10 Facts About Human Rights in Pakistan
Pakistan, cushioned between India and Afghanistan, is home to more than 212 million people and is the sixth most populous country in the world. Each one of these people living in Pakistan should be given basic human rights no matter their ethnic origin, color, gender, religion or any other reason.

Even if human rights should be granted to everyone, not everyone is given the same rights as the other in some countries around the world. There is much to know how each human is treated or could be treated in the country of Pakistan. Here are 10 facts on human rights in Pakistan.

10 Facts On Human Rights in Pakistan

  1. Attacks on civil society. A civil society is a community of citizens linked by common interests, and in Pakistan some aspects of civil society are under attack. For instance, an attack on a school killing 140 people, mostly children, made those among the positive civil society in Pakistan protest against the government for supporting the “good” Taliban. When these protests arose, so did the safety concerns of Pakistan’s civil society. These people were attacked with laws and organizations put against them.
  2. Freedom of religion. In 2017, there were at least 19 people on death row under blasphemy charges, many of whom were members of religious minorities in Pakistan. This situation, combined with many others, has put Pakistan at a severe level of ‘violations of religious freedom’ — religious minorities and atheists are at a higher risk than ever before.
  3. Children’s rights. Child marriage is a major concern in Pakistan, with 21 percent of girls under the age of 18 already married. Along with child marriages, lack of education also heavily impacts children in Pakistan. There have been many attacks on the school, and children are frequently used in suicide bombings. Unfortunately, roughly five million children are not able to attend school in Pakistan.
  4. Women’s rights. Many women in Pakistan face rape, acid attacks, domestic violence and “honor” killings. It is estimated that there are about 1,000 “honor” killings a year on Pakistani women. If a woman is accused of adultery, fornication or an immoral behavior that violates societal and religious norms, she is then subjected to an “honor” killing.
  5. Refugees. Pakistan is host to the largest refugee population in the world. According to UNHCR, there are more than 1.45 million refugees in Pakistan, many of whom are from Afghanistan. In many areas, the Pakistani police have extorted money from registered and undocumented refugees from Afghanistan. Between January to August in 2017, up to 82,019 Afghan refugees returned or were deported back to Afghanistan.
  6. Terrorism. Many security forces in Pakistan are linked to terrorist intentions. Many times when suspects were to be charged, there were serious violations regarding torture and secret detention centers. Many of those who are detained were activists and human rights defenders.
  7. Forced Disappearances. Many minority groups are under attack in Pakistan, and forced disappearances can occur. In 2017, the government received 868 new cases of forced disappearances, a figure which is more than the previous two years. The government was able to locate 555 of those who had disappeared, but there are still 313 people missing.
  8. Freedom of expression. Many journalists, bloggers and social media users have been attacked in relation with Pakistan. For instance, there were five bloggers whose comments online led to forced disappearances. Four of the five bloggers were later released, but two of them said that they were tortured while in custody. The fifth blogger has still not been unfound.
  9. Human rights defenders. Whether lawyers, bloggers, journalists or activists, voices of truth are often subjected to harassment, threats and forms of violence. In 2016, the Pakistani government argued that human rights defenders did not warrant special legal status and the protection of human rights defenders was a conspiracy by western countries to interfere in domestic affairs in developing countries.
  10. A glimpse at progress. It may seem that human rights in Pakistan is lacking, but there have been some instances of progress over the years. In Punjab, Pakistani authorities are now accepting marriage licenses in the Sikh community, giving union protections under the law. Another progression in human rights for Pakistan is restoring section 7 of the Christian Divorce Act. In this section, Christians who wish to divorce can do so civilly without the threat of false accusations of adultery. Despite the many downfalls on human rights for women, there was an increase of 3.8 million women able to vote in the most recent election compared to 2013.

Postive Push

While there may be progress budding in regard to human rights in Pakistan, the road to completely improved human rights will be long and difficult. If those pushing for their rights are heard and supported, the return of basic human rights and safety can return to Pakistan.

– Victoria Fowler
Photo: Flickr

How Art is Enriching Free Expression in PakistanIn Pakistan, every citizen has the right to freedom of expression. However, this is subject to restriction. Article 19 of the Constitution of the Islamic State of Pakistan (1974) explains:

“Every citizen shall have the right to freedom of speech and expression, and there shall be freedom of the press, subject to any reasonable restrictions imposed by law in the interest of the glory of Islam or the integrity, security or defense of Pakistan or any part thereof friendly relations with foreign States, public order, decency or morality, or in relation to contempt of court, [commission of] [sic] or incitement to an offence.”

Censorship is an ongoing practice that often restricts freedom of expression in Pakistan. The 2017 Human Rights Watch World Report expressed concern for political influence by the Pakistani government on the media. Throughout 2016, media outlets were allegedly pressured to circumvent coverage on human rights violations. Terrorist regimes like the Taliban were also known to impact media outlets. According to the report, “many journalists increasingly practice self-censorship, fearing retribution from security forces.”

Since the year 2000, 110 journalists have been killed in Pakistan, only four of which cases have led to convictions. Despite this fact, there are artists throughout the republic ignoring the fear and embracing their passion. Pakistani artists are exercising their right to free expression and challenging the unspoken but palpable restrictions on freedom of expression via their artwork.

Fouzia Saeed, head of Lok Virsa, a Pakistani culture and history museum just outside of Islamabad, explains to Journal & Courier that he sometimes receives death threats. Despite this, Saeed continues to educate the public and provide an outlet for freedom of expression in Pakistan, often hosting poetry and folk music night.

Asia’s largest theater festival is an annual 11-day event hosted in Lahore, Pakistan. The World Performing Arts Festival, organized by Rafi Peerzada, is designed to reaffirm the democratic notions that Pakistan has been striving for since 2013.

The festival features some 90 performing groups. The event often evokes social commentaries, promotes dialogue and represents a celebration of local and global culture. This is an ambitious event that funding and support aren’t exactly there for, as Peerzada laments to say. “We’ve never had a policy for culture,” he says in response to the difficulty of fundraising. The program has never received government funding, and other sources are hesitant to associate their name with the festival, as it is considered “risky.”

When the festival started in 2008, it found itself the target of an attack. Three bombs detonated as the event was reaching full capacity. Some were injured, but luckily no one was killed. “The arts are seen as un-Islamic,” Peerzada explains in an interview with Christian Science Monitor.

Though artists, galleries, festivals and other forms of artistic expression are often targets of forced silence, this group collectively remains resilient.

“It feels like we are closer to that than a year ago, but we’re certainly not close to being all the way there. What appears to be a country divided is not that divided at all — it is just scared,” Peerzada says. In the transition to democracy and modernization, art plays a key role in strengthening freedom of expression in Pakistan.

– Sloan Bousselaire

Photo: Flickr

Human Rights in Pakistan
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

Photo: Google