Groping In The Dark

Groping In The Dark

Operation Radd-ul-Fasaad has been launched in the aftermath of the recent deadly suicide attack at Sehwan Sharif. The blast claimed lives of 88 devotees and injured hundreds more at a crowded shrine. Jon Boone in his article, Pakistan Launches Crackdown As Isis Shrine Attack Toll Rises To 88, published in The Guardian cites military chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa who appealed for calm while telling Pakistanis, “Your security forces shall not allow hostile powers to succeed.” But, in a strongly worded statement, he vowed that, “Each drop of the nation’s blood shall be revenged and revenged immediately.” This was not the usual condolence offered after every ruthless attack to national security in Pakistan but was characterized by a severe agitation to avenge the innocent lives in retaliation to the national lament. A statement was issued by the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) that over 100 militants had been shot dead in nationwide security crackdown. “In wake of recent upsurge in terrorist incidents in the country, officials searched 350 houses, arresting at least 42 suspects,” according to an article report published in the Express Tribune, Sehwan Blast Aftermath: Over 90 Detained In Search Operations In Twin Cities.

The imperative question, however, that remains unanswered to date is, have we ever strived to unveil the reality of those ‘nameless’ people who are anonymously detained and incarcerated in the unknown internment center without being afforded a fair trial or legal assistance? Doesn’t this amount to ignoring the possibility that these people could be innocent, one of whom may have been termed as a ‘scapegoat’?

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) in its report published in 2015 revealed that, “After APS incident, Pakistan resumed executions of the death penalty convicts, instead of only the ones convicted for terrorism offences. The overwhelming majority of the individuals executed through the year were not ‘hardcore terrorists’, for whom the executions had purportedly been resumed.” Taha Siddiqui and Declan Walsh noted in their article titled In Pakistan, Detainees Are Vanishing In Covert Jails, published in The New York Times that “Mr. Muhammad was one of dozens of detainees who have died in military detention in Pakistan in the past year and a half, amid accounts of torture, starvation and extrajudicial execution from former detainees, relatives and human rights monitors.”

Allowing individuals to approach the United Nations Human Rights Committee can be a great step towards full realization of all human rights guaranteed by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Unfortunately, Pakistan has not signed the First Optional Protocol to ICCPR which is a major hindrance in the accomplishment of the task of censuring human rights violations. It can be argued that this might lead to arguments in support of state sovereignty and substantive and procedural concerns which can be threatened by signing the Optional Protocol. But in reality, this would be a major step to urge the government to focus on developing and perfecting legal procedures in order to prevent human rights violations. The reservations entered by Denmark with regard to the Optional Protocol are pertinent to mention here, according to which, “The majority of rights in the Covenant did not carry immediate legal effect and, considering the vague nature of the rights and principle of progressive realization, believing that the majority of rights was insufficiently judiciable and less suited to form the basis of an individual complaints mechanism.” This argument lacks credibility in the context of Pakistan where the institutions have failed to provide an effective procedure to assure a transparent inquiry into the matters of human rights violations. All claims for not signing the Optional Protocol asserted that the domestic courts were capable of providing effective remedies to citizens, whereas the same have failed badly. The cases heard in military courts are neither public nor reported, thus diluting the standards of due process. The notion of ‘faceless judges’ in military courts has led to doubt the impartiality and independence of the authority. Trinidad and Tobago’s statement upon receding to the Optional Protocol attempts to modify the “legal effect” of Article 1 in its application to Trinidad by not allowing prisoners under the sentence of death to bring such communications. This reservation destroys the purpose and object of the ICCPR and is highly discriminatory towards a particular segment of the society that is being denied such a right and may even be deemed invalid and inapplicable in the near future.

Given the current socio-political conditions of the country where Pakistan is fighting terrorism, there is high probability that the occurrences of human rights violation might accelerate. Pakistan should, therefore, sign and ratify the First Optional Protocol to ICCPR because the benefits derived at the cost of human rights will likely weaken Pakistan’s fragile democracy and ultimately undermine its efforts to counter terrorism.

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.

Ujala Rehman

Author: Ujala Rehman

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