Human rights organisations have suffered great losses over the past year and Rashid Rehman’s death has made it even more pertinent to look into the security of human rights defenders, Tanveer Jahan, director of the Democratic Commission for Human Development (DCHD), said in her opening address at a report launch on Friday.
The report by the DCHD analyses threats to human rights defenders and their capacity to deal with them. The findings of the report, Human Rights Organisations in Pakistan; Risk and Capacity Assessment, are based on surveys conducted in 408 human rights organisations.
Jahan said that the questionnaire and survey were designed after extensive consultation from various organisations and individuals working for the promotion of human rights.
The Norwegian Human Rights Fund helped DCHD in preparing the report. The surveys were conducted from human rights organisations in all provinces. Feedback from the Punjab was the highest at 52 per cent and the lowest from Balochistan, 8 per cent. The results received from Balochistan represented the northern half of the province, which made it difficult to gauge the overall picture.
The findings of the report are hardly surprising. They provide evidence and a factual basis to substantiate old concerns, showing grave threats to human rights defenders. The report highlights 62 organisations which were under high risk. Jahan said the organisations worked with minorities, women and on gender-based violence.
The report also lists various threats those working for the promotion of human rights faced. Chief among them, were threats from religious militants. In Sindh, feudal lords had formed a cabal that threatened human rights organisation, the report claims, in Balochistan, the most threats come from political parties.
The report also states that heads of these organisations and their staff are equally at risk. Yet most organisations have not taken substantive measures to address threats. More than 50 per cent of the organisations surveyed responded to threats by informing other organisations about them. “So, on whom does the burden of protecting human rights defenders fall on”.
Most organisations said that their donor agencies had the financial means to help them with their security concerns.
Activist Peter Jacob urged the government to protect those who had taken up the cause of defending human rights “We have shown restraint and balance in our conversation and writing (when discussing the government) because we understand that its writ has deteriorated in certain areas, which is why we cannot critique it,” he said. However, there were other organisations which had established their writ in certain in areas. The government should stand with those working for human rights, he said.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 13th, 2014.