HRCP demands free and fair elections on schedule

KARACHI: Given the vicissitudes of Pakistan’s political situation, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) demands that free and fair elections be held as scheduled this year.

In a statement issued following its 32nd Annual General Meeting, HRCP has reiterated the importance of ensuring an even playing field for all—without interference from any state agency. “There must be special efforts to ensure that both women and religious minorities are able to participate in, and contest, the elections freely and without fear, pressure or intimidation. In this context, mobile polling stations could be a way of ensuring that people who might otherwise be unable to vote, are able to exercise this fundamental right,” the organization added.

HRCP said it was perturbed at suggestions for rolling back the 18th Amendment and the National Finance Commission Award of 2009. Any move in this direction, it said, would threaten the integrity of the federation: the state needed to move toward greater federation, and not backward.

The fact that enforced disappearances have continued unabated in the last year is cause for serious concern. HRCP has said that “the protracted delay by the Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances in establishing the whereabouts of missing persons is unacceptable” and demands that Pakistan sign the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearances.

The rise in the number of extrajudicial killings, particularly in Sindh, said HRCP, was a stark reminder that Naqeebullah Mehsud was just one case of many: it was imperative that the government take strict notice of such impunity.

HRCP has reiterated its support for the rights of workers and peasants across Pakistan, saying that “the case of the recent fatalities in the coal-mining sector are a grim reminder that the country’s labour protection laws and mechanisms fail to meet the standards of decent work recommended by the International Labour Organization. This, coupled with the rising cost of living, means that workers simply continue to eke out an existence without any prospect of betterment.”

Pointing to the “alarming spike in the suicide rate, especially among young women in Gilgit-Baltistan,” HRCP said there was clearly a disconnect between young people’s aspirations and what the state and society were willing to offer them in terms of opportunities to lead secure, fulfilling lives.

Referring to Gilgit-Baltistan as being trapped “in limbo”, HRCP has said that, “so long as it is not brought into the federation of Pakistan, its citizens will not enjoy the fundamental rights guaranteed to all other citizens of the country. It is imperative that every citizen of Gilgit-Baltistan enjoy the same freedoms that the Constitution accords to Pakistani citizens.”

Pointing to the recent case of Geo TV having inexplicably been taken off air, the continual harassment of journalists, the closure of the Quetta Press Club and restrictions on circulations of newspapers in the city, HRCP has underscored the fact that freedom of expression in Pakistan remains under attack.

The tendency to keep development projects under foreign purview, said HRCP, “is not acceptable and is clearly causing unease among local residents. All development projects—including those undertaken as part of CPEC—must be transparent, and planned and executed so as not to violate any human right. The lack of transparency that surrounds the recent Chinese initiatives in Gwadar, for instance, is cause for concern. Asking these questions, moreover, is very much in the public interest and must not be deemed ‘anti-state’ or ‘anti-Pakistan’.”

The organization welcomed the Pashtun Tahaffuz movement “in the spirit that all people have a right to express their grievances peacefully. The legitimate concerns underlying the movement reflect a breakdown in the relationship between the state and the people. We urge the government to listen to these concerns and to refrain from interfering in the Pashtuns’ right of association as well as that of others.”

HRCP said it deplored the state’s lack of action on the plight of Pakistanis in foreign prisons, especially in Saudi Arabia, the Gulf states and India. The state, it said, must provide them with legal aid and other relief.