Military role in rights violations

Thursday 5 February 2004

ISLAMABAD, Jan 31: Human Rights Watch executive
director Brad Adams has said the military has an
"excessive role" in Pakistan, which ultimately "leads
to human rights violations".

Speaking at a press conference on the Human Rights
Commission of Pakistan premises on Saturday, Mr Adams
expressed concern over the state of human rights in
Pakistan, particularly about the deteriorating rule of
law, government’s increasing intolerance of press
freedom, arbitrary arrests and disregard for the due
process of law.

Mr Adams, who is on a visit to Pakistan, saw an
inconsistency in the military’s involvement and the
rule of law. "Wherever military interferes in civilian
matters, it always results in violation of human
rights, he said. "The 1999 coup has pushed the country
back by many, many years. The role of the military has
to be curtailed if you want better human rights."

He said this pattern had been noticed in the
Philippines and Thailand as well.

Mr Adams expressed a particular "over-arching concern"
over the declining rule of law in Pakistan, saying
that "the judiciary works under tremendous pressure".
He said Pakistan had lawyers and judges "who might be
as good and competent as you will find anywhere else
in the world. But the question is: Are they being
allowed to work independently?"

He believed that there had been an erosion of the due
process of law in recent years. He quoted the example
of six judges who were removed just because they
refused to take oath under the PCO.

"This sends a message for others to follow the
official line," he added.

He said that in his meetings with lawyers, the legal
community was found to have little faith in courts
whenever the other party was the state. People were
generally detained for much longer than was
permissible by law. "This is not acceptable," he said,
adding that if the law was inadequate, it should be
changed. "It’s a general practice to produce the
accused (in the court) within 48 hours. You could make
it longer here but the law should then be
implemented."

He expressed concern over the denial of transparent
trial to PML-N president Javed Hashmi. "I would not
like to comment whether he is guilty of the charges
that have been levelled against him, but a trial in
prison is no trial," he said. "It’s a mockery of
justice." He believed that there was no problem of
security in holding an open trial.

Mr Adams also referred to the media in Pakistan, and
said he had been told that newspapers were sometimes
coerced into self-censorship. "We are told that they
sometimes get phone calls that are intimidating," he
said. Quoting incidents of excesses, he cited the case
of journalist Amir Mir whose car was set ablaze
sometime ago. But there had been no prosecution. He
said he would not comment about the charges against
journalist Khawar Mehdi Rizvi, but the fact that he
was produced in court after six weeks spoke volumes
about the case. He was particularly concerned about
journalist Mubashar Zaidi’s plight. He was working
within the limits of law when he, along with a Los
Angeles Times reporter, sought an interview at a
madressah. His identity card was later displayed on
the state-run television.

"Some say the media is free in Pakistan, others say it
is not," he said, adding: "Still others say it is
better than before. Well, that’s not the standard. The
issue is that you can’t have the past as a yardstick.
It’s like saying that I beat my wife five times
earlier and now I do it only two times. It’s about
principles and not the severity of excesses."

The Human Rights Watch, he said, has condemned the
treatment being meted out to prisoners in Guantanamo
Bay. "We firmly maintain that the rule of law must be
followed, whether this be in the United States or
Pakistan. There should be no mistreatment of people in
custody; they should be allowed to meet their
families.

He said the US had seriously compromised its role as a
protector of human rights, particularly in denying the
rights of prisoners in Guantanamo Bay. He was also
critical of the US in allowing similar violations of
human rights during its war on terrorism in
Afghanistan, which would be documented in a HRW report
soon. He said the US conduct had negatively impacted
on human rights because other violators now took
refuge behind the argument that "if the superpower can
do it, why can’t we do it?"

He believed that the practice of honour killing was
most ignoble.

Mr Adams expressed the hope that the government would
support the draft law tabled in the National Assembly
against this practice.

He was particularly emphatic that his organization was
not singling out Pakistan. "We have been equally
critical of the practice of dowry in India," he said.
"We have similar concerns against the Hudood
Ordinances in Pakistan. It’s like an ’Alice in
Wonderland’ situation when the women subjected to rape
are charged for adultery."

About military farms in Okara, he said: "We have
substantial evidence suggesting violations of human
rights by the Rangers."

He said in his meeting with Punjab Chief Minister
Pervaiz Elahi, he was assured that the matter would be
looked into. "We are pleased that the chief minister
showed his willingness to investigate incidents of
excesses," he said while expressing his disappointment
that the interior minister, in another meeting,
"rejected outright that the Rangers might have
committed any excesses".

Hi Pakistan:February 01,2004

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