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Before Condemning Human Rights Violations In Other Countries, Pakistan Should Set House In Order

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Human Rights Minister Dr. Shireen Mazari’s effort to highlight the plight of Kashmiris in a high-level video segment at the 46th Human Rights Council must be applauded. In her video statement, she called out the international community for turning a blind eye towards the human rights violations in Kashmir, and for their failure to address the Kashmir issue. The situation in the region has been deteriorating ever since the Indian government revoked article 370-A, and all kinds of freedoms have been curtailed. Whoever dares to speak up faces the wrath of the state. Journalists, activists, and politicians have been thrown in jail. India has taken every step to crush the voices calling for freedom. The demography of the region is also being altered by persuading non-Kashmiris to settle in the region.

While condemning India for its atrocities in Kashmir is necessary, it is also crucial to address some of the human rights concerns within our state. Otherwise, the Human Rights Ministers must know, this would be nothing but blatant hypocrisy. In order to make a stronger case in the international arena, the current government needs to set right its own human rights record. The never-ending state practice of enforced disappearances, kidnapping of journalists in broad daylight, restrictions on social media, political victimization by state agencies and persecution of religious minorities are some of the matters which must be dealt with immediately.

Recently, Baloch mothers gathered at D-chowk in Islamabad to plead the government to find their children who had been taken away by unknown elements. Some had lost their sons, some fathers, and some husbands. Enforced disappearances have become a routine practice in the largest province of the country with no end in sight. Chief Justice of the Islamabad High Court Athar Minallah took notice of the rising cases of enforced disappearances last year and directed the interior minister to discuss the issue with Prime Minister Imran Khan, but so far it hasn’t resulted in anything meaningful. The continued protests are proof of that.

Journalists who have dared to criticize or uncover the reality of the current government have had to face the music as well. They’ve been threatened and blackmailed in order to quell their voices. Those who have spoken out undeterred have been picked by unknown forces to be intimidated. Some of them have managed to return unharmed. In July 2020, journalist Matiullah Jan was kidnapped in broad daylight from the federal capital. The footage was luckily captured from the cameras installed nearby and circulated on social media. This led to widespread outrage. The international community’s protest eventually culminated in his release after being detained for 12 hours. Matiullah Jan was one of the very few fortunate ones. Many have disappeared never to return.

The persecution of religious minorities by framing allegations of blasphemy also continues unabated with the culprits roaming freely. Those who kill people from the Ahmadi community are portrayed as heroes, which in turn influences others to follow in their footsteps. In July 2020, an individual accused of blasphemy was gunned down during the hearing of the court. The killing was celebrated throughout the country with people putting his picture up on their social media profiles.

Violence against women has also surged during the pandemic with no solution in sight. On 9 September 2020, a woman’s car ran out of fuel on a motorway leading out of Lahore as she was on her way to her husband. She was trying to get in touch with the relative authorities while handling her children when she was intercepted by a group of men who broke into the car and dragged her children out with her. After they stole her money and jewelry, they brutally raped the woman in front of her children. When the news broke out, the highest authority of the police, during an interview, said that women shouldn’t step out alone at night. His remarks led to an uproar, and rightly so. The only solution the government could fathom was to allow chemical castration to prevent rape cases. Their failure to fully comprehend the situation showcases the lack of sane minds formulating policy-making decisions.

Shireen Mazari called out the protectors of human rights for prioritizing “political, strategic and commercial interests over human rights values and principles.” Pakistan cannot call out other states for human rights violations while following the same draconian policies at home and by turning a blind eye towards the human rights violations in their own backyard. It must also not expect much from friends, such as China and Saudi Arabia. These countries prosper by violating human rights and their own track record of human rights is abysmal. A few cases in point are the murder of Jamal Khassoggji and the persecution of Muslims in Xinjiang.

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Naya Daur