Letter to U.S. President George Bush: Press Musharraf on rights abuses, elections
June 20, 2003
The Honorable George Bush
United States of America
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue
Washington, D.C. 20500
Dear President Bush,
I write to you about your June 24 meeting with President General Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan. In addition to issues related to the war on terror, Human Rights Watch urges you to raise a number of important human rights issues with General Musharraf. The United States has a strong interest in promoting a return to civilian rule and respect for human rights in Pakistan so that moderate voices in that country are empowered, not silenced. It has an equally strong interest in avoiding the perception among the people of Pakistan that it approves of General Musharraf's repressive policies. Given the close relationship between the United States and Pakistan and Pakistan's reliance on the United States for economic and military support, you are in a unique position to press General Musharraf on these concerns.
Return to Civilian Rule
Since coming to power in a military coup, General Musharraf has shown no signs of relinquishing rule to a democratically elected civilian government, despite repeated promises to do so. Indeed, in the months preceding Pakistan's October 2002 parliamentary elections, the Musharraf administration took measures that all but ensured a military-controlled government. Chief among them were an April 2002 referendum that extended Musharraf's presidential term for five years, and constitutional amendments announced in August of the same year that formalized the military's role in governance and extended restrictions on political party activities. Independent observers reported extensive fraud and coercion during voting for the referendum, and widespread poll-rigging and harassment of candidates preceding the parliamentary elections. These measures have served to suppress moderate the very voices in Pakistan the United States should want to see empowered. While the democratic opposition to General Musharraf was suppressed, the religious political parties were given complete freedom to campaign not just during the election period but also in the three years preceding it. Subsequent to the elections, General Musharraf has allowed the alliance of religious parties (MMA) to form the provincial government in the North West Frontier Province bordering Afghanistan while denying the same right to the Pakistan Peoples Party in the southern Sindh province.
We urge you to ask General Musharraf for a timetable and commitment to genuine elections as required by international law. Solutions to many of the human rights problems discussed below depend, at least in part, on the creation of a duly constituted civilian government.
The Legal Framework Order
Since coming to power, General Musharraf has unilaterally imposed a series of far-reaching amendments to the Pakistan constitution that dramatically strengthen the power of the presidency, formalize the role of the army in governance, and diminish the authority of elected representatives. The amendments also significantly curb freedom of association and the freedom of individuals to stand for elected office.
Taken together, General Musharraf's amendments under the Legal Framework Order (LFO) have ensured that ostensibly civilian governments at the federal and provincial level are effectively subordinate to and even exist at the discretion of the president and the military. General Musharraf is not willing to even cede parliament the right to validate or reject the LFO. In spite of this, the opposition in the federal parliament has made it clear that it does not recognize the validity of the constitution as arbitrarily amended by General Musharraf. A constitutional crisis in Pakistan has resulted. Opposition legislators have been beaten and harassed for voicing opposition to these arbitrary changes to the Pakistani constitution.
When meeting with General Musharraf and in your public remarks, we urge you to raise the troubling implications of the LFO and the ongoing constitutional crisis for credible civilian governance in Pakistan.
Torture and Mistreatment of Political Opponents
Torture is routinely used in Pakistan, both to obtain confessions in criminal cases and against political opponents of the government. A recent example is the chilling case of detention and torture of Rana Sanaullah Khan, a member of the suspended Punjab provincial assembly. Khan was arrested under the sedition law for criticizing the military government in November 1999. He was whipped, beaten, held incommunicado and interrogated for a week in police custody before eventually being released on bail. In October 2002, Sanaullah was re-elected to the Punjab Assembly and elected deputy leader of the opposition in the house. On March 8, 2003, he was abducted on the road by heavily armed men, some of whom wore police uniforms. According to Sanaullah:
I was handcuffed and, with my face covered with a cloth, I was driven to the ISI office where I was tortured for three or four hours. They were using some sharp-edged weapon with which they would cut open my skin and then rub some sort of chemical in the wound. I felt as if I was on fire every time they did that. I have 22 such injuries on my body. Later, I was pushed into a car and thrown on a service lane along the motorway some 20 kilometers from Faisalabad. I walked for two kilometers to a filling station from where I contacted my family and was finally shifted to a hospital.
The United States should insist that the government of Pakistan end the use of torture. Perpetrators of the torture of Sanaullah and others must be removed from the country's security forces and prosecuted.
Legal Discrimination Against and Mistreatment of Women
Under Pakistan's existing Hudood Ordinance, a woman who has been raped and wants the state to prosecute her case must have four Muslim men testify that they witnessed the assault. In the absence of these male witnesses, the rape victim has no case. Equally alarming, if a woman cannot prove the rape allegation she runs a very high risk of being charged with fornication or adultery, the criminal penalty for which is either a long prison sentence, including public whipping, or, though rare, death by stoning. The testimony of women carries half the weight of a man's under this ordinance. Further, the Qisas (retribution) and Diyat (compensation) Ordinance makes it possible for crimes of honor (such as the killing of women in the name of honor) to be pardoned by relatives of the victim and assesses monetary compensation for female victims at half the rate of male victims. These are just part of a set of "Islamic" penal laws introduced by the former military ruler, General Zia ul-Haq in 1979, which have been left intact by General Musharraf.
In early June, the provincial legislature of the North West Frontier Province passed a resolution imposing "Sharia laws" in the province. Some aspects of this law will result in de jure discrimination against women, raising fears about Taliban-style polices towards women in this and other parts of the country. General Musharraf has publicly warned against this kind of extremism, but he and the Pakistani government should be urged to take concrete measures to protect the basic rights of women in conformity with international norms.
We hope that you will raise all these and other human rights issues with General Musharraf when
you meet on June 24.