Human rights in Pakistan are in peril. From the indifferent attitude toward “honor killings” to unnecessary executions, it seems that this country is far from establishing a free society.
In the twenty-first century, violence and discrimination are disregarded as memories of the past and considered rare in such an advanced and connected world. However, these problems continue to plague nations today. In countries that suffer political discourse especially, human rights have a long way to go.
Approximately 20 percent, or roughly 1,000, of the world’s honor killings each year occur in Pakistan alone. Women are often the victims of this longstanding practice. Those who disgrace the household by choosing to marry a man of their choice or exposing themselves in unorthodox manners are considered to be undeserving of life.
In July 2016, Qandeel Baloch, a popular actress, was drugged and strangled to death by her brother, Waseem Baloch. Her crime: in order to support her family, she became an internet sensation by posting videos that advocated for women’s rights and criticized Pakistan’s resistance toward expanding them.
The next morning, a country of more than 200 million people woke up to news channels covering the controversial killing of one of Pakistan’s most popular actresses. The nation’s justice minister promised anxious citizens that the Parliament would examine a proposed bill for punishing those who commit honor killings and other related crimes.
As for Qandeel Baloch, the Punjab provincial government restricted members of her family from legally forgiving her brother. In other words, even if her relatives forgive Mr. Baloch, he cannot escape prosecution. A common measure, this ruling is only effective in producing one result: the universal condoning of such acts, while the case remains unaddressed and the accused unpunished.
Honor killings are not the only form of human rights abuse in Pakistan, unfortunately. From child marriages to discrimination against minorities, the list goes on. However, what people do not realize is that in many cases, the culprit of unjust killings is the institution that aims to protect the lives of citizens: the government.
Pakistan is notorious for its legalization of capital punishment. This act goes unopposed because of its reputation as a proper measure. However, this is not any more legal or more ethical than the occasional honor killing.
In 2017 thus far, there have been 44 known executions in Pakistan–and these are only the ones which have been reported. From reasons ranging from rape to murder, it is estimated that thousands of people lose their lives to executions each year. Previously, only extreme offenses warranted capital punishment. That changed this year when 30-year-old Taimoor Raza received the death penalty for allegedly insulting Islamic religious figures.
As an unprecedented decision by the Pakistani Shari’at Court, this cannot be opposed because the court has the full autonomy to assess whether a crime is deserving of capital punishment. As Taimoor Raza awaits his sentence, 14 people who are also accused of this crime wait to see whether their fates will be like that of Mr. Raza’s.
There are many reasons why there is a human rights problem in Pakistan. The weak authority of the government and the presence of terrorism stand as the two most popular justifications.
However, it is hopeful to see that there are people who are attempting to change the state of affairs in this nation. From protests to petitions to measures by the government, there is a legitimate mission to end these abuses. In the case of Qandeel Baloch, the Monday after the murder, many women protested for the victim.
In the end, the true question lies in whether people will be successful in bringing human rights to Pakistan. So far, with rising danger for humanitarian activists, the answer to that pressing question remains unclear.
For now, the only ray of hope that Pakistanis find is in the words of political reform activists, who promise that change will eventually come.
– Sheharbano Jafry