Qandeel Baloch. In August, the Supreme Court reiterated women’s right to bail even in cases that were non-bailable under the relevant laws.
In KP’s local government elections, women’s participation as contestants and voters remained abysmally low. In KP, an all-male jirga in Bajaur banned local women from visiting picnic spots. In Gilgit, religious groups managed to stop a women’s sports gala.
HRCP’s media monitoring recorded at least 937 children as victims of sexual abuse during 2022. Alarmingly, between January and October, around 4,503 cases of child abuse occurred in Punjab according to the Sustainable Social Development Organisation.
In March, the IHC criminalised marriages under the age of 18, which was opposed by the Council of Islamic Ideology. At least 19 cases of child marriages were recorded by HRCP, with 13 taking place in Sindh. In April, Dua Zehra went missing from Karachi in what her parents alleged was a case of kidnapping. Found married to a boy in Punjab, Dua stated that she was of age. While the accused were found guilty of abducting Dua and orchestrating the child marriage, Dua approached a Lahore court in July requesting to be sent to a dar-ulaman.
According to UNICEF, by the end of 2022 as many as four million children in Sindh were living near contaminated and stagnant flood waters. •More than one in nine children under the age of five admitted to health facilities in flood-affected areas of Balochistan and Sindh were found to be suffering from acute malnutrition.
Persons with disabilities
In May, the human rights ministry directed 29 federal ministries and divisions to ensure the implementation of the 2 percent quota for employing persons with disabilities. In October, the Dyslexia Special Measures Act was passed for ICT to make schools more inclusive. The Access to Media (Deaf) Persons Act also became law in December to incorporate sign language in television programmes across Pakistan.
Union leaders in Islamabad deplored that only 9 million out of Pakistan’s 60 million informal workers worked under labour protection laws. In February, the human rights ministry directed the federal and provincial governments to cease discriminatory hiring of sanitation workers from minority faiths.
In April, the Punjab and federal governments raised the minimum wage to PKR 25,000. In KP, minimum wages were raised to PKR 26,000.
According to the Hari Welfare Association, around 1200 bonded labourers were freed in Sindh. However, only 14 district vigilance committees were constituted in the year, and even these were largely dysfunctional.
From January to July, 90 mine workers were killed in mining incidents across Pakistan according to the Pakistan Central Mines Labour Federation. HRCP’s Quetta office recorded 24 incidents during 2022 in which 71 workers were killed and 25 injured in Balochistan.