Karachi Dec 29, 2016: Dominance of security and ideology narratives and the shrinking space of civil society organizations have undermined the civic freedoms in the country and the political parties need to evolve a charter of basic civic freedoms like the charter of democracy signed a decade ago.
This has been stated by Senator Farhatullah Babar while addressing a seminar on ‘challenges to civic freedoms in Pakistan’ organized by the
Pakistan Institute of Labor Education and Research in Karachi today.
Civic freedom means freedom of expression and freedom of association enabling civil society organizations to play their role in ensuring that the state did not deviate from its social contract with the people, he said. But it had been undermined by the dominance of security and ideology narratives.
Thus citizens are disappearing in Balochistan, KPK, FATA and Sindh with impunity, state agencies operate without the ambit of the law, the due process is shrinking and employees of National Command
Authority denied their basic rights because attempts to correct the situation are viewed as against national security interests.
Likewise, progressive legislation such as the child marriage Act, recent legislation against forced conversions, the Ant rape and Anti honor killing laws, the women protection Act and the legislation to prevent harassment at work place law have come under attack on grounds of ‘threat to ideology’, he said.
Political parties should get together and adopt a minimum charter of civic freedoms just as they signed a charter of democracy a decade ago, he said.
Civic freedoms are also hampered by a weakened and dysfunctional
National Commission on Human Rights (NCHR) and absence of right to information which has shrunk the space for human rights defenders and civil society organizations, he said.
Pakistan has signed and ratified 7 out of 9 core human rights treaties while under the GSP plus we have pledged to sign the 27 international treaties. He called for a sustained campaign to put pressure for the fulfillment of obligations by the state under the international treaties it has already signed and ratified.
He said that early this month the UN Human Rights Committee asked some questions arising out of Pakistan’s compliance report after signing the International Covenant on civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and proposed that the NCHR should adopt furnishing of honest answers as part of its strategic agenda for 2017.
State agencies operating without legislation should be brought under the ambit of the law and the impunity with which people mysteriously disappear and media persons and human rights defenders are attacked must be ended.
In this connection the recommendations made by the senate in 2014 and reiterated recently by the Senate committee of the whole be implemented without delay.
The Anti-Torture legislation already passed by the Senate and the RTI legislation adopted by the senate committee on information should be passed by the parliament as soon as possible.
Demanding an end to demonizing the civil society organizations he said that the civil society organizations existed by right and not by charity of any government. . The state and people are bound by a social contract and these organizations are there to raise voice if the state deviates from its contract with the people. The NGOs are bound by the Constitution no doubt. But it is also their fundamental right to raise voice against some Articles of the Constitution itself. Why should no one be allowed to raise voice against 19th Amendment on the procedure for the appointment of judges he asked? What is wrong if someone raised voice against barring non –Muslims from becoming Prime Minister or President when the constitution guarantees equality of all citizens, he asked?.
Stifling civil society means stifling dialogue and demolishing the edifice of social contract between the state and people he said and warned ‘it is a recipe for disaster’.
He said that the regressive provisions in the trade Union law will soon be examined by the Human Rights Committee of Senate and asked civil society organizations to help the Committee in the deliberations.
Farhatullah Babar stressed the need for scrutinizing the performance of the military courts before deciding to give it extension beyond the sunset clause early next month.
He said that there was total blackout of information with regard to who were sentenced to death, for what crime and whether they were jet black terrorists or ordinary murderers. Death sentences have been announced through tweet without bare minimum information and no body, not even rapporteurs of the Human Rights Commission, were allowed to witness the proceedings, he said. These factors must weigh in before taking any decision. He also called for a review of delegated legislation like the rules and regulations critically whether they were in violation of the basic law itself.