Human rights commission launches annual report

The Human Rights Commission for Pakistan (HRCP) launched its annual report on the state of human rights in the South Asian nation on Friday.

The misuse of blasphemy laws continued to increase, laws promulgated in 2002, including the Freedom of Information Act, were not enforced, the freedom of assembly by citizens in order to call attention to their concerns remained curtailed and proposed new laws to regulate NGOs were seen by activists as a potential threat to their autonomy, the report said.

The HRCP report, titled “State of Human Rights in 2003,” also said there was no evidence of a decrease in violence against women, with a reported 600 losing their lives to honour killings.

“Basically, there have been very little changes. The same patterns are continuing. There have been possible improvements in some areas and there seem to have been more actions by the lower judiciary against people who have been committing torture. This is a good trend and we hope it will continue and expand,” Kamila Hyat, the HRCP joint-director, told IRIN at the report’s launch in Islamabad.

“Otherwise, violence against women continues. There has been violence against children on the same level,” she added.

“Despite the recommendations of the National Commission on the Status of Women (NCSW), very little has been done about the repeal of the Hudood Ordinance. The Hudood laws still remain in force and many women - and men - remain in prison because of those laws. We’d like to see this repealed as we’d like to see all laws discriminatory to any section of society repealed,” Hyat continued.

But within parliament, with more women coming in than before, their presence appeared to have generated more discussions on important matters, Hyat explained.

“That is a good first step: for instance, a bill against domestic violence has been introduced, child sexual abuse has been discussed. Those are steps forward, I would say,” she maintained.

According to the report, over six million children across the country did not attend schools, many being engaged, instead, in working conditions that were often extremely hazardous. The implementation of a juvenile justice system ordinance, promulgated in 2000, remained poor with over 3,000 juveniles still held alongside adults, it said.

Torture at jails, with over 84,000 men, women and children behind bars in badly overcrowded facilities, remained endemic and led to a growing number of deaths, the report said.

Also, government reports suggested that poverty had soared steeply with roughly 40 million people living below the poverty line and unemployment unofficially estimated to have reached 14 percent or more, it added.

And the country’s expenditure on health, at 0.7 percent of GNP, remained among the lowest in the world with drug prices ranking among the highest in the region, the report said.

Sectarian terrorism claimed the lives of at least 90 people, while the new police law was only partially implemented.

However, Hyat said the HRCP felt that authorities needed to ensure that various existing laws were enforced. “That can be done by giving orders to the lower judiciary, to the police, that they would like to see the laws that are in place implemented fully,” she stressed.

“That, in it self, would make a huge difference. Often, the laws and statutes that exist are not enforced and that creates a lot of problems at ground level,” she explained.

“It’s basically a lack of will [for the laws not being enforced] and the fact that many ministers, including those who make statements about honour killings and so on, are not willing to carry through on that,” Hyat said.

That might be because of a lack of will or because of a great deal of administrative inefficiency at all levels, she explained.

The report also said that unofficial figures showed that spending on education remained a mere 7.8 percent of total government expenditure as Pakistan slipped from 138th to 144th place in the United Nations Development Programme's (UNDP) index of 175 countries on the basis of development, partly as a result of its poor educational performance.