Pakistan: No country for human rights, say 2023 reports

Pakistani flags protesters

The human rights situation in Pakistan took a nosedive in 2023, while the country’s civic spaces contracted to an extraordinary degree in the last year in the wake of violent political protests, the Voice of America (VOA) reported, quoting a recent report by the independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP).

The HRCP recently released the report titled “State of Human Rights in 2023” reviewing the human rights situation of Pakistan in the past year, according to VOA.

“This year was remarkable for the State’s blatant disregard for its own Constitution, adherence to a bare, notional democracy, and civic spaces having shrunk to an all-time low,” HRCP said in the report released this month.

According to a report by US-based NewsGram, the HRCP document covers a wide range of human rights issues that weakened Pakistani democracy in 2023, from unelected caretaker governments exceeding their constitutionally mandated term to the parliament hastily passing laws including those granting more powers to security agencies.

Explaining Pakistan’s increased political repression, the commission said the country’s human rights situation reached a new low on May 9 last year, “a defining day” on which supporters of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) chief and former prime minister Imran Khan stormed military and government installations to protest his arrest.

“The state retaliated with a fierce crackdown and mass arrests of thousands of party workers and leaders, including women,” the report said.

“Many [were] kept in military custody, not allowed to meet their families. Internet and social media shutdowns were imposed,” it added.

According to the report, at least 15 instances of internet services being shut down were reported in 2023, while the government suspended internet services for nearly four days across much of Pakistan, following the violence on May 9.

The independent human rights body said the authorities repeatedly banned gatherings of more than four people in a bid to restrict political activities.

Meanwhile, no changes were noticed in the country’s long-standing enforced disappearance issue as 82 men and seven women were forcibly disappeared during 2023, the HRCP said in the review report, quoting media reports.

Some of the disappearances were short-term, targeting political party members, according to the report.

Referring to data provided by the government’s Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances, the human rights body said nearly 2,300 cases of missing persons remained unresolved at the end of 2023.

“A week-long protest movement led by Baloch women seeking recovery of missing family members returned empty-handed from Islamabad after talks with caretaker government officials stalled,” said the report, adding that the protesters were brutally dispersed upon arrival in the capital.

Commenting on the issue, HRCP’s co-chairperson Munizae Jahangir said, “Baloch women were not even given the dignity of a conversation.”

The human rights commission’s chairperson, Asad Iqbal Butt, held the country’s security agencies responsible for enforced disappearances, and said that the acts violated an array of civil rights.

“The security agencies think they are friends of Pakistan, but whenever I have a meeting with them, I tell them, ‘You are not a friend of Pakistan. You are engaging in animosity with Pakistan,’” Butt said, urging the courts to ask recovered victims of enforced disappearances to identify the agencies that detained them.

“Unless those who pick people up are not brought to justice, unless they are punished, this problem cannot be resolved,” the HRCP chairperson said, adding that the issue of enforced disappearances was hurting the public’s trust in state institutions.

New York-headquartered international non-governmental organization, Human Rights Watch (HRW), stated that Pakistan’s political and economic crises deepened in 2023.

“Following a similar playbook as its predecessors, the government of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif clamped down on the media, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and political opposition,” according to Human Rights Watch’s country report on Pakistan.

HRW, in its report, said the authorities in Pakistan used draconian counterterrorism and sedition laws to intimidate peaceful critics.

Blasphemy-related violence against religious minorities, fostered in part by government persecution and discriminatory laws, intensified. Attacks by Islamist militants, notably the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and Islamic State of Khorasan Province (ISKP), targeting law enforcement officials and religious minorities, killed dozens of people in the last year, as reported by HRW.

“With poverty, inflation, and unemployment soaring, Pakistan faced one of the worst economic crises in its history, jeopardizing millions of people’s rights to health, food, and an adequate standard of living,” said the report, adding that the insistence of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on austerity and the removal of subsidies without adequate compensatory measures resulted in additional hardship for low-income groups.

The HRW report stated that Pakistan remained exceedingly vulnerable to climate change and faced rates of warming considerably above the global average, making extreme climate events more frequent and intense.

According to “2023 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Pakistan” released by the United States Department of State, there were no significant changes in the human rights situation in Pakistan in the last year.

The report mentioned that the Pakistani government rarely took credible steps to identify and punish officials who may have committed human rights abuses.

“Violence, abuse, and social and religious intolerance by militant organizations and other non-state actors, both local and foreign, contributed to a culture of lawlessness,” said the US Department of State report, adding that terrorist violence and human rights abuses by nonstate actors contributed to human rights problems, with terrorist violence increasing during 2023.

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