STAR STUDDED INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE ON HUMAN RIGHTS CONCLUDES WITH RESOLVE TO CARRY LEGACY OF ASMA JAHANGIR FOR FUNDAMENTAL RIGHTS AND DEMOCRACY
The second day of the Asma Jahangir conference Roadmap for Human Rights concluded with remarks by former Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, PMLN spokesperson Maryam Aurangzeb and PTI senior leader and MNA Monazza Hassan who commemorated Asma Jahangir and her commitment to human rights with a resolve to uphold the rule of law and struggle for women’s rights. “It was a rare moment when all parties were seen on the same platform” said journalist Munizae Jahangir who was conducting the proccedings. While Monazza Hassan spoke of women’s rights to inheritance, Maryam Aurangzeb lamented of the selective accountability taking place against her party. Daughter of Asma Jahangir and journalist Munizae Jahangir said that politicians conveniently forget to protect fundamental rights and right to free expression when in power . She said “We are convinced that without freedom of the media, rule of law and guarantees of security to human rights defenders neither democracy nor justice is possible. The main challenge to development of Pakistan and the rights of its citizens is a national security state,until national security is subservient no other initiative in economy, health, education and rule of law can find success. The day began with a recording of Asma Jahangir’s receiving the Right Livelihood Award where she spoke of growing expectations of citizens as far as what the governments should deliver. And governments falling ever further behind, internationally this gap of creative impulses of society on one side and governments dragging their feet on the other, has been the key engine of human rights challenges. Despite threats against her life, she spoke of never leaving Pakistan as it is a place where she has received most love and affection.
Lahoris turned out in large numbers on a Sunday morning to see the work of young miniature artist Fatima Salman who did a series of paintings inspired by conflicts in South Asia. Poetess Neelum Bashir recited her poetry to an enthralled audience while Salima Hashmi conducted the discussion. As a continuation of the discussion on art inspires politics, Munizae Jahangir conducted a panel on how women can build bridges for peace in South Asia. Former foreign minister Hina Rabbani Khar, Afghan politician Fawzia Koofi, human rights lawyer from Sri Lanka Bhavani Fonsecka, Ambassador of Sweden Ingrid Johansson and former Afghan ambassador to Pakistan Omar Zakhilwal concluded that peace in South Asia is a pre-requsite to securing women’s fundamental rights and the resources should be directed towards socio-economic areas rather than the military.
Human Rights Ambassador of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, H. E. Dr. Bahia Tahzib-Lie, Award-winning novelist Mr. Mohammad Hanif, Mr. Christian Caryl of the Washington Post, Mr. Wusat Ullah Khan, Ms. Aisha Sarwari and Mr. Iqbal Khattak participated in the discussion on the role of social media.
Dr. Bahia talked about the centrality of human rights in a thriving democratic society, and also the role of her government in supporting human rights initiatives all over the world, including Pakistan. Aisha Sarwari talked about how women are systematically excluded from law-making and therefore law –making concerning social media. She said it is essential for the social and economic development of all countries for women to be able to use media as disruptive technology and end permission culture.
Caryl spoke on the experience of organized troll armies attacking the Washington Post during their investigation into the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. He said there is a strange right-wing alliance between trolls based in Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Israel and the USA. Online privacy but also the challenge of abusive and anonymous accounts is complex legal challenges. In the US, several laws have been drafted but with hindrance from the software giants, none have been made into laws.
Wusat Ullah Khan mentioned that social media gives space to freedom but also makes people extremely vulnerable. He said freedom of speech is part of a bouquet – you cannot talk about freedom of speech without talking about right to life and education and freedom of religion. Dr Iqbal Khattak spoke on the need for digital safety training and how one should protect oneself by disengaging with trolls. He particularly highlighted threats, accusations of blasphemy as threats that should be taken very seriously. He strongly encouraged use of PICA laws for individuals to seek online protection. He also highlighted Pakistan’s considerable investment in controlling social media spaces and vigilance on part of civil society.
The session on transgender rights was conducted by human rights activist Ali Dayan Hassan and
affirmed that the protections reaffirmed by law in the Transgender Protection Act 2018 be enforced in letter and spirit.
The conference notes that legal protections for transgender persons are bound to have limited efficacy unless accompanied by a campaign of mainstreaming transgender persons within society through a process of sensitisation and awareness raising through public private partnerships.
Prejudice is not just a legal issue but also a social issue and the conference calls upon community, religious, political and professional leaders to proactively combat bigotry and prejudice towards transgender persons.
The conference notes that sexual and other violence by Law Enforcement Agencies towards transgender persons is endemic and calls for the accountability of officials engaging in such violence. Conference calls for the rapid adoption of guidelines for the police force, on how to engage with transgender persons ensuring the dignity and due process rights of the members of the community.
The panel on Religious & Ethnic Minorities under Siege in South Asia was moderated by Mr. Rashed Rahman, and featured Senior Researcher at CPA Ms. Bhavani Fonseka, Barrister Zimran Samuel, Advocate Jalila Haider, Director of the Ibn Rushd Study Association Mr. Zana Muhammad and Ms. Maria Kjellsdotter Rydinger, Minster in the Church of Sweden.
Bhavani Fonseka spoke of similarities with South Asia of authoritative regimes marginalizing communities by constitutional and political means. And the cycles of violence that result from these actions. She urged the development of cross-cutting communities, professional circles raise the issues of marginalized communities
Jalila Haider identified the Hazara community as an example – they are not a security or a religious challenge and yet they are still victimized. The issues, she said, is not the identity of the community but the misuse of religion and politics.
Zimran Samuel spoke of the blasphemy law which exists in several countries but has been misused in Pakistan without parallel in other countries. He spoke also of the increasing problem of forced conversions, sometimes instigated by well-known persons.
Zana Muhammad and Minister Maria Radinger spoke of Sweden where majority and minority, religious leaders have worked together and created spaces where young people of different communities work through art, social media and conversations. To create a common diverse Swedish identity in which all can participate and are eager to bring their conversations and experiences to other countries in the world.
BNP ( M) leader Akhtar Mengal on the panel “ Strengthening the Legal Constitutional Framework” lamented that the federal government usurps power from provincial governments despite the rights given to provinces under the 18th amendment. ANP leader Mian Iftikhar said call us Khyber Pakhtunkhawa not KPK because we have
struggled to get this name which is our identity. When you call us kp you offend us . He said that there should be accountability of not just the politicians but also the military. Qurat-ul-Ain Marri of the Pakistan Peoples’ Party said that the IG of Sindh has become like a dictator and the federal government has encroached upon their provincial jurisdiction with the aid and abetment of the Judiciary. The particpants concluded federation should now curtail its expenditures and try to do their very duty by giving provinces their autonomy.There should be devolution of power that is residing in centre right now. Centralization of power cannot strengthen the country that is the main objective.Political parties would strengthen just when they give provinces their autonomy that would eventually help the country flourish.Power of ballot not bullet. There should be fair elections not just curbing the rights of provinces by the use of force.The country has survived 30 years of democratic practices but provinces are not granted autonomy that is why we have not seen a considerable change yet.Change can only happen if there are fair election and availability of rights.
At the Economic and Social Inequality Panel the economist Dr. Hafiz Pasha and Shahid Kardar and Qaiser Bengali resolved that the regressive tax system should revised.
On fighting the culture of shame and silence women’s rights activist Uzma Noorani, British professor of human rights Ms. Siobhan Mullally , provincial Ombudsperson KPK Rukshanda Naz, Pakistan Peoples’ Party leader Nafisa Shah, former chairperson of the Punjab Commission on the Status of Women Fouzia Viqar concluded that there should be universality of rights, for all excluded communities including women and marginalized remote communities. The Conference urged the urgent removal of parallel systems like Qasas, and Diyat that validate issues of violence against women.There should be proper shaming of perpetrators instead of shaming the women. There should be dedicated courts to deals with violence against women. Special budgetary allocation to support women. Government of Pakistan is signatory of international conventions against violence of women.
On the topic, FATA post merger, which was moderated by Journalist Mr. Saleem Safi, Mr Farhatullah Babar, Senator Pakistan Peoples’ Party, Ms. Samina Afridi, KPK finance minister Taimor Jhagra, Mohsin Dawar Parliamentarian and Syed Amjad Shah recommended: The funds for FATA merger which is the divisible of 3% should be given to it which almost amounts to 100 plus billions of rupees should be given to the tribal areas regularly and quickly. The work of policing should be taken from the army and handed over to the Police. Ordinance of Action-in-aid of civil power regulation 2011 should be taken back and instead of promulgating it in the future, Political activities
should be revived in the region. The human rights situation in the tribal areas should be monitored by a committee made of all stakeholders and all political parties.
On selective accountability, legislative and judicial failure, Mr. Qamar Zaman Kaira Pakistan Peoples’ Party President Punjab, Ms Shaista Malik member of National Assembly Pakistan PML N, Mr Irfan Qadir former Attorney General for Pakistan, Senator Waleed Iqbal and former Supreme Court Bar association president Yasin Azad highlighted that the process was lop sided , the exclusion of judges and generals from the process was against the basic concept of accountability. It was pointed out that historically and currently the process was being used as a means to achieve political ends. MR . Irfan qadir stated that accountability had certain conditions which must be met.
It was recommended that legislation must be carried out by rising above politics and by engaging with experts and pointed out defective legislations like the harassment in workplace. Mr.Kaira stated that the political process was defective as a whole and the society must change their political mindset for change to come. He pointed out the preferences of the people while choosing their representatives would only yield the kind of representatives that we currently possess and thus a change in societal mindset was required. Mr. Waleed iqbal said a draft was ready with the law minister which dealt with the required changes in NAB law ( including bail ) . Mr Waleed further pointed out that both NAB law and 62 1 (f) were still existing due to the fact that the PML-N had refused to support efforts to change those laws. The various excesses of the institutes and the judiciary were pointed out and it was unanimously agreed that all institutes should work within their domains.
It was further pointed out ( by MR .Iqbal ) that since all civilian leaders orginated in the state nursery , their mindset was reflective of the same. It was concluded that accountability should be across the board , deficiencies in the law should be removed and its implementation should be even handed and efficient .
On Silencing civil society Ms Fareeda Shahid moderated the session of Mr.Knut Ostby United Nations Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Pakistan, Ms. Zohra Yusuf Human rights activist and council member of HRCP, Mr Mohammad Tehsin convener of Pakistan civil society national forum, Law expert Mr. Asad Jamal said registered civil society organizations should be allowed to function, 2013 policy of banning CSOs should be challenged. Mass communication needed to change narrative and smear campaign against civil society and spread achievements of civil society especially for marginalized groups.
Prominent journalist Mr Arif Nizami moderated the session on unwrapping state discourse, national security, identity and nation building, in which former foreign minister Khurshid Mahmood kasuri, lt general retired Mr. Talat Masood, Senior PML N leader Ahsan Iqbal, Pakistan Peoples’ Party leader Chaudhary Manzoor participated and Ali Ahmad Kurd said that democracy in Pakistan cannot be realized till Baloch’s are guaranteed their due rights.
The Asma Jahangir Roadmap for Human Rights Conference had 120 international and national speakers and 20 sessions. The speakers included panelists from England, America, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Ireland, Sweden and Afghanistan. Thousands of participants especially law students attended the conference and resolved to carry on the legacy of Asma Jahangir who fought relentlessly struggled against the dictatorial forces and for due process of law, equality for women and protection of minorities.