ISLAMABAD: The government has said that the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), in its annual report for 2019, has overlooked several major milestones towards securing and safeguarding the rights of vulnerable groups that were reached in the last year in the country.
In a statement, the Ministry of Human Rights said the HRCP had raised several pertinent concerns in its report titled State of Human Rights in Pakistan in 2019. “Although the process of changing mindsets, laws and institutions is one that is long and slow, it is critical to keep sight and track of all the steps and progress along the way.”
Also read: How committed is Pakistan to human rights?
To deny progress being made in confronting the massive challenges facing Pakistan today as a result of decades of neglect itself raised questions of intent, the ministry said.
It said that the report accurately cited an alarmingly high number of cases of violence against women and children. “However, it does not account for the important institutional and legislative measures taken in the last year to safeguard and promote their rights. This includes the Zainab Alert, Response and Recovery Act, 2020, which was introduced in the parliament in 2019, and the National Action Plan against Child Abuse that has been prepared by the ministry and submitted to the Prime Minister Office. The ministry said important steps had also been taken towards criminalisation of domestic violence and awareness campaigns on the issue in the media.
Says efforts on to meet HR challenges through legislation, sensitisation drives
Moreover, it said, the last year had featured some important advancements with regard to the rights of prisoners in Pakistan. In 2019, the Ministry of Human Rights released a report on prison reforms. The Islamabad High Court has constituted an implementation commission on prison reforms on the basis of this report, which is being led by the ministry. The ministry had also been working towards developing standard operating procedures and other emergency measures to protect prisoners during the Covid-19 outbreak, it said.
With regard to the right to freedom of press and curbs on political dissent, an important new legislation on protection of journalists and media professionals was discussed with stakeholders in 2019 and approved in principle by the federal cabinet in early 2020. The bill is now in the process of being finalised before being tabled in the National Assembly. It features several unprecedented protections for journalists and media professionals and can play an important role in enhancing freedom of the press in the country.
Finally, the report highlighted lack of freedom of religion in Pakistan, the ministry said. “While violence against religious minorities continues to run rampant in the country, several measures taken by the state in 2019 have the potential to lead to a shift in societal attitudes and mindsets in the long run. This includes the opening of the Kartarpur Corridor; laying the foundations for Pakistan’s first Sikh university; and the reopening and renovation of Hindu temples.”
The ministry said that the government had taken steps to address educational material with discriminatory content against religious minorities and it was in the process of bringing 30,000 madressahs under government control to mainstream them in the field of education.
Finally, the acquittal of several high-profile blasphemy accused such as Aasia Bibi and Wajih-ul-Hassan also established an important precedent, the ministry said.
It said that the outbreak of coronavirus had begun to cast its shadow on human rights in the country. However, it added the government was taking steps to ensure that the marginalised and vulnerable were taken care of during the emergency. The government had launched the largest emergency cash disbursement programme in the country’s history, it said.
The ministry had also prepared a policy brief on the gendered impact and implications of Covid-19, it said. The ministry is focusing on protecting the rights of the elderly, the disabled, and the economically and socially vulnerable by preparing special messaging, guidelines and policies that place importance on their particular concerns and issues.
While the country still confronted many human rights challenges, the ministry said, the government was moving to not only recognise them but also to meet these challenges through legislation where needed, through awareness and sensitisation campaigns with the efforts to change mindsets. “It is unfortunate that HRCP chose not to recognise the progress being made,” the ministry said.
Published in Dawn, May 3rd, 2020