The first day of the Asma Jahangir Conference – Roadmap for Human Rights conducted panels exploring Freedom of Electronic and Print Media, Human Rights Crisis in Jammu and Kashmir, Opportunities for Women in the field of Law, Upholding the Rule of Law, Conflict in Afghanistan, and the global experience of Women in the Legal Profession.
The conference opened with a minute of silence to mark the expulsion of Mr. Steven Butler, Head of the CPJ Asia, from Pakistan. A number of foreign delegates highlighted their work with Asma Jahangir, and the centrality of human rights issues to sustainable development, the world over. The conference was well attended by eminent international speakers, lawyers, judges, students, journalists, political figures and ordinary citizens.
The panel on Electronic and Print Media in Pakistan was moderated by Amber Shamsi and included Mr. Owen Bennett-Jones, Ms. Christina Lamb, Mr. Shahidul Alam, Mr, Cyril Almeida and Mr. Hamid Mir.
The panel on Electronic and Print Media in Pakistan resolved that, to protect press freedoms, there must be solidarity between journalists, lawyers, policy makers and the civic society. Polarization in modern society and lack of concern for truthfulness pose extraordinary challenges to journalism the world over. There are cultural wars on-going on social media and it is a challenge for journalists to put out credible news, in times of fake-news. These challenges must be met, not only by a redoubling of professionalism and dedication to truth, but more so in willingness to enter the sphere and fight for truth rather than passively expecting truth to win by its own merits. Panelists were also of the view that perhaps a distinction also needs to be made between National Interests and Public Interest.
The panel on Upholding the Rule of Law was moderated by Mr. Saroop Ijaz, and featured a keynote address by the Honorable Justice Faez Isa of the Supreme Court, Maleeka Bokhari, Mr. I. A. Rehman, Dr. Musadiq Malik, Mr. Zahoor Ahmed Shahwani and Mr. Salman Akram Raja.
While in his Keynote address Justice Isa mentioned that “A nation is not an abstract idea that we store for safe-keeping.” He highlighted the ideals of fundamental rights envisioned in the documents that define the essence of Pakistan, he concluded that even the Quaid-i-Azam urged “allegiance to the Constitution (its true and legal implications) and the Dominion of Pakistan”. The panel on ‘Upholding the Rule of Law’ resolved that laws must be just and equitable. Rules made illegally by individuals and rules that are made for the benefit or the exclusion of a few are not Rule of Law. The challenges to rule of law in Pakistan include an all-encompassing opportunism, and a constant national neurosis that portrays that while force is essential to our survival, just laws are a dispensable luxury. These challenges to the rule of law must be confronted by all citizens and institutions
The panel on the Afghanistan Conflict included Mr Mahmood Khan Achakzai, Mr Omar Zakhiwal, Ms Kathy Gannon, Ms Fawzia Koofi and Mr Khurram Dastgir.
Mr Achakzai stated that the region is crying for peace, which may remain elusive until there is implementation of a just system that ensures fundamental rights for all, especially women and minorities. Mr Dastgir highlighted that Pakistan’s role is vital to peace in Afghanistan, being the neighbouring state, he said that both countries must face the past that holds them together and respect each other’s territorial sovereignty and integrity.
Panelists agreed that while Afghanistan is going through transitions on many fronts, the socio-economic upheavals in society were key de-stabilizers. Fawzia Koofi highlighted that one of the vital issues is the betterment of the condition of women, in each and every village of the country, which must not be lost sight of.
The panel on Human Rights crisis in Jammu and Kashmir was moderated by the Pakistani journalist, Nasim Zehra and included Raja Farooq Haider the P.M of AJK, Hina Rabbani Khar, Victoria Schofield, Tariq Naqash and Mr Rafiq Dar. While Raja Farooq Haider acknowledged that there had been missed opportunities in Kashmir, in her remarks Ms Hina Rabbani Khar, the former Foreign Minister of Pakistan stated that Pakistan should continue to presevere on the path of moral high-ground. Eminent historian Victoria Schofield described the lives of Kashmiris as “the hopelessness of a people trying to exist in a society without the rule of law”.
Panelists agreed that Pakistan must actively lobby and continue to engage with international bodies at each and every forum. Everywhere in the world today states are getting the message that it is acceptable to go rogue. Instead of pointing fingers Pakistan must seek to preserve democratic institutions and demonstrate its resolve. To this end, it must also understand the fundamental difference between ‘raising our voice’ and ‘creating real change’.