H.E. Raja Pervaiz Ashraf
Prime Minister of Pakistan
Dear Prime Minister,
With elections to the United Nations Human Rights Council quickly approaching, and with Pakistan standing as a candidate, we are writing to urge your government to demonstrate its commitment to the protection and promotion of human rights.
UN General Assembly Resolution 60/251, which established the Human Rights Council, states that members of the council “shall uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights” and “fully cooperate with the Council.” We believe it is essential that Pakistan and other candidate states adhere to these criteria. Thus we would like to draw your attention to some key areas where we believe swift and urgent reform could improve human rights conditions in Pakistan.
Prevent Sectarian Attacks
Across Pakistan, members of minority groups, particularly Shia Muslims, have been subjected to sectarian attacks. In 2012, at least 325 members of the Shia Muslim population were killed in targeted attacks. Over 100 were killed in Balochistan province, the majority from the Hazara community.
While many of these attacks have been carried out by Sunni militant groups, such as the ostensibly banned Lashkar-e Jhangvi, law enforcement officials have turned a blind eye to such violence. Some Sunni militant groups are known to have links to the Pakistani military, its intelligence agencies, and affiliated paramilitaries.
In order to prevent sectarian attacks, the government of Pakistan should:
- Investigate alleged sectarian attacks by the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and other militant groups implicated in killings in Balochistan and elsewhere, and hold their leadership to account.
- Take urgent measures to protect members of the Shia community and other vulnerable groups from militant groups in Balochistan and across Pakistan.
- Make all possible efforts to promptly apprehend and prosecute those responsible for recent attacks and other crimes targeting Shia and other minority populations.
- Direct civilian agencies and the military responsible for security to actively protect those facing attack from militant groups, and to address the growing perception, particularly in Balochistan and Pakistan’s tribal areas, that state authorities look the other way when Shia in particular are attacked.
- Increase the number of security personnel in Shia majority areas and enclaves at high risk of attack, particularly the Hazara community in Balochistan’s capital, Quetta.
- Actively investigate allegations of collusion between Sunni militant groups and military intelligence and paramilitary forces, and hold personnel found to be involved in criminal acts to account.
Protect Religious Minorities
We continue to be concerned about Pakistan’s abusive “Blasphemy Law”–as section 295-C of the penal code is known–which makes the death penalty mandatory for blasphemy. In March 2011, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay urged the Pakistani government to review its Blasphemy Law, saying that such laws are “open to abuse and lead to violations of freedom of expression, freedom of religion and ultimately the right to life.”
In 2012, authorities charged dozens of people under this law, at least 16 of whom remained on death row for blasphemy; another 20 are servinglife sentences. Members of the Ahmadi religious community in particular are a major target for blasphemy prosecutions and are subjected to specific anti-Ahmadi laws across Pakistan. They face increasing social discrimination from militant groups, which have used provisions of the law to force the demolition of Ahmadi mosques in Lahore, bar Ahmadis from using their mosques in Rawalpindi, and vandalize Ahmadi graves across Punjab province. In most instances, Punjab provincial officials have supported militants’ demands instead of protecting Ahmadis, and their mosques and graveyards. Legally permissible discrimination against religious minorities and the failure of Pakistan’s federal and provincial governments to address religious persecution by Islamist groups effectively enables atrocities against these groups and others who are vulnerable.
In order to protect religious minorities, the Pakistani government should:
- Repeal laws that discriminate against minorities including section 295(C) of the penal code (the Blasphemy Law) and section 298, which targets the Ahmadi community specifically.
- Hold accountable individuals and groups responsible for inciting violence against Muslim and non-Muslim minorities.
- Implement its 2008 commitment that “the statutes that could lead to discrimination against religious minorities would be reviewed.”
- Prosecute those responsible for planning and executing attacks and committing other offenses against Christians, Ahmadis, and other religious minorities.
- Take steps to encourage religious tolerance within Pakistani society.
End Enforced Disappearances, Extrajudicial Killings, and Related Abuses
While Pakistan has legitimate security concerns regarding acts of terrorism, we are concerned about government security forces’ frequent violation of basic rights in the course of counterterrorism operations. Suspects are frequently detained without charge or are convicted without a fair trial. Thousands of suspected members of al Qaeda, the Taliban, and other armed groups who were rounded up in a country-wide crackdown that began in 2009 in Swat and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) remain in illegal military detention; few have been prosecuted or produced before the courts. The army routinely denies lawyers, relatives, independent monitors, and humanitarian agency staff access to persons detained in the course of military operations.
Human Rights Watch and other credible local and regional NGOs have also recorded continued disappearances and killings of suspected Baloch militants and opposition activists by the military, intelligence agencies, and the paramilitary Frontier Corps. However, Pakistan’s military has publicly resisted government reconciliation efforts and attempts to locate ethnic Baloch who have been subject to disappearances. As the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances reminded the Pakistani government during its visit in September 2012, “It is the responsibility and the duty of the State to thoroughly investigate all allegations of enforced disappearances and bring the perpetrators to justice.”
Regarding extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances, the Pakistani government should:
- Take all necessary measures to end enforced disappearances, extrajudicial killings, and arbitrary detentions, and fully investigate and prosecute as appropriate all persons, regardless of position or rank, who order or carry out such abuses.
- Make public the names and whereabouts of detainees.
- Promptly charge or release criminal suspects. If charged, promptly bring them to trial before a court that meets international fair trial standards.
- Allow detainees access to lawyers and family members.
- Communicate publicly with the state agencies implicated in enforced disappearances, extrajudicial executions, and other abuses, including the army, Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), Military Intelligence (MI), Intelligence Bureau (IB), Frontier Corps, police, and other law enforcement and intelligence agencies, ordering an end to abuses. Facilitate impartial inquiries into alleged abuses so that perpetrators can be held to account.
- Ratify the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance.
Prevent Attacks on Schools, Teachers, and Students
The October 2012 shooting of Malala Yousafzai, a 15-year-old student and outspoken advocate for children’s right to education, spotlighted attacks against education in Pakistan. The shooting received widespread condemnation from across Pakistan’s political spectrum. However, attacks against schools, teachers, and students in Pakistan are widespread, with a reported 96 school attacks in 2012 alone. Most of these attacks have taken place in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province (KP) and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) bordering Afghanistan.
In order to protect students, teachers, and schools from attacks, the Pakistani government should:
- Cooperate with provincial authorities to create an advance rapid response system whenever there are attacks on schools, so that these facilities can be quickly repaired or rebuilt, and destroyed educational material can be replaced so that children can return to school as soon as possible.
- During reconstruction, provide students education through alternative means and, where appropriate, psychosocial support.
- Direct the Pakistani army to refrain from turning schools into military targets by using them as bases.
Pakistan is widely considered to be one of the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists. At least seven journalists were killed in Pakistan in 2012; four journalists were killed in the month of May alone, and in none of these cases has anyone been brought to justice.
A climate of fear impedes media coverage of state security forces and militant groups. Journalists rarely report on human rights abuses by the military in counterterrorism operations, and the Taliban and other armed groups regularly threaten media outlets over their coverage.
As has been the case since Pakistan’s independent judiciary was restored to office in 2009, Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry and the provincial high courts effectively muzzle media criticism of the judiciary through threats of contempt of court proceedings.
In order to protect journalists, the Pakistani government should:
- End the harassment, intimidation, use of coercion, violence, and other abuses against members of the media by state security forces.
- Speak out against the judiciary’s use of “contempt of court” and “suo moto” proceedings to muzzle criticism and public debate on judicial conduct.
- Investigate and prosecute as appropriate government officials implicated in abuses against members of the media.
- Implement the following recommendations by the Saleem Shahzad Inquiry Commission through legislation:
- All intelligence agencies should be made accountable through “parliamentary oversight.”
- Document through institutional mechanisms, the intelligence agencies’ “interaction with the media.”
Abolish the Death Penalty
Although Pakistan imposed a widely hailed de facto moratorium on judicial executions in 2008, the death penalty remains in effect under Pakistani law. As a result, courts continue to hand down death sentences, and the government has still not commuted the death sentences of thousands of prisoners on death row, as it announced in 2008.
The death penalty in all circumstances is an inherently cruel, inhumane, and final punishment, which a majority of countries in the world have abolished. In 2007, the UN General Assembly passed a resolution by a wide margin calling for a worldwide moratorium on executions.
Regarding the death penalty, the Pakistani government should:
- Immediately declare an official moratorium on judicial executions pending abolition of the death penalty.
- Commute all death sentences.
Cooperate with the Human Rights Council
UN General Assembly Resolution 60/251 calls for all members of the Human Rights Council to fully cooperate with the council, including with its special procedures.
In this regard, we call on Pakistan to fully cooperate in the following respects:
- Issue without delay a standing invitation to all special procedures mandate-holders.
- Promptly facilitate visits by the special rapporteurs on human rights defenders (requested in 2003, 2007, and again in 2008, as well as a follow-up request in 2007), extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions (requested in 2000, requested a follow-up in 2006, with reminders issued in 2008 and 2009), racism (requested in 2004, follow-up in 2006), freedom of religion (requested in 2006), human rights and counterterrorism (requested in 2006, with reminders issued in 2008, 2010, and 2012), adequate housing (requested in 2006, with a reminder in 2008), torture (requested in 2010), food (requested in 2011), internally displaced persons (requested in 2011), freedom of association and assembly (requested in 2011), and the independence of judges and lawyers and freedom of expression (requested jointly in 2007).
- Accept key recommendations made to Pakistan during the interactive debate of the second cycle of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) on October 29, 2012, including those addressing extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, freedom of religion, and freedom of expression, and commit to swiftly implement them.
The Human Rights Council election provides an important moment for Pakistan to demonstrate an enhanced commitment to addressing human rights concerns, and we appreciate your consideration of those mentioned in this letter.
Global Advocacy Director
UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, “UN human rights chief condemns Pakistan assassination, urges reform of blasphemy laws,” March 2, 2011, http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=10784&L... (accessed November 7, 2012).
UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, “Enforced Disappearances: UN expert group welcomes official efforts in Pakistan, but notes that ‘serious challenges remain,’” September 20, 2012, http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=12552&L... (accessed November 7, 2012).