Pakistani government accused of 'sabotaging' rights watchdog

The prime minister of Pakistan, Imran Khan, and his government have been accused of trying to “sabotage” the country’s independent human rights watchdog to prevent accountability for mounting abuses and oppression.

Legislators, activists and lawyers told the Guardian that Khan’s government “punished” and immobilised Pakistan’s National Commission for Human Rights (NCHR) over reports that it had produced into human rights abuses and torture carried out by the military, which plays a powerful role in running the country.

On Monday, Islamabad high court directed the government to fill the vacant post of the head of the NCHR, after it was accused of deliberately obstructing the appointments of the new commission members and chairperson for nearly two years, leaving the watchdog in a state of limbo and unable to carry out its duties in holding the government to account.

Mustafa Nawaz Khokar, chairman of the senate committee on human rights, 前記: “Ever since Imran Khan’s government came to power, the NCHR has been dysfunctional. We raised this issue two or three times times, and after that the senate commission on human rights came to the conclusion that the government is consciously trying to sabotage the commission.”

The period of almost two years during which the NCHR has not functioned has coincided with a decline in press freedom and human rights in Pakistan, as well as accusations of a rise in enforced disappearances carried out by military-linked agencies.

The NCHR is a relatively new body in Pakistan. Its remit includes conducting independent investigations into human rights abuses, advising the government on human rights issues and legislation, reviewing the government’s implementation of human rights laws, and promoting the issue on the national political agenda.

Although it was established in 2012, it took three years for the commission to begin working properly. The first term of the commission came to an end in May 2019 and it was the responsibility of the government’s ministry of human rights to oversee the appointment of its new members, who are supposed to be non-political appointees.

しかしながら, almost two years later, no one has been appointed to the watchdog. Khokar said the “gloomy” human rights record of Khan’s government was the reason the NCHR had been immobilised.

“Imran Khan has been brought into power by the [military] establishment and it does not want to be challenged or held accountable,” said Khokar. “If such an independent organisation is allowed to function properly, then the true image of this government would be revealed internationally … They do not want the human rights violations to be highlighted.”

An advert for positions on the committee was first placed in May 2019, but then withdrawn without explanation. Another advert was issued in July 2019, but unlike before, a condition was included that no member of the commission should be more than 65 年, which was then challenged as illegal.

Akhtar Cheema, a lawyer and former legal adviser to Pakistan’s senate, said the age-limit restriction was a method of delaying the appointments to the NCHR. “The government knew it would be challenged in the court of law and delay the process of the selection, as it was against the law,. And that’s what happened,” said Cheema.

Pakistan is a signatory of several international conventions on human rights, political rights and torture, and Cheema alleged that one of the ways the NCHR had angered the government was by monitoring the violations of those conventions, mainly by the military.

He cited the examples of NCHR reports, which “were not liked by the authorities in power”, into the systematic violation of minority rights, and allegations by farmers in Okara, Punjab, that their lands were forcibly occupied by the military.

“There are many grey areas in Pakistan and the commission had the judicial power to start inquiries, receive private complaints on human rights violations, conduct research and investigate and publish their reports, all of which bothered the government and the establishment," 彼女は言いました.

“NCHR tried to report a few cases of human rights violations and hence it was punished.”

Pakistan’s human rights minister, Shireen Mazari, denied that the government was obstructing the watchdog and said it had readvertised the NCHR posts in October 2020. She blamed the delay on the failure of the leader of the opposition, Shahbaz Sharif, to approve their recommendations for the posts, as is required to prevent the NCHR appointments being political.

“The prime minister of Pakistan sent a list of preferences to the leader of the opposition in December, but the opposition leader hasn’t sent their nominations to us yet,” said Mazari. “We have reminded them time and again to send their preferences. The laziness is from the side of the opposition, not the government.”

しかしながら, when the government sent its preferences to the opposition leader, he was in jail. Sharif was arrested on 28 September last year on allegations of money laundering.

The first chairman of the NCHR, Ali Nawaz Chowhan, said the commission published 35 reports in the span of four years, including a detailed report on the existence of torture in Pakistan, which angered Khan’s government, who denied the abuses existed.

Chowhan said the previous government had also put restrictions on the commission’s work, but the worst had come after Khan came to power in 2018.

“It was clear that Pakistan is not implementing the torture conventions. Instead of punishing the commission for its work or reporting, the government should work on resolving human rights issues,” Chowhan said, adding that it should have taken just one month, not two years, to appoint new members after May 2019.

“They want us to lie to represent a positive image of Pakistan, but I believe it is better to uplift the image of Pakistan by ensuring human rights.”

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