The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has said that escalating threats to freedom of religion or belief have remained a grave concern in the country in 2022, and political and economic instability was seriously impacting the human rights situation.
“While the number of police reports on blasphemy charges fell, the incidence of mob lynching appeared to have risen,” says the ‘State of Human Rights in 2022’ report launched by the HRCP on Wednesday.
The Ahmadi community came under particular threat, with several places of worship and over 90 graves desecrated, primarily in Punjab, the report states.
According to the HRCP report, violence against women continued unabated, with at least 4,226 instances of rape and gang-rape compounded by an abysmally low conviction rate for perpetrators.
VIOLENCE AGAINST TRANSPERSONS
Additionally, the scale of violence and discrimination against transpersons has increased, it notes.
“At least 12 transpersons were murdered in 2022 in an unprecedented blow to the human rights situation of minorities in the country,” it says.
The report notes that Pakistan took a “U-turn on the rights of transgender people” in 2022 which is contrary to the country’s earlier stance when it introduced the progressive federal 2018 Act that provides for the protection of the rights of transgender people.
However, the bill faced intense backlash in 2022 after Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) senator from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Mushtaq Ahmed Khan, launched a bid to have the Act repealed for promoting ‘the legalisation of homosexual marriages’. Consequently, over 12 transgender people were murdered and hundreds faced violence.
The HRCP also said that Senator Mushtaq Ahmed Khan’s constituency has seen hundreds of murders and gruesome cases of violence against transgender people in the past few years. There were six attacks in March 2022 alone, leading to five fatalities. However, the authorities took no action against the culprits.
“Khan’s counter-claim that a law that protects the rights of transgender people has singlehandedly undermined the very foundations of an Islamic republic, managed to induce nationwide moral panic. Protests erupted to stop a bill that had already been passed four years ago. Resolutions were submitted in provincial assemblies to condemn the law. Even the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan were prompted to issue a decree to ‘rid the holy land of blasphemers’ for passing such a law,” the report says.
The report also holds Pakistani authorities responsible for their inaction toward curtailing violence against the marginalised community.
The report notes an uptick in enforced disappearances in Balochistan, with 2,210 reported cases having remained unresolved even as a bill criminalising the act was passed by the National Assembly.
According to HRCP Co-chairperson Asad Iqbal Butt, the issue was becoming a reason for differences among provinces and putting the country into a blind alley.
“People are being arrested without warrants and they remain missing for months and years. There are cases in which people have been missing for 15 years. When an institution won’t respect the Constitution can it expect from the masses to respect and follow the Constitution,” he asked.
RIGHTS OF WORKERS NEGLECTED
About the rights of workers, the report notes that the rights of workers and peasants were sorely neglected. Although the minimum wage was increased, the state has yet to acknowledge that this falls below the threshold of a living wage.
Additionally, it says, while around 1,200 bonded labourers were freed in Sindh, the district vigilance committees constituted in 2022 remained largely dysfunctional. The death toll in the country’s mines also remained very high with 90 workers killed in coal-mine accidents.
The report says that immediate action by the state is needed on all these issues if it is to move towards a pro-people approach to politics, law and governance in the country.
HRCP treasurer Husain Naqi said that 4,000 girls were raped last year and the youngest of them was a newborn and there were also six months old girls. There were a number of cases of acid throwing and karo-kari,“ he said.
In her speech, HRCP Chairperson Hina Jilani criticised the settlement of militants in KP, alleging that they were responsible for a recent upsurge in terrorist attacks. She said it was a positive step that traders and hotel associations had opposed such a decision as it had affected their livelihood and business.
RISE IN TERROR ATTACKS
Jilani expressed concern over forced conversions and forced marriages of girls belonging to minorities. She also raised the issue of discrimination against minorities, especially the people belonging to the Ahmadi community.
“National institutions of human rights are not exercising the authority they have. Violence against transgenders is a problem of every province. There is discrimination in employment, education, and other rights. People living with disabilities are not getting their rights. Freedom of expression and assembly is not being allowed to people. The human rights community is extremely vulnerable and it has been continuously losing the space which it gained after a long struggle. Even today there are no-go areas for civil society,” she said.
She also said there was no indication of involvement of military establishment in the no-confidence motion against the PTI government. However, she said, Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa assemblies were dissolved to create political turmoil, adding that the political situation should be tackled by political parties.
Senior HRCP Council Member Nasreen Azhar suggested the media should highlight issues of the masses instead of just focusing on politics.