Human Rights Violations in Pakistan.Are they Increasing or Decreasing?

Geriatric Care Foundation/President/Pakistan/Dr. Ra'ana Mahmood

I have always considered Pakistani people to be very peace loving and simple people. They tend to be large-hearted and kind. I know that the society I grew up in Pakistan about 30 or 40 years ago was peaceful. There was none of the panic about terrorism, fear and insecurity, which everybody can feel now. At that time, my city Karachi which is cosmopolitan, was a vibrant and dynamic city. There was a great sense of optimism at that time. Our nation was young. Everything was possible. Life was full of hope and promise. Islam gave us a sense of harmony with Allah, harmony with each other, with all the world – Islam – the peace which comes from accepting and following the Will of Allah, The Compassionate One, the Merciful One.

My parents were professional people like so many families in Karachi. It was natural that my brothers and sisters and I were educated to the highest possible level. I became a doctor. The world was a great place to be alive in and there were no ends to my dreams. Society was quite stable and peaceful. While it is true that at that time we were governed by a dictatorship and the media was not that free (most of the media was controlled by government and there were only few government-controlled newspapers TV and Radio Channels available as compared to now), the general crime rate was very low; there were few cases of murder, kidnapping or thefts - and any crime reported in media was discussed for months. These days, so many crimes are reported in the media every day that people only notice them for a short while, and then forget because they are facing all the latest atrocities that are going on.
At that time, although the literacy rate was not high, the corruption rate was very low and also there was no concept of ‘extremist Muslims.’ The Islam was not political that time. Muslims were true and practical people, spiritually inclined, generous and good hearted people who took care of each other in the family and looked after their neighbours, (Muslim neighbours and the small minority of citizens from other religious communities. ) There was still a sense of hope and optimism in spite of military dictatorship. We lived in a new country and could fulfil our dreams of creating an ideal society. But now things have changed.

When I look back at that period and the world I grew up in it seems like a golden age compared to now. Anyone living in Pakistan today can see the way that things have changed. It is not just a problem in Karachi city. The whole of Pakistan is in trouble. People are being abducted and killed every day. Everyone knows it is wrong. Murder and stealing are against the laws of every religion. They are completely forbidden in Islam. They are against the law in every country, and our government, even though we now have a democratically elected and basically popular government in power, seems helpless to do anything about it. Why is this? What can be done to change the situation.

I guess we all, as human beings, are ruled mostly by human ignorance, greed and desire for power, whatever religion we follow, what ever country we live in. I think it is this ignorance and greed that lies at the heart of the chaos we see in our cities and read about in the news. In our country we may not have the evils of the caste system but we do not have a society, based on brotherliness, jusstice and fairness either. 

But if we look further than Pakistan we see the entire South Asian society is changing too. It is not so chaotic as here but there is change happening. Power was controlled by different clans or castes and now it is moving to more of a money based or class based structure in many countries in Asia, same as in Pakistan. In this process, there is conflict and the feudal elite tries to stop the lower sections of society from becoming a 'middle class' by denying them citizenship rights - legal and institutional recourse to justice, protection, compensation and participation. The less powerful people are therefore limited to being low income communities but they are educated enough to refuse this. Then there are people who refuse it and take to fighting back. But how can we change that situation?

The low income communities (HH monthly income range from Rs.5000-25,000) rely on informal sector for housing, employment, education, health, recreation, financial and such other services that is not regulated by the State and is not part of the formal economy. They are therefore vulnerable to extortion, violence, human indignity and the risks of falling below the poverty line. Being aggressively upwardly social and economically mobile they are challenging the old feudal structure. Their challenge is being put down forcefully by the conservative elements in the society, though they are majority and comprise around 60% of the population.

Another big group being denied their rights are the young women. With more than 70% of Pakistan's population under 30 years of age, the young women and girls comprise half of this. Their freedom to learn, for gainful employment, freedom of association and marriage are sometimes violently subdued. There are many cases of ‘honour’ killing, (that phrase makes me feel sick. There is absolutely nothing honourable about someone being murdered by members of own family. It is a sickening crime. The same people who should love and protect a girl are killing her.) Young women who try to direct their own lives are held in forceful captivity. If they follow their own conscience in what they wear and strive to get a good education they get acid thrown on them by extremist.

There is a big force trying to keep them economically dependent, denying them political participation, and preventing their voice. The suicide rate for married women (or the rate of 'accidents' such as stoves exploding resulting in a woman being 'accidentally burned to death' are also on the rise in Pakistan.

The abuse of women is not new. Domestic violence were also prevailing in the past, when there were very less awareness through education & media. A father often, as a ‘head of the family,’ beat his wife and children at home. Teachers and Molvies in schools & Madrasas were allowed - even supposed to beat students just to impose discipline. Husbands were also allowed to torture his wife. These domestic human rights violations were acceptable in the society at that time. So even though I remember it as peaceful that was because I was lucky with my family. Children & students were obedient that time because they were convinced from their heart that this kind of violence was all for their betterment – and they were frightened to challenge it. There were only few cases of divorce, because it was seen as a shocking shameful thing and there was no support at all for woman and children outside husband & family so what can she do except suffer? But despite the fact these violations are not acceptable anymore in the society, when a woman does take the step of getting divorce, they and their children are facing very big problems.

Now with the passage of time things are changing. By increasing awareness through media - and also as world become global village and people here learn how things are in other developed countries. And since the literacy rate is higher than before, media become advanced – especially internet, the situation is forced to change. The United Nations is part of the change because it sets a standard for all the other countries to follow. And now there are so many NGO's (Non Governmental Organisations) set up to consider a particular group or local problem within the framework of the United Nations. So there is some progress here. But since United Nations came into being and started playing active part to work for a better, happier and safer world, things do not just improve. First the United Nations established what are Human Rights that everyone can agree on. But now, with all the changes in our country, apparently it seems that these violations are increasing instead of decreasing.

One basic human right is for women who find themselves married to bad men to take divorce. But it is still out of the reach of the most women. There is everything wrong with a society which looks down on someone who has the guts to divorce such a bad character man and the courage to bring up a family as a single parent. Those women who has enough courage to take divorce and are well aware of their rights. They won’t live with violent or abusive man – or man who is a drunkard or on drugs and not any use to her or the family. But after divorce women experience and realise how shallow our Human Rights are and how hard to live alone and raise their children in the absence of any support of our society, family (as joint family system is also much less supporting than before) and in the absence of any supportive infrastructure from the government for them. Uneducated women faces more difficulties and their problems increases many fold after divorce whether they demanded the divorce or the husband give divorce just to punish them or get another women.

Pakistani women are getting education and taking part very actively in every walk of life, they are doctors, engineers, pilots, journalists, teachers, business women and involved in fashion industry etc. besides being mothers and house wives. There are also many female politicians in Parliament, lots of female are running & heading NGO's very successfully. And we had also the female Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. There is opportunity but most of the times women are deprived of there basic human rights and that is not only uneducated and those living in rural areas but also educated and apparently modern women living in big cities. Even though Islam is very liberal and modern religion and it gives every right to women like to choose life partner, to take divorce, to get education, to receive share from the father’s property and many more, but our women don't get their rights because of our sick culture, illiteracy and the way the men control things because of cultural history ( before partition ), and nothing to do with religion.

In some cases women take divorce and after that when they are tortured by evils of society, they realised that person was not so bad and marriage was like heaven, but it’s too late to go back. Similarly, there are children in rural areas where a beating trend is also there, children know beating is not fair. They run away from home, then they face evils, like beggars, addicts, trafficking, prostitution and lot more. So our society is no good for weak and vulnerable people. Sometimes such people can go back home but often they are just in a worse problem than before and alone in it. They need some supporting from in society like childcare and education to get good jobs. The declaration of Human Rights makes it clear that it is wrong to be forced to stay in bad or abusive relationship like that. In past there were many violations of human rights which were hidden behind closed doors previously as well as this time, imposed by custom and family pride but that not make it right now.

Similarly child abuse is increasing and trafficking of women and children and commercial exploitation including sexual abuse has drastically increased. With 76% dropout at primary school level for about 75% of boys and 50% of girls enrolment, most boys are working on the street and vulnerable to abuse and early marriages of girls burdened with range of problems including risks of maternal mortality.

Most of the times common citizens violate each other's Human Rights and they don't respect each other's point of view.

Abuse to wives and children is serious and when we look at our elderly they are neglecting by the government, family and the society as well.

They comprises approximately 10-15 % of the total Pakistani population, and the issues they are facing are not a priority of the government, which does not pay serious attention to the need to frame policies for the welfare and benefit of elders. It is misconception that older adults in Pakistan enjoys a lot of respect in society. In truth, they get only lip service, because they usually live a miserable life without financial and emotional support. Even the traditional concept of reverence for them is undergoing change very fast.

In urban areas, the elderly have adjusted to the changing social values and are making an extra effort to pay attention to their health and livelihood. But elderly people in rural areas face a more difficult and painful situation, because of illiteracy, they can't take care of their health, and due to poverty, they can't afford health care. Nothing has been done so far in this country to implement the United Nations Millennium Development Goals, which are supposed to be binding on all governments, as spelled out in resolutions of the UN General Assembly regarding the well-being of elderly citizens.

Pollution and Global Warming is also an emerging issue. It is a world wide problem but in Pakistan our Northern Areas which were previously famous for their rich vegetation are now suffering lack of greenery. There is a Timber Mafia that just rips out the trees for money very active in that areas. Another emerging mafia is Land Mafia, which is very active resulting in middle and poor class families loosing their property.

Religious extremism in recent times have increased and penetrated most aspects of every day living. This is perhaps as a measure to contain the the young among the low income communities. Aided by technological development, the young are however challenging the religious extremism and refusing to be tied down to religious traditions. The intolerance has taken on a violent turn and most of the places especially in urban areas have become insecure. State brutalities persist alongside this and the police and law system does nothing to stop it.

Judiciary system is trying to prove as a free and independent system as contrary to the past. The courts are presently hearing the cases of missing persons including about 12000 missing persons in Balochistan. These persons are abducted from all over the country due to so many reasons besides political. There has been high level of displacement due to earthquake, war on terror, etc. because of which there are large number of missing persons including children, especially girls and shelterless families.

Thinking about all this I turn to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to see how things have changed and whether it helps as a way of understanding the situation and helps our fractured and suffering society find a route out of the mess it is in. I ask the question: ‘Human Rights Violations in Pakistan. Are they Increasing or Decreasing?’ (Perhaps, if I can find some clues to improving the situation for us in this country it may also help people in other places to move the wider world-society towards a more peaceful and secure world. At least that is my hope.)

The Declaration of Human Rights

All human beings need certain things, whoever we are and wherever we may live. The United Nations is the only organisation made up of people from all the countries of the world which has the concern and the authority to explore this subject. Although it is true that certain countries within the UN have more power than others, it is probably the most positive and hopeful international organisation that we have, one that is interested in the wellbeing of everyone, not just the interests of one nation, region, culture or religion. The United Nations came into being after the Second World War, some 60 years ago and in its early days, they drew up a list of Universal Human Rights as a basic standard for member countries to aim for, a code of conduct which most countries in the world have now accepted and try to maintain for all their citizens.

The first three articles of the declaration of Human Rights state that -

All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.
Everyone is entitled to the rights and freedoms outlined in the Human Rights Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.

Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.

Clearly, when I think of the world I grew up in, it seems at first sight, that all these articles were accepted and in place at that time, at least more than today – Now there is practically no spirit of brotherhood. There are murders and kidnappings happening all over the country, there are increasing human rights violations against minorities which were not happened in the past, but fortunately there are so many Pakistani NGO's working for them and many people do campaign for the rights of minorities. So instead of criticizing we should do our best to support their campaigns for greater equality in every field of life.

We feel proud to be a Muslim, because our teaching is so simple – that Allah is One and all Muslims are equal, all part of the same family. But when we look at our own, is our society any fairer or more just? Do we have a better success at giving our citizens real human rights? Do we really treat each other as brothers and sisters?  The teachings of Islam empowered women and gave them just as much respect as men. The way our society is dominated by men and women are often oppressed here is something that does not come from our religion but from a male-dominated cultures which do a lot to harm the human rights of women. And the ‘Extremist ' such as Taliban are really not talking about the teaching and practise of Islam at all. They just use it for their political convenience to convince ignorant people who have lost all sight of what is right and wrong.

I think more Muslims are killed by other Muslims than by any outsiders whether you are thinking of Pakistan or Afghanistan. It is easy to look at the chaos in Afghanistan and just blame the West, especially America but reality is not so simple. If we are serious about wanting a new world order, a future of peace and security – we need to work together with people everywhere, people of all religions and none, East or West, including those who we instinctively think of as "enemies." It is certain that some Americans and other Westerners at some times in the past have done the wrong thing and mis use of power against other countries. But I don’t think we are any better. It’s also true that there are lots of good Americans and other Westerners who are trying to do the right thing. I think president Obama is one of them and it is good for Pakistan to work with anyone who is good. The strong foundation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the aspirations of the United Nations give people in all the countries a strong place to start from, in looking forward to improve things in whatever country they are living, in whatever field or profession they belong and in what ever family or community they are part of. We all have some power and influence. We can all make a difference to our lives and others around us, even if it’s only in a small way.

I am a medical doctor. My profession is dedicated to reducing suffering. In addition to my medical work I feel it is important to work for the well being and rights of everyone, especially vulnerable people such as the elderly & women who suffer more and more in our increasingly fragmented society. I started the NGO "GERIATRIC CARE FOUNDATION, PAKISTAN and continue to champion its ideals. I am lucky to have grown up in a time when education for girls was taken for granted. The extremist (Taliban) are opposed to this and harass many of our female students today in those areas where they have hold. This is a very serious threat to our society. Years ago, when compiling the Declaration of Human Rights, the importance of education was recognised. It is enshrined in one of the great Human Rights. There are 30 Articles and Article 26 states that

Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.

Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.

Education is a basic Human Right. This education is for everyone – girls as well as boys. Islam strongly favours education for both gender. Some men find this threatening. Some so called Muslims try to use religion to restrict the education of women. This is a massive danger by extremist (Taliban) imposed on us from outside. If we want a secure future, a future with more and not less Human Rights, we as wise and patriotic Pakistanis, as wise liberal and educated Muslims need to be aware of problems within our own society such as these.

We need to work for a strong and well educated society where girls can attend school, college & university without fear of the extremists, where they are not forced to wear clothing dictated by others but to follow their own conscience. We need our women to be able to stand up to any bullying and abusive members of their own families and a wider society which supports them and gives them the opportunities they need.

In our country, I think that the change in the peaceful society of past times, the golden era of my youth some 40 years ago, started because a plebiscite government, chosen democratically through election, responsible to the people and answerable to them, failed to be established right from the birth of our nation. Increasingly it seems, elections were rigged, as corrupt, unscrupulous power-hungry people, people with no concern for the welfare of ordinary people tried to hold onto power or imposed Martial Law again and again & during the military dictatorship – times when human rights violations were common and anyone who protested against the regime in power was likely to be locked up or murdered.

But we do not have that excuse now. Now we do have a freely and popularly elected government – so why is it having such difficulty in dealing with the criminals who kidnap and murder so freely? How can we reverse this trend towards violence, extremism and the imposition of power, irrespective of human rights? Many people recognise that the law and order situation is steadily deteriorating while the government hides behind the curtain of ‘reconciliation.’ A typical comment is, “Why has there been no strict action, no arrests?
In recent news, at least 60 people have been kidnapped by suspected Taliban militants in the country's volatile north-west tribal region. The hostages were seized in Kurram after the vehicles they were travelling in were ambushed by men reportedly dressed as police officers. Women and children were among those taken captive, according to the police.

And then there are attacks on the minority religious groups like the two Ahmadi Mosques in Lahore where over 80 worshippers were killed. The attackers fired guns and threw grenades during Friday prayers and some militants later blew themselves up with suicide vests, what was the fault of those innocent people who are praying in their Mosques? Islam teaches that you must protect the innocent people and respect the rights of everyone.

Often foreign engineers & workers who are here to take part in the development of our country are kidnapped and murdered by extremist and Taliban or political agency. Often Chinese's workers and engineers who are taking part in different developmental projects in remote areas of Pakistan were kidnapped and murdered. Sometimes foreign journalist besides Pakistani journalists are kidnapped and murdered in mysterious circumstances, for example Daniel Pearl, who was a USA citizens. But the kidnappings and killings are indiscriminate. They can happen to anyone who just is at the ‘wrong place’ at the ‘wrong time.’

The extremists are hugely violating our human rights. They threaten the peace and security of everyone. In the Afghanistan war where so many widows and orphans were left after killing of the male population, to feed the family if a women tried to get a job she was harassed by extremists. They are against the freedom of females, they don't want them to get education and go out for any reason. They think women should be secluded in the houses and always remain fully covered if they need to go out. That is not Islam and if we don’t oppose it this kind of thing can easily spread. Initially these extremists were limited only in Afghanistan, then, slowly and gradually they spread in Frontier side and then Northern Areas of Pakistan. If we just do nothing and say nothing, hiding in fear, (and I myself have been threatened for speaking out about many things like this) may be they will spread all over Pakistan. In the past like 30 years ago we hardly heard these terms, (e.g suicidal bomb blast, target killing, extremists, Kidnappings for ransom and what not), every body was free to practise his/ her way of belief. So why are we going backwards? Why are the Human Rights getting worse and not improving for our people?

The outside world has a concept of Pakistanis as a terrorist illiterate and uncultured people, but we are not like that. These people do not represent Pakistan. We (Pakistani citizens) are also afraid of these extremists, they are imposed on us by others and propaganda done by National & International media. Common Pakistanis, specially women are lacking their fundamental rights, in most cases laws are existing but the problem is implementing those laws to support and favour that underprivileged person. Influential people have support from the society and from the law enforcement agencies and they are living at ease and have very lavish and comfortable life without out fear from the law – so why will they do anything to help the suffering people?

Pakistan is situated in very vulnerable area, therefore peace & stability in the area is not only important for Pakistan but also for very vast locality & interlinked for many of the other countries peace too. Our hope is our young generation, as long as they get education and behave like a true, educated and modern Muslims (not extremists ) and they refuse to play in the hands of internal and externals terrorists /extremists agencies and will focus to strengthen the infrastructure in every field especially education, political and judiciary system Pakistani will gain its due respect among the community of countries (Nations) and ordinary Pakistani people will be able to look forward with confidence to a more hopeful future in which the Human Rights are enjoyed by everyone.

I think that the most important thing to focus on if we want to see human rights improve in our country is education because the root of the problem is ignorance and illiteracy which mean that the powerful people can get away with their abuses. We need good education for everyone girls as well as boys - and for our government to be really tough on the murderers, kidnappers and extremists who threaten the freedom of people. Then we need to face issues of prejudice and make every diplomatic and social effort to get on well with everyone in the world - including India & America. It is a real waste of education and our two nations wealth for India and Pakistan to have nuclear weapons.

We need to claim our heritage and be proud of who we are – but at the same time ask ourselves some important questions – 

Can we work together with our neighbours, and use the United Nations to sort out problems like Kashmir & Water distribution so we can live in harmony and with mutual respect for our differences?

Can we work towards a strong government which while respecting the rights of others is tough on those who break the law?

Can we support all our children and make sure they get good education, not merely in academic subjects but also in their own history and in how to work for happiness and harmony within their own families, so men are supportive and respectful of their womenfolk and they are not abusive?

Can we work towards a society where families and the wider society respect any women who are forced to separate or divorce the men that have abused them – and to help them and their children prosper and succeed?

Can we explore the wisdom offered by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and use it as a platform to reform our political system so that we have nothing to fear and much to take pride in?

Can we embrace and embody those great fundamental qualities of Allah, (the Compassionate, the Merciful, and all the other qualities described by The Beautiful Names) and make our religion truly spiritual, to uplift and empower our people specially women - as the great Muslim Soofis & Peers in our proud Pakistani tradition of Islam did in the past – recognising the truth in all religions and teaching against the kind of extremism which is poisoning our world and spreading increasingly in our own society today?

If we can do this there is real hope for the future and I may yet live to see the Pakistan of my past but even greater than before, and my city Karachi a vibrant, dynamic, cosmopolitan city, full of the spirit of optimism hope and promise - and a spiritual rather than political Islam which offers its protection and guidance to all, encouraging everyone to be well educated and to work together for the good of everyone else, an Islam which gives us all a sense of harmony with Allah, harmony with each other, and with all the people of the world.