Posts Tagged ‘Pakistan’

CPJ’s 2019 Gwen Ifill Press Freedom Award to Pakistani journalist Zaffar Abbas

July 19, 2019

The Committee to Protect Journalists’ (CPJ) 2019 Gwen Ifill Press Freedom Award recognizing extraordinary and sustained achievement in the cause of press freedom will be presented to Zaffar Abbas, editor of Pakistan’s daily newspaper Dawn. Abbas, who has decades of experience as a reporter in Pakistan, has led Dawn since 2010. Under his leadership, Dawn and its reporters frequently have come under government pressure. This is the second Ifill award which replaces the Burton Benjamin Memorial Award. For more on this and other awards for journalists: http://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards/gwen-ifill-press-freedom-award

“Zaffar Abbas is the embodiment of journalistic courage, which is why the board is so pleased to honor him with the Gwen Ifill Press Freedom Award,” said Kathleen Carroll, chair of the CPJ board. “Every day he fights to deliver facts to Dawn’s readers in the face of pressure, obstacles, and blockades from the institutions in Pakistan that would much prefer to go about their business without scrutiny from the press or the public.

https://cpj.org/2019/07/cpj-announces-2019-international-press-freedom-awa.php

Pakistan: a bad country for religious tolerance

March 17, 2019

Nothing new but it being a Sunday here in Crete, where lots of people go to church, one is struck by the continuing religious intolerance in certain parts of the world. Here two short items  relating to Pakistan, both from March 2019:
reports that on 6 March 2019 human rights defender Afzal Kohistani was shot dead by unidentified gunmen in Gami Ada, in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province. Afzal Kohistani was a human rights defender who had been campaigning against “honour killings”, or choar, in the Kohistan region of Pakistan. He had been the central figure seeking justice for the killing of five young women and three young men in 2012 and 2013.

The 2012 and 2013 “honour killings” were linked to a video, which went viral after it appeared online in 2012. It showed five young women singing and clapping, while two young men performed a traditional dance during a local wedding in Palas, a remote area in Kohistan. The mixing of genders is considered a serious violation of tribal norms in Kohistan and the young people were killed as a result of the “dishonour” they had brought on their families and community…..Prior to his death, Afzal Kohistani had received numerous death threats for seeking to bring the perpetrators of the Kohistan killings to justice. The human rights defender and his family were forced to leave their home in 2012 and had been in hiding for the past seven years. A few days prior to being killed, the human rights defender had written to the Deputy Inspector General of Police (DIG) in Hazara seeking police protection but his request never received a response. The Supreme Court’s orders for the provincial government to provide the human rights defender with protection were also not heeded. (for more detail see the link below).[ One of my first posts in 2013 concerned https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2013/09/28/pakistan-and-rights-of-women-unbearable/]

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A story in the Business Standard of 17 March refers to the a protest rally in Geneva by living in parts of Europe  objecting to “Islamists misusing blasphemy law to harass Christians in Pakistan”. The protesters walked from Palais Wilson, to ‘Broken Chair’ in front of the UN, during the 40th session of the

They demanded that the government must abolish the ‘dangerous’ law misused by the state and non-state actors to target the minorities. Frank John, of Drumchapel Asian Forum in Glasgow, said: “We are unhappy with the functioning of the government in because the mindset of ‘maulvis’ (Islamic hardliners) towards Christians is immoral. Every day, atrocities are being committed against our children, especially girls, which is not acceptable. Our girls are being kidnapped by misusing PPC 295C and they are converted into ” He added: “.. If we have an altercation with any person, they put us under PPC 295C. This is a and needs to be abolished.”

Dr Mario Silva, Executive of for Rights and Security said: “Pakistan systematically discriminates against minorities. Christians are particularly targetted by the law. Christian persecution is a real threat to democracy and it’s a real threat to human rights. It’s something the community needs to take a look at. He added, “The state has a responsibility to protect its minorities rather destroying them. They have to go against the perpetrators of crimes against Christians. There are attacks on Christians, suicide bombings are taking place and the government is doing nothing to investigate the persecution of Christians in the country.” Criticising the law, he said: “Blasphemy law should in fact never be a part of any democratic system of government because blasphemy law is meant to target minorities…..” [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2013/12/24/pussy-riot-freed-in-russia-but-the-bigger-issue-is-blasphemy-laws-everywhere/]

Christians make up less than two per cent of the population in Pakistan. Their numbers are decreasing as many of them are migrating to other countries for their safety.

https://www.frontlinedefenders.org/en/case/human-rights-defender-afzal-kohistani-shot-dead-seeking-justice-“honour-killings”
https://www.business-standard.com/article/news-ani/islamists-misusing-blasphemy-law-to-harass-christians-in-pakistan-activists-119031700034_1.html

Sketching for freedom of expression at the Frankfurter book fair

January 8, 2019

 Human rights defenders receive their 2018 UN prizes

December 20, 2018

Secretary-General António Guterres (2nd left) and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet (left) with winners of the UN Prize in the Field of Human Rights at the General Assembly’s commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. UN Photo/Evan Schneider

The “clear and profound” guidelines enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, “have made it the world’s most widely translated document”, the UN Secretary-General told the General Assembly on Tuesday at an event to commemorate the Declaration’s 70th Anniversary, marked 10 December.

Every five years, The United Nations Prize in the Field of Human Rights is awarded to organizations and individuals which embody excellent activism in defending human rights. [see: http://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards/united-nations-prizes-in-the-field-of-human-rights]

The 2018 winners are:

  • Rebeca Gyumi of Tanzania, for her work with women and girls. She lead a campaign that prompted the repeal of a Tanzanian law in 2016, which once permitted girls as young as 14 to be married off.
  • Asma Jahangir of Pakistan, a human rights lawyer – whose daughter, Munizae, received the award on her behalf. Mrs. Jahangir, who passed away in February of this year, fought against religious extremism and for the rights of oppressed minorities.
  • Joênia Wapixana (known also as Joenia Batista de Carvalho) of Brazil, who advocates on behalf of indigenous communities.
  • Front-Line Defenders, an Irish organization which works on the protection of human rights defenders.

All were announced on 25 October [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/10/26/laureates-of-10th-edition-of-un-human-rights-prizes-just-announced/], and celebrated at the ceremonial event on 18 December.

The SG emphasized that “their work, and that of other human rights defenders around the world, is essential for our collective efforts to sustain peace and ensure inclusive sustainable development and respect for human rights for all.”

https://news.un.org/en/story/2018/12/1028901

Laureates of 10th Edition of UN Human Rights Prizes just announced

October 26, 2018

On Friday 26 October 2018 the President of the UN General Assembly announced – in a rather summary and informal tweet:

“Today I announced the 2018 winners of the Human Rights Prize. I am proud to recognise the contributions of individuals & organizations that promote & protect human rights Joênia Wapichana Your work is an inspiration to us all “.

This is the tenth time that these awards were since the prize was established in 1968, coinciding this year with the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the 20th anniversary of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders. For more on this award: http://trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards/united-nations-prizes-in-the-field-of-human-rights

It is probably for that reason that one of the winners is the outstanding Ireland based NGO Front Line Defenders (regularly quoted in the blog, see e.g. https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/front-line-ngo/). The Director Andrew Anderson promptly replies with: “Profoundly honoured that @FrontLineHRD has been named as one of 4 winners of the UN Human Rights Prize. We dedicate this to the courageous & dedicated human rights defenders we work to support.

Three other winners of the prize are

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https://www.newstalk.com/Irish-organisation-wins-United-Nations-Human-Rights-Prize

https://www.girlsnotbrides.org/high-court-tanzania-child-marriage/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joênia_Wapixana

China, Russia and Pakistan in UN fail at attempt to muzzle human rights defenders (for now)

July 7, 2018

On 6 July 2018 Stephanie Nebehay reported for Reuters that China, Russia and Pakistan lost their bid on Friday to weaken a U.N. resolution upholding the crucial rule of human rights defenders. The United Nations Human Rights Council adopted a resolution calling on all states to protect civil society groups from threats and intimidation, and prosecute reprisals against them. Chile presented the resolution text on behalf of more than 50 countries on the final day of a three-week session. Amendments proposed by China, Pakistan and Russia – declaring that civil society groups must respect “the sovereignty and territorial integrity of states” and that their funding must be “legal and transparent” – were soundly defeated. So, in spite of increasing retaliation against human right defenders and pressure on civil society in many countries [see recently: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/06/08/ishr-new-report-on-reprisals-and-restrictions-against-ngo-participation-in-the-un/ ], the UN is still able to resist some of the more blatant attempt to silence critics.

China and Russia are often the least tolerant of civil society at home. They are now seeking to introduce similar restrictions at the international level,” John Fisher of Human Rights Watch told Reuters. Their attempts to place national sovereignty above international human rights law “would turn guarantees of peaceful assembly and association on their heads”.

“These amendments were a swing and a miss for China and its allies on the Council,” Sarah Brooks of the International Service for Human Rights told Reuters, using an American baseball term. “Their efforts to limit civil society’s independence and shut down civil society voices were rebuffed by a strong message – from member states across the globe – about the importance of keeping defenders’ voices at the table”.

[At the current session, China tried unsuccessfully to block the accreditation of Uighur activist Dolkun Isa, U.N. sources said. China’s delegation publicly challenged activists speaking on behalf of Uighur and Tibetan ethnic minorities. Council president Vojislav Suc, Slovenia’s ambassador, said allegations of intimidation and reprisals had emerged during the session and urged “all necessary measures” to prevent such acts.]

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-un-rights/china-russia-fail-to-curb-activists-role-at-u-n-rights-forum-campaigners-idUSKBN1JW2EM

Human rights defenders in Pakistan in targeted campaign of digital attacks

May 17, 2018

Activists in Pakistan are under threat from a targeted campaign of digital attacks, which has seen social media accounts hacked and computers and mobile phones infected with spyware, a four-month investigation by Amnesty International reveals.

In a report titled ‘Human Rights Under Surveillance: Digital Threats against Human Rights Defenders in Pakistan’, released on Tuesday, 15 May 2018, Amnesty reveals how attackers are using fake online identities and social media profiles to ensnare Pakistani human rights defenders online and mark them out for surveillance and cyber crime.

We uncovered an elaborate network of attackers who are using sophisticated and sinister methods to target human rights activists. Attackers use cleverly designed fake profiles to lure activists and then attack their electronic devices with spyware, exposing them to surveillance and fraud and even compromising their physical safety, Sherif Elsayed-Ali, Director of Global Issues at Amnesty International, said. “Our investigation shows how attackers have used fake Facebook and Google login pages to trick their victims into revealing their passwords. It is already extremely dangerous to be a human rights defender in Pakistan and it is alarming to see how attacks on their work are moving online,” he said.

https://dailytimes.com.pk/240689/investigation-uncovers-sinister-hacking-campaign-targeting-activists-in-pakistan/

https://reliefweb.int/report/pakistan/pakistan-human-rights-under-surveillance

 

For some of my other posts on Pakistan see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/pakistan/

Asma Jahangir, one of the world’s most outstanding human rights defenders, dies at age 66

February 11, 2018

 

 

 

Prominent Pakistani human rights defender and lawyer Asma Jahangir has died at the age of 66. She reportedly suffered a cardiac arrest and was taken to hospital, where she later died.

She was one of the most recognized and honored human rights defenders with over 17 human rights awards, including the Martin Ennals Award in 1995, whose film on her work shows a much younger Asma, fearless in spite of threats on her life:

I met her for the first time in 1993 at the 2nd World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna, where she deeply impressed me by standing up and openly criticizing her fellow NGO representatives for having tried to prevent former President Jimmy Carte from speaking at the NGO forum. This principled stand was a hallmark of her life as Pakistani human rights lawyer and as UN Special Rapporteur. In many instances she was able to give sound advice on cases of other human rights defenders in difficulty. For earlier posts on Asma see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/asma-jahangir/

Asma Jahangir’s career in short:

  • Trained as a lawyer and worked in Pakistan’s Supreme Court from age 30
  • A critic of the military establishment
  • Jailed in 1983 for pro-democracy activities
  • Put under house arrest in 2007 for opposing military leader’s removal of Supreme Court chief justice
  • Co-founder of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan and of the first free legal aid centre in Pakistan (together with her sister Hina Jilani)
  • Co-founder of the Women’s Action Forum, set up to oppose law that reduced a woman’s testimony in court to half that of a man’s
  • The first female leader of Pakistan’s Supreme Court bar association
  • Winner of 17 human rights awards and the French Legion of Honour
  • Served twice as UN special rapporteur: on freedom of religion and on later on Human Rights in Iran

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai called Ms Jahangir a “saviour of democracy and human rights”.

A prominent Pakistani lawyer, Salman Akram Raja, tweeted that Ms Jahangir was “the bravest human being I ever knew” and that the world was “less” without her.

A long interview with Asma you can find here: https://asiasociety.org/interview-asma-jahangir,

A 2017 interview can be found on the website of the RLA: https://vimeo.com/225966475

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https://www.economist.com/news/obituary/21736994-pakistans-loudest-voice-democracy-and-human-rights-was-66-obituary-asma-jahangir-died

Pakistan: summary justice by the police is widespread

February 10, 2018

On 4 February 2018 the Pakistani newspaper The News on Sunday carried the story “Punjab police has a history and reputation of staging fake police encounters. Has anything changed?

A solution for speedy justice
Fake police encounters are said to be more rampant in Punjab province and some urban centres of Sindh, including Karachi. If one takes the case of Punjab, one finds such encounters to be a popular and preferred method of ‘dispensing justice’ adopted by the police. Police encounters have been staged for long but their number is said to have skyrocketed during the tenures of Shehbaz Sharif as the chief minister of Punjab. This has led to the perception that he has full trust in this method of controlling crime and patronises police officers known as encounter specialists. Prized postings and out-of-turn promotions for such officers strengthen this perception.

After tracing the history of police encounters in Punjab the article states that “Killings through police encounters got an exponential boost after Shehbaz Sharif came to power in Punjab in 1997. It was in July 1999 that BBC carried a news story that 850 suspected criminals had been killed by the police in encounters since the PML-N government had taken over in the province. The fact that 20 of them had been killed in just one week in May 1999 had disturbed human rights defenders all over the world. This killing spree was also observed during his second tenure that started in 2013. In 2015 alone, 440 suspects were killed in police encounters in Punjab.

Ejaz Butt, a crime reporter based in Lahore, recalls the time when he says police was said to have been asked by the Shehbaz Sharif government to decimate the top 10 gangsters of the city. He says police would stage encounters without any fear and hold press conference a day before with the criminals in handcuffs. “The officers would tell reporters to ask questions from criminals, saying they would be killed in shootout the next day,” he adds. The need for this clean-up operation was felt when the trader community of the city became fed up with excessive demands for extortion money and paid assassins who were operating everywhere.

Butt says the encounter experts are very much clear about who to shoot down. “The criminals who have fired at policemen, raped female inmates during robberies, killed abducted children even after getting ransom, molested minors, indulged in multiple murders, including those of witnesses are not spared,” he adds. He says they opt for this method as it is difficult to establish these crimes in courts and letting them go will make them commit the same crime again.

Every time there is an encounter there is a judicial inquiry but most of the time fake encounters are hard to establish. Why is it so? Butt explains the reason is that “encounter specialists are also expert in making the encounter plan and executing it. They prepare a sketch of the crime scene beforehand and fire bullets at police van with unlicensed weapons, claimed to be owned by the criminals. Besides, there is no eyewitness because all the roads and pathways leading to the venue of the encounter are blocked for public before it is carried out.”

Sarmad Saeed Khan says the fake encounters are not probed properly because they are done at the behest of the government. “Not even a single fake encounter can be staged by a police officer on his own”. He says not “every police officer is ready to take these orders and only those agree who get the blessings of the government”.

Though these police officers got out-of-turn promotions, he says, “the Supreme Court reversed these which is a good step. But despite this, these officers obey unlawful orders from the government to kill people in encounters. These dreaded officers are also used to pressurise political opponents whenever needed,” he adds.

If there are any demands for investigation, complainants are warned that they can be taken as those attackers if they keep on demanding an inquiry. Moreover “The problem unfortunately is that even the blood relatives disassociate themselves from such cases and disown the deceased due to the stigma attached to them.”

http://tns.thenews.com.pk/solution-speedy-justice/#.Wnni02Z7GV4

 

Will Pakistan pass again the human rights progress test in the EU parliament?

February 6, 2018

, in a piece in The News on Sunday (TNS) refers to the upcoming debate in the European Parliament about whether or not Pakistan will get a prolongation of its ‘Generalised Scheme of Preferences (GSP) Plus status‘ by the EU (giving easy access to the EU market for textile). The second periodic review has been done and the report will be discussed in the EU Parliament shortly. The continuation or discontinuation of the status for Pakistan is crucial:

Some of the important observations made by the EU team:

It points out the government of Pakistan has established a system of Treaty Implementation Cells (TICs) at federal and provincial levels, tasked with coordinating the implementation of treaty obligations between different line ministries and departments and between the federal and provincial levels. The National Commission of Human Right (NCHR) has been established though its functional and budgetary autonomy is yet to be fully materialised. Besides, it says, the federal and provincial Commissions on the Status of Women have also played an important role in promoting human rights in Pakistan. It also praises the government’s intention “to improve data collection by establishing a Human Rights Management Information System, which will be anchored in a National Human Rights Institute.”

On the other hand, it identifies outstanding issues and points out that the right to a fair trial remains a major concern, stemming from weaknesses of the judicial system. “A large backlog of cases resulting in defendants spending years in jail before their case is heard continues to be a problem. The registration process of international NGOs (INGOs) continues to be slow and nontransparent.” The issues of forced marriages, forced conversions, forced disappearances, custodial deaths, death penalty etc have been taken up in the report as well. The concerns about freedom of expression, freedom of association and assembly, the situation of human rights defenders and civil society activists, and the overall ‘shrinking civil society space’ are also there.

Regarding the eight conventions on labour rights, the review report talks about the formation of a national labour protection framework by the federal and provincial authorities, the ongoing labour force and child labour surveys, improvements in the area of tripartite dialogue, formation of trade unions in the informal sector etc but calls upon the government to address the persistent obstacles for the registration and functioning of trade unions. The issues of child labour and bonded labour have also been discussed along with the efforts to curb these…

Ume Laila Azhar, Executive Director Homenet Pakistan, says it is a mix picture and the report seems to have categorically analysed the present situation of Pakistan’s executive and legislature. She finds the review report an eye-opener and urges the government functionaries to do the needful. For example, she says, “The number of labour inspectors has been stagnating countrywide and the whole labour inspection system is in need of reform, which is essential to improve the enforcement of labour rights and working conditions. Without an effective labour inspection system it is impossible to ensure labour rights.”

Zulfiqar Shah, Joint Director Pakistan Institute for Labour Education & Research (PILER), hopes the GSP Plus status will continue as the report seems to be appreciative of the pro-rights legislation done by the government. “Though it highlights human rights violation in Pakistan, it appreciates the measures taken for improvement as well.” However, he says, the review appears to be biased in favour of the government in terms of labour rights in a scenario where only one per cent of the workforce is unionised.

Bushra Khaliq, Executive Director Women in Struggle for Empowerment (WISE), shares it with TNS that the second review is different from the first because this time the third party evaluation has also been done on the behest of EU. Due to this, she says, the findings cannot be termed biased as happens when the civil society of the country gives its input. The government shall seek guidelines from the report and its recommendations for the sake of its citizens as well as the continuation of GSP Plus status. Khaliq appreciates the fact that the government has recently submitted its reports to the UN regarding compliance with its certain conventions, terming it a positive trend. Earlier, there would be reluctance and delays in this regard. Lastly, she thinks even the EU Parliament is answerable to the highly vigilant civil society in Europe and cannot ignore it while deciding on the continuation of this preferential status. “So, it is equally important to convince the civil society that we are taking these issues seriously.”