In Quest Of Mirage

In Quest Of Mirage

The right to life, religion, freedom of speech, fair trial and justice; we endorse them, will deliver them and will emancipate the nation from the burdens of human rights violation.

Such statements are part of the red book of every political party in Pakistan and are chanted oft times wherever deemed appropriate. However, on practical grounds, violation of human rights is brushed under the carpet, eluding the masses with a mirage of justice, thus implying the Orwellian concept of ‘ignorance is strength’.

Pakistan is a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) but has not ratified its First Optional Protocol yet. The Optional Protocol establishes a direct access, on individual level, to the Human Rights Committee to lodge complaints about violations of human rights and the obligations of state parties as stated under the General Comment 33 of ICCPR. If justice is to remain elusive as ever and judicial system to keep on stumbling and losing its focus, it may not be possible for Pakistan to ratify the Optional Protocol.

Terrorism has plagued this country for decades. In order to please the international community and to portray a softer image, Pakistan is on the front-line in the war against terror. Over the past few years, many military operations have been launched to rectify mistakes of the past and root out terrorism for good. However, this war has made us pay a heavy toll. The country has experienced large-scale displacement from terrorism-afflicted areas. Although state institutions have been trying to crush insurgencies, in doing so they have violated the right to life of hundreds and thousands of individuals.

This situation was seen at its pinnacle in the recent Mall Road incident in Lahore, where the loss of 13 lives was reduced to an inhuman debate of pinning down the blame on victims who happened to be protesting at the site. Government ministers kept shifting responsibilities, which portrayed an impression of non-seriousness pertaining to investigation of the incident on part of the government. The insensitive response of provincial ministers putting the blame of the attack on protestors is equivalent to the turning of a knife in a wound. After this fiasco one couldn’t help but ask whether the state was really fulfilling its duties to ensure a citizen’s right to life. However it would be difficult to answer affirmatively in wake of 60,000 lives lost over a decade. Analysing all this, there is an urgency to adopt a framework where an individual can claim the rights in case the state shows negligence on its part.

Sustained democratic dispensation, political dialogue and civil-military equation in Pakistan have significantly caused a decline in terrorist activities. This has markedly improved security and the law and order situation. However, the security scenario is still not conducive to sign the Optional Protocol. Right now we are hovering amidst myriad crisis, one which can further worsen human rights conditions in a society. If, at this point, Pakistan has to conform to the Optional Protocol, socio-political and economic disparity shall cripple the government which shall not be able to cope up with pressure from the international community.

We have seen families of drone victims raise voice on multiple international platforms as well as sue governments. Keeping in account the argument relating to the government’s functional limitations, it is important to remind the state that although maintaining law and order is part of the job description, it must not be so at the cost of losing the lives of citizens. Governments around the world usually follow the utilitarian conduct in these scenarios, claiming the greater good by sacrificing a few, and that’s the point where struggle for the equality of rights takes a hit. States are responsible for the protection of lives of its citizens which should be considered equally sacred, but this currently does not seem to be the case especially in repressive regimes and that’s why it is high time to promote the Optional Protocol so that we can avoid euphemistically labeling humans as collateral damage.

Adaptation to the Optional Protocol is only possible when the security scenario of a state party is conducive. Stability of the state will strengthen the internal legal framework, ultimately empowering us to ratify this external legal agreement. This stability will also pave way for social consciousness which will serve as the driving force behind compliance with the Optional Protocol, otherwise it will only wreak havoc on an already handicapped government. Conforming to the Optional Protocol is a goal – one step at a time in the right direction and it may be an accreditation.


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of or any organization with which she might be associated.

Shehar Bano Syed

Author: Shehar Bano Syed

The writer is a senior year law student at the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS).