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The state of human rights in Pakistan in 2009 - Prepublication report

Deterioration of human rights and security accompanies increase in terrorism and conflict


In this report, the state of human rights in Pakistan in 2009 will be scrutinized. This scrutiny does not claim to be comprehensive, but is based on the cases and situations that the Asian Human Right Commission (AHRC) has encountered during the year. The actual situation of human rights is potentially graver still than the account below relays, as monitoring of many of Pakistan's lawless and/or conflict-affected areas remains problematic for access and security reasons.

In previous years, the AHRC and its sister-organization, the Asian Legal Resource Centre (ALRC), have repeatedly pointed to the worsening situation of human rights in the country. Of concern had been the scale of violations, including grave violations such as forced disappearances, torture, extra-judicial killings and rape and other violations of women's rights, as well as the impunity that accompanied these acts. The weakness of the institutions of the rule of law, such as the police and the judiciary, and their inability to protect human rights has ensured this widespread impunity.

Furthermore, the unbridled power of the military over the civilian establishment has been a key feature enabling the lack of effective challenges to the status quo and the continuing prevalence without redress of brutality in Pakistani society and politics. The suspension of the Chief Justice, Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, on March 9, 2007, by the country's previous President, General Pervez Musharraf, and the latter's declaration of a state of emergency on November 3, 2007, in which many Supreme Court judges were removed, with hand-picked replacements selected in their stead, speak to this military dominance.

Asif Ali Zardari, the widower of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, won the presidential election on September 6, 2008. Benazir Bhutto, who was standing for election, was assassinated on December 27, 2007, after departing a Pakistan Peoples Aprty (PPP) rally in Rawalpindi. No progress has been made in the Pakistani investigation into the assassination for many months, while a UN probe committee has again requested three further months for its inquiry.

Following a lengthy protest campaign by lawyers, known as the Lawyers Movement, the Zardari government reinstated Chaudhry Iftikhar and other deposed Judges on March 16, 2009, through a presidential executive order.

There had been hopes that following the ouster of Pervez Musharraf, democratic elections and the re-instatement of the judiciary, the human rights situation in the country would improve. As we shall see in the following report, the serious escalation of conflict between the State and militant Islamic forces, resulting in increased violence and terrorism in the country, accompanied by political wrangling and the continuing weakness of Pakistan's civilian institutions and mechanisms of the rule of law, have given rise to one of the region and world's most dangerous security and human rights situations. Added to this is the lack of effective leadership, as embattled President Zardari has been hanging on to power in the face of growing opposition, and the country has found itself facing dire economic circumstances.

It must be recalled that despite the fact that Pakistan has been the scene of several thousand forced disappearances in recent years, according to estimates, as well as widespread torture and of a range of other grave abuses, the country has been a member of the United Nations' Human Rights Council. As the chair of the Islamic Conference of Foreign Ministers and of the OIC Working Group on Human Rights in Geneva, Pakistan has played a vocal role in the Council, although often to the detriment of human rights and the Council's ability to act effectively. About AHRC: The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organisation monitoring and lobbying human rights issues in Asia. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984