Human Rights situation in Pakistan

Supporting Human Rights and Democracy: The U.S. Record 2004 - 2005
Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor

Pakistan is a federal republic. President and Chief of Army Staff Pervez Musharraf, who assumed power following the military's 1999 overthrow of elected Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, has repeatedly stated his intention to transform Pakistan into a moderate, democratic Muslim state. In December 2003, the National and Provincial Assemblies passed the 17th Amendment to the Constitution which transferred a number of powers from the Office of Prime Minister to the President and exempted Musharraf from a prohibition on holding two offices of state until the end of the year, allowing him to remain as Chief of Army Staff. In October, over opposition protests, parliament passed another bill which extended this exemption until 2007. Local elections in 2000 and 2001 and national and provincial parliamentary elections in 2002 established functioning civilian legislatures. While domestic and international observers criticized the elections for being seriously flawed, the resulting bodies are beginning to engage in national political debate and are working to develop mechanisms to check the power of the executive. The Assembly has required senior civil servants to appear before committees to testify on government actions, and held hearings on the defense budget and military operations in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas. The Senate convened a special committee on Balochistan and produced a critical report on Okara Farms. The Government has committed that new local elections will be scheduled for 2005 and national elections to be held no later than 2007 will be free and fair. The United States will continue to encourage the Government to adhere to this commitment and will provide needed support. Both contests will be important indicators of the political will for democratization.

The Government's human rights record remained poor, although there were some improvements in several areas. Constitutional amendments passed by the Government have strengthened the powers of the President at the expense of the National Assembly. The military remains heavily engaged in politics, and President Musharraf's decision to continue as Chief of Army Staff has spurred political debate. Political parties are generally weak, undemocratic institutions centered on personalities instead of policies. The judiciary is corrupt, inefficient, and malleable to political pressure. Politically motivated prosecutions of opposition figures continue, as do concerns that opposition leaders or their parties are not always allowed to function freely. Leaders of three major parties remained outside the country, and the leader of one opposition party in parliament remained in prison appealing a conviction for sedition. Despite its increasing freedom, the media lacks journalistic standards and continues to practice self-censorship in some areas. Security forces have committed numerous human rights abuses, including extra-judicial killings and torture. Societal discrimination and violence against women and religious minorities persist.

The Pakistani Government has over the last year increasingly opened the landscape for political debate. Opposition parties and civil society are beginning to criticize the Government and its policies, however, some political opposition leaders remained in prison or in exile abroad. While the Government has loosened restrictions on the right to assembly, it still denied permits or imposed restrictions on certain groups, such as the Ahmadis. Measures against terrorist and extremist groups advocating and perpetrating sectarian and religious violence have continued, as have efforts to reform the education system. The Government has passed new legislation to address honor killings and to prevent abuse of laws against blasphemy, adultery, and fornication. Human rights groups remained concerned that perpetrators of honor crimes, in a limited number of cases, could still be pardoned by the victim or heirs. Strategies to combat child labor and trafficking in persons have been accelerated in cooperation with international donors and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs).

The United States believes that the success of Pakistan's democratization efforts is critical to the strength of our long term relationship and will positively contribute to its effective participation in the Global War on Terrorism. The U.S. strategy has focused on the promotion of free and fair local and national elections, the strengthening of the capacity of the National Assembly; democratization and institutional strengthening of political parties, improved local governments that are functioning and accountable, and increased respect for the rule of law, including professionalizing law enforcement personnel, and promoting an appropriate role for the military. Senior U.S. officials such as Secretary of State Powell underscored with the Pakistani leadership the need to press forward on democratization and to prepare the groundwork for free and fair parliamentary elections not later than 2007. United States officials also urged respect for human rights by security force personnel, improved legal and judicial systems, and continued actions to curtail the activities of extremist groups. In their public statements, both then Ambassador Powell and Ambassador Crocker stressed the importance the United States attaches to building a fully functioning democracy in Pakistan and the need to continue to strengthen democratic institutions and improve the rule of law.

On the human rights front, the United States continued to work with the Pakistani Government, civil society institutions, and international organizations to combat religious discrimination and violence, trafficking in persons, child labor and legalized discrimination against women. For example, when opposition leader Javed Hashmi was sentenced in April for sedition, the United States expressed concern with the closed nature of proceedings against him, and urged that the case be handled in a fair and transparent manner. In May, when the Government did not allow member of the opposition Shahbaz Sharif and brother of deposed former Prime Minister to enter Pakistan, the United States encouraged the Government to resolve the matter in a transparent manner, within the context of Pakistan’s legal system. The United States also urged the Government to release or charge journalists held in incommunicado detention.

The United States, through USAID is actively engaged in a multi-year strategy to strengthen Pakistani democratic institutions. Through its legislative strengthening program, the United States provides training to national and provincial parliamentarians that strengthens their secretariats and research capacity; helps to develop a functioning committee system; and promotes regular dialogue between constituents and civil society organizations.

Through its political party strengthening program launched in 2004, USAID worked with the leadership of all major political parties to train future political leaders in campaign finance, platform development and candidate selection. The U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor (DRL) is complementing these efforts by working with the National Democratic Institute to train emerging female political party leaders and improve their capacity to campaign for elected office, serve the public as elected officials, and develop the local capacity of women political leaders to train other women members and elected officials. The United States continued to advocate for the adoption of internally democratic mechanisms in political parties as a way to promote greater government accountability. At the local level, USAID supported the National Reconstruction Bureau in establishing and strengthening local government institutions and encourages cooperation between communities, the private sector, and local governments through district grants.

The United States believes that the strengthening of media institutions and civil society is critical for the long-term development of Pakistani democracy. Under its media support program, USAID worked to develop improved journalistic training in journalism departments at two leading universities and to provide alternative sources of information to media outlets. The United States, through DRL also worked to train broadcast journalists to improve their capacity for investigative reporting. The U.S. Embassy and Consulates maintained an active dialogue with journalists and advocates for an improvement in their standards of journalism. Moreover, the Embassy regularly nominated journalists as participants in the State Department's annual International Visitors Program. Senior U.S. officials have regularly raised the need to respect press freedom with the Government and have raised specific, high-profile violations of press freedom and pressed for redress.

During the year, the United States concluded a multi-year assistance program to civil society organizations. Under this program, USAID provided assistance to train leading civil society organizations in effective advocacy tools and to organize dialogues with the Government on key policy issues. The program has greatly expanded civil society capacity and led to increased and regularized engagement with the Government.

The United States continued to encourage the Pakistani military to play an appropriate role in the emerging democratic set-up and to refrain from interference in domestic politics. Through the International Military Education and Training Program, the United States continued to provide emerging military leaders with professional development opportunities that emphasize the importance of improved civil-military relations and civilian control of the military. During the year, the United States continued a dual strategy to combat human rights violations by security forces, combining direct training with advocacy and victim assistance. The United States has worked with the National Police Academy and Police College Sihala to develop and implement new training curricula for law enforcement personnel. The curricula focus on criminal investigation techniques, strategic planning and law enforcement management. Courses incorporate elements that stress the rule of law and respect for human rights.

The United States continues to advocate for the elimination of discrimination against women and children. The United States has remained engaged with local women's rights NGOs and has provided support for their advocacy efforts to strengthen penalties for domestic violence and honor killings and to reform the discriminatory provisions of the nation's legal system. The United States, through DRL provided support to a U.S.-based NGO working with a local women’s organization in Pakistan to promote respect for international human rights norms and women’s rights advocacy amongst legal aid practitioners and human rights advocates. Local program partners are conducting training courses for lawyers, judges, civil society activists and other opinion makers to offer support to victims of human rights abuses. Partners are researching and tracking human rights abuses and creating a Human Rights Action Forum in collaboration with other human rights NGOs to further their advocacy efforts.

The United States has continued efforts to combat religious discrimination in Pakistan. The U.S. Embassy has pressed the Government to reform discriminatory legislation such as the so-called anti-Ahmadi laws and has encouraged its efforts to prevent abuse of the blasphemy laws. United States officials have spoken out against sectarian violence within the country’s Muslim community and urged the Government to continue its efforts to dismantle organizations responsible for such violence. The U.S. Embassy maintains close ties with the Christian, Ahmadi, Shi’a, and Hindu communities and raised cases of discrimination and violence against such groups with the Government. In addition, the Embassy has actively engaged with the country's religious leadership, advocating tolerance and promoting President Musharraf's vision of enlightened moderation. The United States continued cooperative efforts with the Government as part of the Global War on Terrorism to apprehend terrorist suspects and curtail the activities of terrorist groups. Pakistani law enforcement implicated such groups in sectarian and extremist violence against religious minorities by arresting a few of these perpetrators.

As part of its education program, USAID assisted the Government in its reform efforts and in school construction. The Federal Minister of Education, Javed Ashraf Qazi, vigorously promotes the philosophy of enlightened moderation. At a USAID sponsored education policy dialogue workshop with senior education officials he stated that "the root cause of terrorism in Pakistan is the lack of quality education." The Minister also challenged senior staff members to do away with irrationality and extremism and to modernize Pakistan’s curriculum for the benefit of the nation and its children.

Similarly, the United States maintained close contact with local NGOs working on behalf of children. During 2004, the Untied States continued to support the International Labor Organization's International Program for the Elimination of Child Labor in Pakistan. This project targets working children and children at risk of entering the work force by placing them in non-formal education centers to learn basic literacy and numeric skills with the goal of mainstreaming them into the government school sector. United States officials have continued to press for revision of labor legislation to ensure its compliance with international standards. During the year, the United States funded work with local labor unions to strengthen their ability to advocate effectively for increased labor rights and to protect workers' interests more ably.

During the year, the United States established a program to assist the Pakistani Government in combating trafficking in persons. This program utilizes a three-pronged approach emphasizing prevention, prosecution and protection of victims. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) is concluding a U.S.-funded study on the nature and extent of the trafficking problem in Pakistan and has conducted a series of awareness-raising activities in collaboration with the Interior Ministry and local and provincial officials. With U.S. assistance, Pakistan has established a dedicated Anti-Trafficking Unit and finalized implementing regulations for its Anti-Trafficking Ordinance. The United States, IOM, and the Pakistani Government are finalizing the establishment of a model shelter to protect and assist victims of trafficking.


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