Human Rights Developments
The government demonstrated a lack of resolve to deal with Karachi's chronic security crisis and to enforce the rule of law uniformly. Rather, state intelligence agencies reportedly continued sponsorship of the Haqiqi faction, which was responsible for the most egregious acts of violence, intimidation, and extortion in the city. Human rights groups accused government forces, particularly the paramilitary Rangers and the police, of endemic civil rights violations against suspected members and supporters of the MQM, including indiscriminate house-to-house searches in targeted areas, random firing in riot-torn neighborhoods, arbitrary arrests and detentions, torture, custodial deaths, and extrajudicial executions. MQM members also engaged in killings of opponents, torture, kidnaping, robbery, and extortion.
On July 11, the government and the MQM entered into negotiations in Islamabad. With both sides bent on settling political scores, however, the talks appeared to deadlock from the start. Karachi, in the meantime, continued its slide towards anarchy, with more than 200 deaths fromtorture, sniper fire, and police sharp-shooters in the month of July.
Contributing to the carnage in Karachi and civil strife across the country was the rising strength of militant religious and sectarian groups, such as the extremist Sunni group, the Sipah-e-Sahaba-e-Pakistan (SSP), and its Shia counterpart, the Sipah-e-Mohammad. These groups were responsible for widespread attacks on and intimidation of secularists and minorities. The SSP and other hard-line religious groups waged a nationwide campaign to oppose proposed changes in Pakistan's blasphemy law and to protest the appeal and subsequent acquittal in February of two Christians charged with blasphemy. As part of the campaign, the SSP and its allies organized numerous strikes throughout the country and held several public rallies in which activists freely brandished weapons and threatened to silence dissenting voices. On August 24, SSP militants ransacked the office of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) in Islamabad, and attacked two BBC correspondents. SSP chief Ziaur Rehman Farooqi was arrested in connection with the attack, after his group claimed responsibility for it. Some of the worst incidents of sectarian violence occurred in the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, when a number of crowded Shia mosques were attacked in Karachi, with heavy casualties among the worshipers. On February 6, gunmen killed eight people in a west Karachi mosque.
Early in the year, to combat the escalation of sectarian violence, the government announced plans to restrict foreign funding for religious groups. However, despite vows to crack down on extremist religious organizations, made prior to her official visit to Washington in April, Prime Minister Bhutto's government made no systematic effort to protect civilians from the militants or to ensure that the latter abided by the law.
Instead, the government resorted to draconian and misguided methods, implementing the harshest media crackdown since General Zia ul Haq's military dictatorship. On June 29, the government, invoking the notorious and arbitrary Maintenance of Public Order ordinance (MPO) of 1960, banned for sixty days six Karachi-based news dailies with a combined circulation of several million. In addition, the government canceled the publishing licenses of another 122 publications linked to the banned papers, in an apparent move to prevent the latter from appearing under new names. The government justified its action on grounds that the newspapers' reporting on Karachi events was "spreading sensationalism" and "inciting people to violence against the government." Press organizations condemned the ban as a violation of due process of law and the press freedom guarantees of the Pakistani constitution, and called for the repeal of the most repressive clauses of the MPO. Although a vigorous protest campaign by journalists unions and newspaper owners associations forced the government to lift the ban after six days, other aspects of the government's anti-press stance remained in evidence, including official harassment of journalists, and the failure to protect newspaper offices and employees from attacks by militants.
On September 14, Farhan Effendi, a field correspondent for the Karachi-based Urdu daily, Parcham, was arrested by the paramilitary Rangers, reportedly severely beaten, and kept in detention blindfolded with his hands tied behind his back. Parcham is considered sympathetic to the views of the MQM, and, although Effendi was charged with the illegal possession of a firearm and involvement in terrorist activities, his arrest was widely viewed as an attempt to intimidate the press. Bux Ali Jamali, a reporter for the newspaper Kawish, suffered a fate similar to Effendi's after he wrote stories critical of government development initiatives in Nawabshah, the hometown of Bhutto's husband, Asif Zardari.
The prime minister filed a defamation suit against Kamran Khan, a reporter for the News in Karachi, for writing that Bhutto, during a meeting with British Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd, had requested that Britain expel MQM leader Altaf Husain. Another defamation suit was initiated against Razia Bhatti, editor of Newsline, one of Pakistan's most influential and outspoken magazines, by Sindh Governor Kamal Azfar, who also issued a warrant for her arrest. After the prime minister intervened, all charges against Bhatti were dropped. However, journalists with less public stature than Bhatti continued to be victimized by the government. The press also suffered from violence by militants, whom the government made no serious effort to identify or punish. For example, the perpetrators of a grenade attack on June 21 that damaged the Karachi offices of the Urdu daily, Nawa-e-Waqt, and the English daily, The Nation, remained at large.
Politically-motivated abuse of the state's judicial and law enforcement mechanisms was a common feature of Pakistan's political landscape during 1995. The Bhutto government resorted to preventive detentions and spurious lawsuits to promote its own political agenda and to sideline political opponents. Politicians and members of parliament from opposition political parties, most notably the Muslim League, remained under arrest, continued to be refused bail, and, contrary to the law, were even denied permission to attend parliamentary sessions. Muslim League supporters, including businessmen, were harassed and had false cases lodged against them, and judges and public officials who supported victims of government abuse were transferred from their posts to different jurisdictions. On September 5, President Farooq Leghari suspended the Punjab Assembly and imposed direct governor's rule on the province for up to two months. Subsequently, on September 13, the assembly was reconvened and a chief minister more palatable to the federal government was duly elected. This episode perfectly echoed the 1994 incident when the president's suspension of the North West Frontier Province legislature similarly resulted in the installation of a new provincial chief minister. The legislation that allows the president to dissolve the national and provincial assemblies, a holdover from military rule, has been repeatedly invoked by the Bhutto administration; there was no indication at year's end that the government would change it.
Pakistan's religious minorities continued to have second-class status in their own country. Despite assurances given by the Bhutto administration that it would reform, if not repeal, Pakistan's discriminatory blasphemy laws, the government abandoned all reform proposals in the face of stiff opposition from extremist religious groups. In a much publicized proceeding in February, the Lahore High Court overturned the death sentences of two Christians_one of whom was a fourteen-year-old boy_accused of blasphemy. Appellate review of the convictions revealed that the blasphemy charges against the two Christians were entirely unsubstantiated, and that the trial court had acted under pressure from religious zealots in a climate of emotionalism and fear. Religious militants also made their presence felt at the appellate hearing, which was conducted under tight security. The lead defense attorney's car was smashed on the High Court grounds, and her driver was almost strangled to death by a militant mob. Nobody was arrested in connection with the attack. Because of the threat of violence by religious zealots and the lack of adequate government protection, the two acquitted Christians immediately left for a European country where they had been granted asylum. Similarly, all the Christian families residing in Ratta Dhotran, the acquitted defendants' home village, were forced to flee their homes permanently by religious zealots. Scores of blasphemy cases remained pending before the lower courts, particularly against Ahmadis and Christians.
Violent attacks on Ahmadis by sectarian militants also continued with impunity. On April 9, three Ahmadis were attacked in Shab Qadar in the North West Frontier Province, within the premises of a court. The Ahmadis were there to file a bail petition for another member of the Ahamdiyya community who had been arrested by the police under dubious circumstances. One of the victims of the attack was stoned to death, and his dead body stripped and dragged through the town on a rope. A second was seriously injured, while the third escaped unhurt. Despite the public nature of the attack, no arrests were made. The government's failure to prosecute the perpetrators of anti-Ahmadi violence sent a message of official complicity in the crimes.
Protests continued over the system of separate electorates for non-Muslim citizens, under which religious minorities have been allocated a specific number of seats in the provincial and national assemblies. Minority leaders have argued that the system marginalizes their constituencies and leaves them without genuine representation. On August 14, three Christian speakers at a rally organized by the Christian Liberation Front to protest the separate electorates system and other discriminatory legislation were charged with "inciting enmity among people." The three defendants were subsequently granted pre-arrest bail by the Islamabad Sessions Court while the case was investigated.
Despite Bhutto's election-time promises, Pakistani women continued to be subordinate in the eyes of the law. By the end of the year the Bhutto administration had made no effort to repeal or limit the scope of the Hudood Ordinances, which discriminate against women as drafted and as applied. Between 50 and 80 percent of all female detainees in Pakistan were imprisoned under this body of law, while police abuse of women, including custodial rape and other forms of torture, continued. Although the government took a few positive, if symbolic, steps such as announcing a cabinet decision to ratify the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, setting up a Senate inquiry commission on women, and establishing police stations staffed by women, in practice most women continued to be denied due process and equality before the law, and few abusive police officers were prosecuted.
The use of bonded industrial and agricultural labor, including bonded child labor, in Pakistan remained pervasive. At least thousands and possibly millions of adult and child workers throughout Pakistan were forcibly employed, restricted in their freedom of movement, and denied the right to negotiate the terms of their employment. Employers and landlords coerced workers into servitude through physical abuse, forced confinement, and debt bondage, whereby a member of an indebted family is obliged to work for a creditor, but unable to liquidate the debt. Bonded laborers in Pakistan were subjected to beatings, rapes, and torture by land and factory owners, and by local police when they attempted to escape. The state virtually never prosecuted or punished employers who held workers in servitude, illegally confined them, or physically and sexually abused bonded laborers. Since most of the country's political elite hails from rural areas where bondage is an entrenched and customary practice, it appeared unlikely that the government would act quickly or forcefully to eradicate the institution.
On April 16, Iqbal Masih, a twelve-year-old child labor activist and former bonded worker in a carpet-making factory, was shot dead while riding his bicycle in his village north of Lahore. Early investigations suggested that he had been killed by a villager whom he had seen involved in an illicit act. The gunman, who was arrested a week after the boy's death, confessed, but later recanted. The initial murder investigation was believed to have recommended a re-investigation of the case.
The Right to Monitor
The Pakistani government's repression of the press during the year fostered a climate in which journalists became regular targets for violence and intimidation. Journalists reporting on Pakistan's bonded labor problem, for example, faced harassment from both official and unofficial sources. On June 29, Elfinn Haug, a Norwegian television cameraman, was attacked and beaten while filming a child-labor workshop in the Sialkot area north of Lahore. The unidentified assailants grabbed his camera, which the police later recovered without its film. On June 5, Zafaryab Ahmad, a journalist known for his reporting on bonded labor, was arrested by a Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) team on charges of sedition and kept in incommunicado detention. In July, Ahmad was temporarily released on bail for health reasons. On the same day as Ahmad's arrest, sedition charges were brought against the chairman of the Bonded Labour Liberation Front (BLLF), Ehsanullah Khan, who was then out of the country and has not since returned. A few days later, the FIA arrested two staff members of the BLLF and imprisoned them without charge or trial in the harshest category of cell in Lahore's Camp Jail. The arrests were part of a government clamp-down on the BLLF, in the wake of the organization's protests about the murder of its most prominent child activist, Iqbal Masih.
The Role of the International Community
The plight of fourteen-year-old Salamat Masih and forty-year-old Rehmat Masih, both sentenced to death for blasphemy, received enormous attention from governments and the media worldwide. The outrage expressed by the world community prompted Prime Minister Bhutto to ensure that the two defendants received a speedy and impartial appeal hearing. After their acquittal, the two received several offers of asylum. Shortly thereafter, during an official visit to Pakistan in April, German President Roman Herzog criticized the country's blasphemy laws and urged the government to amend them swiftly.
The European Community
The March 8 killing of two U.S. consulate employees in Karachi by unidentified gunmen focused attention on the Bhutto government's inability to stem rising violence in the city. The State Department expressed concern about the "continued violence because two Americans paid the price as the object of that violence....We hope, for the sake of the Pakistani people as well as for the Americans who are there, the level of violence in Karachi can be reduced." In February, the State Department expressed concern about the two Christians charged with blasphemy.
Prior to an official visit to Washington in April, Prime Minister Bhutto initiated a spate of moves aimed at enhancing bilateral ties. In January, her government introduced sweeping anti-narcotics legislation, which prompted President Clinton not to apply drugs-related sanctions to Pakistan. Bhutto also extradited to the United States seven narcotics suspects, as well as Ramzi Ahmed Yusuf, who was wanted in connection with the World Trade Center bombing in New York. On the U.S. side, the United States Senate, backed by the Clinton administration, voted to release $368 million in military equipment that Pakistan had paid for but that had not been delivered since the imposition of sanctions in 1990.
During Prime Minister Bhutto's visit, the administration privately raised concerns about human rights issues, including Pakistan's blasphemy laws and treatment of minorities, and the violence in Karachi. Throughout the year, the administration continued to raise concerns about reports of official Pakistani support for Kashmiri militants who have committed abuses.
In a gesture toward warmer relations, First Lady Hillary Clinton visited Pakistan in April. Human rights discussions were again absent from the public agenda.
Following the visit of a delegation from Pakistan in June, U. S. Trade Representative (USTR) Mickey Kantor announced on July 24 that an unspecified commitment had been made on the issue of child and bonded labor. The review was extended until October 1 to confirm that these, and other reforms, were actually carried out. In October, the administration notified Pakistan that the office of the USTR would invoke GSP provisions removing tariff benefits from one of three designated imports if the government did not act on the reforms. This would be the first time that the USTR removed GSP for a specific product.
The Work of Human Rights Watch/Asia
The report was also distributed to the members of the U.N. Subcommission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities at its July meeting, and to diplomats and other NGO delegates. We also submitted a written statement to the subcommission.
On August 30, Human Rights Watch/Asia wrote to the Commission of the European Union in support of a joint application by the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions and the European Trade Union Conference for a review of Pakistan's GSP benefits, under the terms of the new E.U. GSP scheme allowing for whole or partial withdrawal of GSP if there is "practice of any form of forced labor." This would be the first test case of the new GSP scheme. As this report went to print, a decision on accepting the petition and beginning a formal review had not yet been made.
Pakistan's blasphemy laws and abuses against minorities also continued to be a high priority. In February, Human Rights Watch sent an observer to Pakistan to attend the appeal hearing in the two blasphemy cases. Human Rights Watch/Asia appealed to the president and prime minister of Pakistan to ensure the safety of all involved in the case.
Human Rights Watch/Asia also continued to focus on bringing international attention to abuses against women. In March, prior to First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton's visit to South Asia, Human Rights Watch/Asia communicated its key regional human rights concerns to her and called on her to push for the rights of women, minorities, and bonded laborers during her trip to Pakistan. Human Rights Watch provided briefing material on human rights concerns in Pakistan to members of Congress and the administration and urged them to raise these issues in meetings with Prime Minister Bhutto and her delegation. On April 5, Human Rights Watch raised human rights concerns directly in a meeting with Foreign Minister Sardar Aseff Ahmad Ali in Washington.