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HRCP Laments Growing Sense of ‘Powerlessness’ Among Citizens

In statement, rights body says establishment’s incursions into political, civic spaces has damaged prospects of free, fair and credible elections

by Staff Report

File photo. Asif Hassan—AFP

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) on Sunday lamented the growing sense of powerlessness among the general public amidst economic deprivation and unemployment, noting this had also triggered a surge in suicides.

In a press statement issued after its 37th annual general meeting, the independent rights watchdog described a rising number of suicides in Sindh, south Punjab and Gilgit as a “cause for concern,” noting most were connected to rising poverty. “Economic deprivations have also had social consequences, reportedly driving many people to send their children to seminaries rather than schools, where radicalization can be expected, to the detriment of society,” it said, adding the situation was compounded by shrinking civic spaces, including curbs on academic freedom and freedom of peaceful assembly.

Stressing that the most serious victims of political engineering in the run-up to the general elections have been democracy, electoral politics and the rule of law, it lamented that the establishment’s incursions into civic and political spaces had damaged the prospect of free, fair and credible elections. “Concerns over contentious delimitations must also be taken into account by the ECP [Election Commission of Pakistan],” it said.

Condemning ongoing curbs on freedom of expression, the HRCP noted journalists had been summarily removed for expressing dissenting opinions, while many had been barred from reporting on recent events in areas such as Parachinar and Chaman. “HRCP is well aware of the pressures on the media and is determined to hold the state accountable for such restrictions as the elections approach,” it added.

The HRCP meeting also demanded the removal of “discredited” Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances Chairman Justice (retd.) Javed Iqbal, adding the commission should be held to account for its poor track record. “In cases where victims’ families have filed petitions, HRCP urges the courts to identify the perpetrators and hold them accountable, and to ensure that victims and their families are given reparations,” it said, stressing the continued use of internment centers was a cause for alarm. “HRCP urges the Supreme Court to hear the petition filed on this matter urgently,” it added.

Referring to deteriorating law and order in the kachha areas of Sindh and Punjab, the HRCP said this required “immediate attention,” adding provincial governments must heed residents’ credible suspicion that influential persons were involved in drawing financial or political benefits from the situation. “HRCP is also extremely concerned by the rise in number of police encounters and reminds the state that extrajudicial killings, torture and enforced disappearances are crimes against humanity and cannot be justified under any circumstances,” it added.

The rights body also demanded the mainstreaming of the erstwhile tribal areas and empowering of local governments, while expressing concerns over the revival of the FATA Tribunal. “The government must also monitor the situation in Parachinar and protect people’s right to security by preventing further sectarian violence,” it added.

The HRCP further expressed alarm over rights violations against vulnerable groups, including the Ahmadiyya, Christian and Hindu communities; and violence against children and women, including honor killings. “Child domestic workers, who remain highly vulnerable to abuse and sexual violence, need special protection,” it said, adding a recent ban in Kohistan on women working at NGOs must be strongly condemned.

The rights body also reiterated its opposition to the ongoing deportation of Afghan nationals, including those with legitimate documents. “The government must also protect people’s right to fair wages and safe working conditions, particularly for fisherfolk, miners and sanitation workers,” it said, expressing alarm over the continued allotment of collectively owned land in Gilgit-Baltistan to private individuals and the impact of environmental degradation on people’s right to health and livelihood in this area.

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