Sunday May 03, 2020
ISLAMABAD: The Ministry of Human Rights on Saturday responded to the annual report published by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) titled “State of Human Rights in 2019” terming it as unfortunate that the commission chose not to recognise the progress being made during the past year.
In a statement, the Ministry of Human Rights (MoHR) said the HRCP raised several pertinent concerns in its 2019 annual report; however, the report overlooked several major milestones towards securing and safeguarding the rights of vulnerable groups that were reached in the past year in the country.
“Although the process of changing mindsets, laws and institutions is one that is long and slow, it is critical to keep sight and track of all the steps and progress along the way. To simply deny the progress being made in confronting the massive challenges facing Pakistan today as a result of decades of neglect itself raises the question of intent,” said the statement.
The report released on April 30 had said Pakistan had failed to protect the human rights of the most vulnerable segments of the society. It noted that widespread socioeconomic marginalisation had left the weakest segments of the society invisible and unheard.
The statement further mentioned that while the report accurately cited an alarmingly high number of cases of violence against women and children, it did not account for the important institutional as well as legislative measures that had been taken in the last year to safeguard and promote their rights.
“This includes the Zainab Alert, Response and Recovery Act 2020 which was introduced in 2019, as well as a comprehensive National Action Plan against Child Abuse that has been prepared by the MoHR and was submitted to the Prime Minister’s Office. Important steps have also been taken towards the criminalisation of domestic violence and related awareness campaigns in the media.”
Moreover, it said the last year had featured some important advancements with regard to the rights of prisoners in Pakistan.
The statement cited the landmark report released by the MoHR in 2019 on Prison Reforms and constitution of Implementation Commission on Prison Reforms by the Islamabad High Court based on the said report.
The statement added the MoHR had also been working towards developing SOPs and other emergency measures to protect prisoners during the COVID-19 outbreak.
About the right to freedom of press and curbs on political dissent, the statement said a very important new legislation on the Protection of Journalists and Media Professionals was discussed with journalists and media professionals in 2019 and approved in principle by the cabinet in early 2020.
“The bill is now in the process of being finalised through the relevant process before being tabled in the National Assembly. It features several unprecedented protections for journalists and media professional in Pakistan — and could play an important role in improving the freedom of press and information in the country.”
Addressing the points highlighted by the report on freedom of religion, the statement said while violence against religious minorities continued to run rampant in the country, several measures taken by the state in the previous year had the potential to lead to a shift in societal attitudes and mindsets in the long run.
“This includes the opening of the Kartarpur Corridor, laying the foundations for Pakistan’s first Sikh university, and the reopening and renovation of Hindu temples. The government has taken steps to address educational material with discriminatory content against religious minorities, and it is in the process of bringing 30,000 madrassas under the government control to mainstream them in the field of education. Finally, the acquittal of several high profile blasphemy cases such as Aasia Bibi and Wajih-ul Hassan, also established an important precedent.”
The statement also mentioned that the outbreak of coronavirus had begun to cast its shadow on human rights in the country.
“However, the government is taking important steps to ensure that the marginalised and vulnerable were taken care of during the emergency. Ehsaas has launched the largest emergency cash disbursement programme in Pakistan’s history. Moreover, the Ministry of Human Rights has prepared a policy brief on the gendered impact and implications of COVID-19. It is focusing on protecting the rights of the elderly, the disabled, and the economically and socially vulnerable by preparing special messaging, guidelines and policies that place central importance on their particular concerns and issues.”
While Pakistan still confronted with many human rights challenges, the response noted that the government was moving to not only recognise them but also to meet those challenges through legislation where needed, through awareness and sensitization campaigns and through efforts to change mindsets.
“It is unfortunate that HRCP chose not to recognise the progress being made,” the statement concluded.