The sad state of human rights

December 10 is marked as ‘Human Rights Day’ all across the world. Both President Zardari and Prime Minister Gilani reiterated on the occasion that Pakistan would protect and promote human rights. “We will stand committed for the promotion of all fundamental freedoms and rights guaranteed in the constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” said President Zardari while Prime Minister Gilani said, “We have undertaken legislative and political reforms which aim to protect the rights of women, minorities, and special people through affirmative policy action.” Though both the president and prime minister have shown their support for human rights, the ground reality is quite different.

Much of our country’s misery is directly related to feudalism. Our biggest misfortune is that the feudal landlords have found a convenient way to protect their vested interests, i.e. by entering politics. Hardly any political party in Pakistan can claim that it does not have feudals in its midst. Feudal lords are the biggest offenders of human rights; they treat their ‘serfs’ in the worst possible way by denying them the right to free speech, among other things; they practice the archaic panchayat (informal court) system where ‘justice’ (read injustice) is handed out to the villagers at the whims of the feudal; they follow other practices like marrying women to the Quran just to save their coveted property from being distributed. These are just a few examples of the tyranny that rules the roost in the feudal fiefdoms of Pakistan. Another important rights issue that we sometimes overlook is that of the workers, which was raised by the Pakistan Workers Federation (PWF).

“We the working class demand that justice should prevail in society. The status of workers who are contributing their services to the development of the country should be raised,” said the PWF Secretary General. The labourers working in factories, hotels, restaurants, shops, houses and elsewhere are treated rather shabbily and most of them do not even get the minimum monthly wage as laid down in our law. Apart from that, cases of sexual harassment at the workplace continue to rise despite a law being in place. The government should not just focus on passing legislation but ensuring that a mechanism is put in place to monitor implementation and where people can go for redress in case the law is breached. The rights of minorities are violated every single day in this ‘land of the pure’. Unless draconian laws like the Blasphemy Law and the Second Amendment are repealed, our minorities would continue to live in fear. Anti-women laws like the Hudood Ordinance also need to be done away with. The human rights violations in Balochistan by the state must stop.

The Ministry of Human Rights should take up these issues and honour its commitment to work for the welfare of the people of Pakistan.

(my editorial in Daily Times)

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