What human rights?

Published: December 10, 2011
The writer is director, gender studies, at Quaid-i-Azam University

The writer is director, gender studies, at Quaid-i-Azam University

Pakistan, like the rest of the world, observes International Human Rights Day on December 10 every year. This is done to commemorate the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) of 1948, which recognised that “human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights”.

However, as this day is celebrated, one finds that the UDHR is being violated all over the world, so much so that a mockery is made of the Declaration. While we saw the Arab Spring and the Wall Street protests, the issue is that those who are protesting are unable to claim their rights.

The tragedy of our times is that three billion people out of the total world population of seven billion, are living in absolute poverty. And more than a billion people in the developing world have no adequate access to water while a whopping 2.5 billion lack access to basic sanitation.

In this highly technologically advanced era of development, interstate and intra-state disparities are constantly on the rise. One heartbreaking fact is that if we decide to spend less than one per cent of what the world is spending every year on weapons, we can put every child in school.

The current state of human rights in Pakistan is such that one may ask, “What human rights?” There is a general failure of governance and a breakdown of law and order in the country, and both these impinge greatly on the fundamental rights of citizens.

In Pakistan, the biggest issue is that the one institution which is supposed to safeguard the rights of citizens, i.e. the state, is itself the biggest violator of human rights. All state institutions especially the police, the Rangers and the security agencies are all involved in this. People are frequently picked up by security agencies in Balochistan and from other parts of the country without being given a chance to take judicial recourse. The police routinely tortures prisoners and is involved in corruption and abetting criminals. Moreover, the state sanctions or, at the very least, looks the other way when non-state actors such as feudal or tribal chiefs, militant groups and political mafias use violence. The absence of the state as a benevolent influence in people’s lives has made them extremely vulnerable by leaving them at the mercy of local power brokers. While all citizens suffer from this state of affairs, those who suffer the most are women, religious minorities, the transgendered, bonded labourers and those displaced by natural and human-made disasters.

Growing intolerance and extremism in the country, along with the repressive nature of the state puts those who dare to speak up and demand change at much higher risk. Pakistan has already been declared as being among the most dangerous places in the world for a woman or a journalist.

The biggest challenge faced by the citizenry today is how to make the state adhere to its national and international commitments to human rights. In the given context, the only way forward seems to be for the downtrodden majority to establish people’s rule. It is pointless to expect anything from the bourgeoisie state which is there essentially to defend and protect the interests of the capitalist class, which, in turn, grows by feeding on the social and economic exploitation of ordinary Pakistanis.

Published in The Express Tribune, December 11th, 2011.


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Reader Comments (8)

  • muhammad sharjeel
    Dec 10, 2011 - 10:55PM

    “Freedom from religion” is as much a basic human right as “freedom of religion”.Recommend

  • Ubuntu
    Dec 10, 2011 - 11:28PM

    Yes maam its sad sad story of the world i mean if U.S.A and some others so called soper
    power can spent trillions of Dollars on weponery and wars but cant spent one billion on sub saharan africa drinking water problems its all intrest and shame shame game…


  • Max
    Dec 11, 2011 - 12:50AM

    Dr. Bari, I am not sure where to start and where to end as your essay has raised several questions, at least on my mind. I will try to be as parsimonious if I could but we are dealing with a history stretched over sixty four years and perhaps more. Let us start from the formative years of Pakistan and regret to say that nothing has changed over a period of time. The Public Representative Disqualification Act 1948 (PRODA) was the beginning of to what Guillermo O’Donnell call Bureaucratic-Authoritarian (BA) state. Though the circumstances that he mentions (Import Substitution Policies in Latin America) were still in infancy in Pakistan.
    Just a few events should explain the first decade: Heavy handedness of the state towards those imprisoned under Rawalpindi conspiracy, dissolution of the constituent assembly, and dismissal of Khawaja Nazim-ud-Din government (we were always a dependent state), anti-Ahmedi movement initiated by our responsible political and religious elite. I am avoiding 1953 language riots in Eastern province as it was another story of heavy-handedness of the state.
    Enter Ayub: PODA, 1959, BD system 1961 which was heavily dependent upon state machinery than political leadership. Obviously we cannot forget his Kala Bagh Governor in West Pakistan and Abdul Monim Khan in East Pakistan, establishment of National Press Trust or arrest and imprisonment of people of conscious (Zamir Siddiqui, perhaps was the first one followed by a large number of others).
    I have also seen the thugs (FSF) of most revered democratic leaders spraying bullets on a political gathering of NAPin Liaquat Bagh Rawalpindi.

  • Cynical
    Dec 11, 2011 - 3:13AM

    @muhammad sharjeel

    “Freedom from religion” is as much a basic human right as “freedom of religion”.

    Would have been very proud of myself, if I could come up with a line as prophetic as this.
    Best wishes.


  • Max
    Dec 11, 2011 - 7:10AM

    The 1959 decree was not PODA but Elective Bodies Disqualification Order, 1959 (EBDO). My fault and I apologize. Perhaps age is showing its colors.


  • Rukhsana
    Dec 11, 2011 - 8:22AM

    Dr.You did not metion about the women’s exploitation.In Paksiatn how men are treating and torturing women?How male gets benefits of his status?
    He, cureently violating women,s rights.You should have focused on this buring issue.
    Men are not being misbehaved by the state or society it is woman.What are their (women) rights in an Islamic society,please do write on this crucial topic.


  • Feroz
    Dec 11, 2011 - 9:06AM

    It is impossible to enforce human rights in a state that has lost control over large chunks of its territory. Secondly, when the writ of the nation is non existent Law and Order cannot be enforced. Discussing human rights in this situation is an exercise in Utopian day dreaming.


  • goggi
    Dec 12, 2011 - 10:09PM

    To live! Like a tree unique and free

    Like a forest in brotherhood

    This yearning is ours! Nazim Hikmet

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