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‘Honest answers needed to UN concerns about human rights record’

ISLAMABAD: Speakers at a seminar on Tuesday urged the state agencies to provide honest answers to questions raised last week by the United Nations (UN) on Pakistan’s rights record.

They said the National Commission on Human Rights (NCHR) should also adopt this as its strategic agenda for the year 2017.

The seminar on human rights and the launch of a strategic plan by the commission was organised by the NCHR and the Asia Foundation here.

As a signatory to the international covenant on human rights, the state authorities have to respond by mid-2017 to the questions asked by the UN about the record of human rights in Pakistan.

Foreign signatories and parliamentarians also spoke about the state of human rights in Pakistan, calling to promote and protect them.

The speakers observed that the rights to life and freedom of expression were the most critical. However, they said, the right to life had been threatened by extra-judicial killings, enforced disappearances and arbitrariness in the application of the death sentence.

The right to life is gravely undermined when people continued to disappear mysteriously in Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Fata and Sindh with alarming impunity.

“When the Supreme Court identifies those involved in the disappearance of 28 persons from an internment centre and nothing happens it is a dangerous erosion of the right to life. It is a wake-up call. When relatives of the disappeared and later found dead do not even file FIRs it should be dreaded as a lull before the storm if the issue is not addressed,” said PPP Senator Farhatullah Babar.

He believed that the right to life had also been undermined by the arbitrariness in the application of the death sentence.

“When two brothers were acquitted of murder charges by the highest court only after they had already been hanged, it was hugely frightening.”

When mentally ill or juveniles were sentenced to death it must raise alarm bells about the ever expanding frontiers of the death penalty, he said.

“Out of the 425 executions since December 2014, more than 360 were unrelated to terror crimes, which was a manifestation of the fast expanding scope of the death penalty,” the senator lamented.

He also said the right to life was undermined when 27 offences carried the death penalty even when religion prescribed death penalty only in two cases.

“The right to life is undermined when faith-based offences carry mandatory death penalty but the offence itself is not clearly defined. It is further undermined when people calling for preventing misuse of the law and clearly defining the offence are threatened with summary executions and the state unable to do anything,” said Senator Babar.

About the right to freedom of expression, he said it had come under attack from the state and non-state actors alike. Ideology and the undefined ‘national security interest’ were increasingly employed to silence free expression of ideas, opinions and dissent.

“The ideology brigade has prevented free discussion on misapplication of faith-related laws and threatened members of parliament for progressive legislation.”

Arbitrarily defined ‘national security’ has also undermined free expression.

The media may appear free but this freedom is illusory. “Prolonged curbs on free expression in the name of national security has also resulted in self-censorship and undermined free expression,” the PPP lawmaker said.

NCHR Chairman retired Justice Ali Nawaz Chohan elaborated on efforts to protect and promote civil liberties in the country.

Rights activist I.A. Rahman said the Constitution of Pakistan would be 50-year-old in 2023 and the next seven years should be spent to make sure that it accords all fundamental and basic rights to the citizens.

German Ambassador Ina Lepel assured the participants of support to the strategic plan of the commission with five priority areas: human rights education, complaint handling and investigation, compliance on international obligations, review of the national legal framework and addressing marginalisation and vulnerability.

courtesy : dawn news

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