Human rights in India, Pakistan

Thursday 10 March 2005, by Kuldip NAYAR

I have received two annual reports on the state of
human rights. One is by the National Human Rights
Commission (NHRC) on India and the other by the Human
Rights Commission of Pakistan on its own country. The
difference between the two is that ours has an
official stamp in the sense that the funding comes
from the exchequer. Pakistan’s is run by voluntary
organisations.

Our report is two years late because the Home Ministry
has not yet found time to place the latest one before
Parliament. The NHRC complains that the ministry takes
its own time to make the report public. In fact, all
such reports accumulate dust in the ministry. But it
hardly matters since the recommendations are seldom
implemented.

Coming to the two reports, ours lacks punch and
pugnaciousness. It is too officialese, too wordy.
Theirs is bold, articulate and does not mince words.
The plus point we have is that the government is
obliged to consider the findings since a retired Chief
Justice of India presides over the NHRC. In Pakistan,
the military junata cares a fig for the report,
although the public has a lot of respect for it.

We avoid anything verging on politics, they delve
straight into political affairs. Take for example, an
excerpt from the Pakistan report is daunting: “Several
key events, including a new law on the National
Security Council (NSC), the election of Shaukat Aziz
as MNA and Prime Minister, after the arbitrary ouster
of former Prime Minister Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali
and the passage through Parliament of a Bill
permitting President Pervez Musharraf to continue as
Chief of Army Staff (COAS), even after December 31,
2004, indicated the nature of political developments
during the year.The open contempt for anything but a
cosmetic display of democracy meant too that most
political decisions were made not by representatives
of the people, but by President Musharraf, and the
military, which continued to expand its role within
the country”.

The extent to which our commission goes is indicated
by its comment on the Gujarat carnage: “On 30 June
2003, however, the Commission noted in its proceedings
that all of the accused in the Best Bakery case had
been acquitted. It will be recalled that this was one
of the five cases in respect of which the Commission
had recommended investigation by the CBI, 14 persons
having been killed on the premises of the Best Bakery
after it was set on fire during the communal violence
that engulfed the State. Upon learning of the
acquittals, the Commission immediately requested the
Chief Secretary, Government of Gujarat, to forward to
the Commission, within one week, a copy of the
judgement of the Trial Court. The Commission
additionally asked the Chief Secretary to inform it of
what steps, if any, the Government of Gujarat was
proposing to take against the order of acquittal”.
There is no comment, no criticism.

The Pakistan report gives an example of religious
intolerance: “Samuel Masih was arrested in Lahore on
the basis of a complaint that he had insulted the
Islamic religion. As he was suffering from
tuberculosis he was taken out of the Kot Lakhpat jail
for transfer to a hospital for TB patients. He was
attached at the hospital by a police constable who was
a member of the escort party, and died three days
later. The incident once again underlined the
extremely vulnerable situation of anyone accused,
rightly or wrongly, of blasphemy”.

I wish the NHRC could have also given instances of
religious intolerance which are in plenty. My
inference is that wrongful confinement of Ikramuddin,
a resident of Baghpat, UP could be because of
religious bias. The commission is silent about it
although there was a departmental inquiry against the
arraigned police officials. What the inquiry had to
say was relevant.

Both reports are rightfully unsparing in their
criticism on prisoners. The NHRC says: “The total
prison population of the country was 3,00,811. This
indicated an overcrowding of 32.33% against the
authorised capacity of 2,27,313. Twelve states/Union
Territories, namely Delhi, Jharkhand, Haryana,
Chhattisgarh, UP, MP, Bihar, Sikkim, Andaman and
Nicobar Islands, Orissa, Gujarat and Tripura
experienced overcrowding ranging from 39% to 189%.
Delhi with an overcrowding of 189% had the dubious
distinction of heading the list. It was followed by
Jharkhand (183%), Haryana (158%), Chhattisgarh (114%)
and Uttar Pradesh (90%)”.

According to the Pakistan report, while the country’s
89 jails had a capacity for only 35,000 prisoners,
they housed a number closer to 86,000. The 30 prisons
in Punjab, with a capacity for 17,637 prisoners, had
50,213 prisoners in one month, June. The 11 jails in
Sindh, with a capacity for 8,026 held around 18,397
prisoners. The NWFP’s 22 jails were holding 9,992
prisoners, against a capacity for 7,857 prisoners and
2,848 prisoners were held in 10 prisons of
Balochistan, approximately 1,000 more than the
capacity of 1,845. The Pakistan Interior Ministry
stated 55,949 prisoners were under trial, while only
25,511 had been convicted.

While the Pakistan report has said that a jail reforms
committee was constituted by the Supreme Court in
January in Islamabad to submit a report on prison
affairs by May and the Committee had not done that so
far, the NHRC reiterated that the Indian Prisons Act,
1894 needed to be rewritten. In this case also, there
has been no response from the government.

The biggest difference between the two reports is in
their expectation. The NHRC believes that “a unity of
minds” is required by the Commission and the
governments at the Centre and in the states.
Pakistan’s Human Rights Commission has no such hope
and says that governance in Pakistan “marked by a near
total lack of transparency”. Both commissions have a
long way to go, particularly the NHRC, which is
somewhat tagged with the government because it
practically appoints the commission’s members.

One thing which binds the two commissions is the same
concern for justice and the same demand for
accountability of those responsible for human rights
violations. Individual accountability is essential for
another reason: only when it is clear that no one is
above the law, will those who may be inclined to
commit serious crimes and human rights violations be
deterred from doing so.


Source : The Tribune

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