Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Indo-Pak attorneys discuss judicial activism

The two-day India-Pakistan regional workshop on ‘Judicial Activism, Public Interest Litigation and Human Rights’ started on Tuesday with speeches by judicial activists, retired judges and renowned lawyers from both the countries.

Justice (retd) AK Ganguly from India and Justice (retd) Rashid A Razvi from Pakistan gave detailed overview of constitutional and judicial systems in their respective countries and discussed the status of public interest litigation and constraints at judicial level. Senior Indian lawyer Colin Gonsalves, Mukul Sinha Advocate, Nijhari Sinha Advocate, Justice (retd) Nasir Aslam Zahid, Faisal Siddiqui and others spoke on the occasion.

Ganguly in his speech gave examples of revolutionary changes brought in public interest cases in different countries of South Asia. Justice Razvi cited examples of prominent judgments and amendments in the Pakistan judiciary to understand the public interest activism within judiciary and impacts of increasing religion extremism.

Razvi also criticised military adventurism, which has badly affected the judicial system. He lauded the role of lawyers and other civil society activists in Pakistan for restoration of the judiciary. After restoration of judiciary in 2009, he said, the country witnessed that the cases of missing persons and bonded labour were taken up by judiciary, which provided an important forum to the citizens, especially the marginalised people.
Justice (retd) Nasir Aslam Zahid, talking about the India-Pakistan Judicial Committee on Prisoners, said the Judicial Committee has helped the prisoners from both the sides by visiting jails in both the countries. There are 437 Indian prisoners in Malir Jail Karachi, out of which 284 are those who have completed their terms. They are still in jails because of bureaucratic hurdles, he added. It is a violation of Constitutions of both India and Pakistan.

He said when he visited Indian prisons to meet Pakistani prisoners to confirm their nationality it took few minutes, but the bureaucracy have been languishing in jails for years. He urged the judiciary members to play their role and make the process easy in the public interest.

The lawyers' couple Mukul Sinha Advocate and his wife Nijhari Sinha Advocate gave a joint presentation on ‘Judicial intervention in cases of communal conflicts’ in India. If there is any party wanting to get votes of minority, the counter political parties use majority votes and in this way communal conflict rises, they said. In this situation it depends on active judiciary how it should play role to avoid communal conflicts and resolve the issue of minority, they concluded.

Advocate from India Colin Gonsalves said there are revolutionary changes in laws and public interest cases are being taken. According to him developed countries, even Europe and US cannot understand the public interest cases, but in developing countries the situation is different.

“In India 40 percent people earn bellow PKR 100 a day. Due to this there is malnutrition and poverty,” he said. He said a court can give orders, but it cannot implement it. It is the responsibility of state to implement the orders. Tracing the history, he said there was a tradition that prisoners used to write letter to courts and judges would turn the same letters into petitions for hearing to provide relief to the victims.

Gonsalves said World Trade Organisation (WTO), World Bank and multinational companies force the governments to breach their own laws just to safeguard the interests of such world organisations.
Apart from this private sector is being promoted in education, health sector and water. In this situation how can poor people survive as their children are even victims of malnourishment. He also opposed public-private partnership, terming it a dangerous trend for the marginalised people.

Prashant Bhushan advocate from India said judges are discouraged to take up suo moto related to PIL cases; the culture of suo moto in India is rare. He said there is a need of systematic changes to protect rights of citizens. It was observed that police was put under the power of political ministers, using them for their interests instead of allowing police to safeguard the rights of people.

When the government failed to make legislation the courts gave judgments but for the last seven years their orders are yet to be enforced. For instance, he said, the court issued orders for formation of state security commission, protecting right to food, right to education and right to basic health facilities.

Monday, April 15, 2013

A revolution in Pakistan?

There is a general consensus in Pakistan that the country is heading in the wrong direction. The same perception exists outside Pakistan with the term “failed state” raising its ugly head more frequently in the international media. How does the country get out of the precarious situation it finds itself in today?

The solution offered by mainstream political parties and the civil society is that the continuation of the democratic process affords the best chance to the country. However, pose the same question to a man on the street and the answer could range from bringing back the army to lining up all the corrupt politicians and putting a bullet in them. Some other would maintain that the root of the all the trouble is economy, poor law and order and the scourge of terrorism.

Given that both military dictators and civilian rulers have betrayed the people of Pakistan time and again, it is surprising that there is not much talk of a mass uprising to destroy the prevalent power structure and replacing it with a system that is responsive to the needs of the populace.  On the national level there is only one political party, the Awami Workers Party (AWP) that endorses bringing about a revolution in Pakistan. However, even this coalition of the fragments of the left-wing political groups has admitted that this is not the right time for revolutionary politics, and has thus, decided to participate in the election process by fielding a few candidates.

So, why is there no revolutionary movement in Pakistan?

The answers may be found in the history of anti-colonial movements in the subcontinent. There were only two major armed struggles in the undivided India against the British rule. First, the war of independence of 1857 that, some historians claim, was more of a mutiny than an organised and protracted struggle. After putting down the peril of the 1857 uprising, the British ruled in peace for nearly eight decades. This period of peace ended in 1942 when the Indian National Army led by Subhash Chander Bose, a communist intellectual, fought against the British rule with the support of the Axis powers. Another revolt took place in 1946 when the sailors of the Royal Indian Navy mutinied against their British officers.

Other anti colonial efforts like the “Quit India” movement were non-violent civil disobedience movements and not revolutionary struggles.

The Pakistan Movement itself was mainly a legal and constitutional battle. Mr. Jinnah was the ideal leader to spearhead this movement because of his expertise in constitutional law.

While these struggles did hasten the departure of the British from India, the primary reason was that in the aftermath of the Second World War, Britain was in no position to maintain its rule and had already accepted that quitting India was its best option.

Compared to the other movements of national liberation like Algeria, Nicaragua and Mozambique, the independence struggle in India was predominantly legal and constitutional with non-violent means used to put pressure on the coloniser. Also, there was little participation of the working class in the struggle. In contrast, the Algerian war of liberation that was fought from 1954 to 1962 was lead by FLN – a socialist organisation formed by the merger of smaller groups. While estimates vary, anywhere between a million and 1.5 million Algerians were killed in the eight years of the struggle. The population of Algeria was just 10 million in 1960 and it lost a staggering 10 per cent of its population in achieving independence.

Thus, when Pakistan was created it did not have any historical experience in revolutionary struggles. In Pakistan the only time there was a serious attempt at mobilising the working class to bring about a radical change was between 1968 and 1972 during the anti Ayub Khan movement led by the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP). A number of left groups that were influential in the working class became energised and played an important role in bringing PPP into power. This is where the left in Pakistan made a bad judgement and instead of continuing the struggle with the factory workers as vanguard, it stopped and pinned their hopes on PPP to bring about radical changes. It soon faced a rude awakening when PPP abandoned its socialist agenda, dismissed left-wing provincial governments in NWFP and Balochistan, arrested the left-leaning leaders and then slapped some with charges of treason. The left in Pakistan never recovered from this debacle.

Another malaise also crippled the left – its derivative nature resulted in uncritically following the dictates of direction taken by the two main communist centres of power – China and Russia.  In 1971, when it should have condemned the military action in East Pakistan it supported the massacre simply because China (for its own strategic interests) was supporting the Pakistan army. Wars have historically provided the best opportunity for leftist revolutions. Russia is a case in point. The West Pakistani left missed an opportunity again and instead of gaining advantage from the weakness of the state alienated the left in East Pakistan.

Whatever juice remained in the left movement was squeezed out by the draconian policies of the military dictator General Zia-ul-Haq, and the demoralisation that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union. Currently, Pakistan’s left is the weakest it has been since 1947.

Today, the only struggle that can be remotely called revolutionary is the nationalist struggle of the Baloch. No national organisation of the left in the country has the ability to mobilise the downtrodden classes.

To prevent Pakistan’s headlong fall into an abyss, changes are needed at the grassroots level through a revolutionary movement. This is the responsibility of the left in Pakistan. The left must muster up its resources, organise itself, do a fresh analysis of what needs to be done and get ready to pick up the pieces again and rebuild a better country.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Civil society to pull for sanitation together

WaterAid and Plan International Pakistan along with other civil society organisations from across Pakistan have joined hands to launch a year-long campaign calling for government to keep its promises to improve access to sanitation facilities. As in Pakistan, nearly 52 per cent of the population (94 million people) has no access to improved sanitation facilities and 23 per cent of the population (40 million) defecate in open, said a press release.

The Campaign “Keep Your Promises on Sanitation” aims to establish a broad-based civil society and citizens’ alliance to create a momentum to improve governance of the sanitation sector. The Campaign is being launched in parallel on 19th March 2013, in four countries of the region (Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Pakistan). In Pakistan, the Campaign was simultaneously launched in Islamabad, Quetta, Lahore, Karachi and Peshawar at respective press clubs.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Viewpoint: Pakistan civil society under threat

The space for NGOs and civil society workers appears to be shrinking as they receive threats, several have been killed and others forced to go into hiding. There appears to be less protection for NGO workers at a time they are badly needed as the state fails to carry out basic functions such as education and health care.

At the same time there is growing intolerance in society as the use of violence and weapons to address grievances rather than courts of law is on the increase.

At least 19 male and female officials working with a countrywide children's polio immunisation campaign have been killed by the Taliban and other Islamic radicals since last July. The worst incident took place in December when five health workers were shot dead by militants in different parts of the country.

Pakistan's Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon condemned the killings, with Mr Ban saying they were "cruel, senseless, and inexcusable". But nobody has been caught and the government appears paralysed - unable to prevent further killings.

In a worrying development this year, policemen escorting polio teams are now being deliberately targeted.

The vaccination drive remains partially suspended in two of Pakistan's four provinces - Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) - and despite the deployment of security forces, there is no indication when the vaccination drive can be completed.
Vicious campaign

Last October the young but prominent educationalist Malala Yousafzai was attacked in her school bus and had to be flown to England for a series of operations. Her attackers were self-proclaimed Pakistani Taliban. Malala, who is only 14, has become an international celebrity and has now been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, but it is still not safe for her to come home.

Asma Jahangir, the country's leading human rights lawyer and women's rights advocate, has been forced to respond to a campaign launched by right-wing politicians such as Imran Khan and religious leaders who have called her unsuitable to become the caretaker prime minister when parliament is dissolved.

In reality, no political party has nominated her for the job and it is only the speculative Pakistani media that has suggested her. She has several times refuted claims that she would ever be a candidate for such a job and yet she continues to be attacked by political parties.

On 6 February she delivered a blistering rebuttal to Imran Khan, describing his statement against her as "illogical but also vicious", saying that he seems to be acting on the cue of the "establishment" which is shorthand for the army.

His PTI party responded by "taking note" of her comments, reasserting their belief she is not suitable for the job and accusing her of bias against the party.

Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch (HRW) and its representative in Pakistan, Ali Dayan Hasan, have been accused by the army of maligning Pakistan in a recent report, which the army described as "a pack of lies, propaganda-driven and totally biased".

A statement by the media wing of the military said that HRW was trying to add fuel to "ongoing sectarian violence" in Pakistan.

The military has never before used such language. It was responding to HRW's World Report 2013, a 665-page annual tome which covers human rights in every country in the world and is compiled in New York.

The report said "the security and intelligence services" have "continued to allow extremist groups to attack religious minorities". It also said Pakistan's human rights worsened in 2012 and the military perpetrated "abuses with impunity in Balochistan".

In fact, such charges against the security forces have been made repeatedly over the years by the Supreme Court of Pakistan, local media groups and other local and international human rights groups such as Amnesty International and the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists. In March 2012, the Supreme Court issued a stern warning to military intelligence services not to overstep their writ, with Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudry saying: "Who gave you the right to hound people?"
Foreigners not immune

In 2012, more than 400 Shias, most of them belonging to the Hazara community of Balochistan, were killed in targeted attacks by Sunni militants. So far this year, more than 100 Shia Hazaras have been killed. No culprits have been arrested and the Hazaras are now fleeing Pakistan en masse as the government provides no relief.

Meanwhile some 800 schools have been closed down in KP province and the Federal Administered Tribal Areas because of attacks by militants, while hundreds of primary schools are shut in Balochistan because of violence. Teachers have fled these areas and NGOs dealing with health and education have reduced their operations because of security threats.

Farida Afridi, a prominent activist working with tribal women in KP province, was shot dead in July 2012. In January 2013 gunmen shot dead seven aid workers including six women working with "Support with Working Solutions", a local NGO in KP province. The culprits have not been found.

Foreign aid workers are not immune. A British Muslim doctor working for the International Committee for the Red Cross, Khalil Dale, was kidnapped and then killed in April 2012. More than 60 foreign aid workers left Pakistan in 2012, largely because of security concerns or the refusal of the authorities to renew their visas.

Suspicions against foreign NGOs have increased substantially after an unethical ruse by the US Central Intelligence Agency to try to kill Osama bin Laden, by using a fake NGO to try to obtain his blood sample.

In the next few months, general elections are expected to be held. But there is a grave political crisis with some parties wanting to delay the elections and the ruling party accusing unnamed dark forces of conspiring to do this. If elections are held, civil society groups are expected to be at the forefront of monitoring the polls, as they have done for past elections.

However, the lack of protection for NGOs, the inability or refusal of the state machinery to protect them and the growing intolerance of their neutral stance is dismaying many.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Civil society vows to protect democracy

Speakers at a people convention on Friday said that civil society had always resisted the undemocratic and unconstitutional forces and would do the same if any individual or institution tried to derail democracy.

The Centre for Human Rights Education (CHRE) and other civil society organisations held a convention titled ‘Current Political Scenario and 2013 Election’ at the HRCP Auditorium. Speaking on the occasion, Justice (r) Nasira Javed Iqbal said the people should not allow any person or institution to sabotage the electoral process because “democracy cannot flourish without a peaceful democratic process”. “We must show a ‘No’ sign to the undemocratic forces that have always tried to push Pakistan into darkness.”

HRCP Director IA Rehman said that in the past, the military establishment did not allow any democratic government to complete its term, which prevented the democratic system from flourishing and strengthening; therefore “it is a good sign for democracy that the current government is completing its constitutional term”.

Simorgh Director Neelam Hussain criticised the military establishment for its negative role in politics and asked the people of Pakistan to be very watchful in choosing their representatives in the future.

Strengthening Participatory Organisation (SPO) Regional Director Salman Abid expressed his satisfaction on the completion of the current government’s constitutional tenure and said that Pakistan’s better future was linked to the democratic system and its continuity. staff report

Monday, December 10, 2012

Geelani asks civil society to work for Kashmir cause

Chairman All Parties Hurriyat Conference (G) Syed Ali Shah Geelani has asked the civil society to work for the Kashmir cause and not leave everything to the leaders.

“We have capable people in Kashmir who can work to address various dimensions of Kashmir issue. But they leave everything to Geelani. They should not blame the leaders but work at their own level. Instead of raising finger at us they should understand that we are not even allowed to move outside the house for prayers,” Geelani said addressing a seminar titled ‘World Human Rights Day and Oppressed People of Kashmir’ at his residence here.

Geelani said despite sacrifices people are not safeguarding their contribution. “Sacrifice and voting cannot go together. Despite sacrifice, people are strengthening New Delhi’s rule here.”

Geelani said that Institute of Kashmir Studies was shut down ‘with the collaboration of so-called friends.’ “A center was running in which we tried to document Kashmir history, but certain elements contributed in shutting it down.”

However, Geelani said that people should not feel dejected and appealed them to maintain unity.
Reacting to the statement of National Conference General Secretary Sheikh Nazir that Sheikh Abdullah never signed 1975 Accord, Geelani said, “They think people are fool. More than 30 years have passed since the accord took place. Sheikh’s son and grandson continue to hold the chair. They continue to enter into alliance after alliance with Congress whom they used to call gandi naali kay keeday. They think people will forgive them for their sins. Chief Minister is brutal than his grandfather.”

Geelani also said that New Delhi has ‘sent a battery of Hindu officers to rule the state through bureaucracy and police.’ “Governor, DGP, 4 ADGPs, 6 IGPs, 5 DIGs, 4 Principal Secretaries, Chief Electoral Officer, 6 Commissioner Secretaries are Hindus,” Geelani said.

He termed Kashmir as an economic, political, human and religious issue. “Until we are not free from India, our religion and resources are under threat. If people will not raise voice against injustice, I warn you that future of Kashmir will be dark. I want to educate people about the injustice done to them, but government keeps me under house arrest.”

Geelani said his amalgam will fight for the release of Muslim League leader Dr Qasim Faktoo and other Kashmiri youth who were recently awarded life sentence. Geelani said he will consult lawyers to fight for their release and also launch a campaign for their release.

He said that 150 youth have been slapped with PSA this year and 850 youth are in different jails in J&K and outside. “Thirty three are convicts and five have been awarded death sentence and life imprisonment.”
Geelani demanded that FIR should be registered against 500 officers of police and paramilitary whom Coalition of Civil Society recently accused of human rights violations.

Asiya Andrabi also spoke on the occasion. “Judiciary has been no different to Kashmiris. My husband’s sentence is a political vendetta. We should move beyond calling one-day protests and conferences,” she said.

Asiya called on the people and leadership to capitalize on the sacrifice rendered by his husband and others. “However, we should not forget the families of sufferers.”

She also asked the government of Pakistan to take up the issue of Kashmir youth who have been sentenced to life imprisonment.

Prof. Hameeda Nayeem asked the leadership to move beyond sloganeering and present a rational case of Kashmir issue. “It is not only killings and torture; our every right has been vandalized. We have miserly failed to present Kashmir issue beyond a territorial dispute between India and Pakistan.”

She also castigated Hurriyat (M) for their scheduled Pakistan visit. “Pakistan has always supported us. They have never been against the third option, what will they present to Pakistan,” Hameeda said.
Dr Sheikh Showkat Hussain said Kashmiris have failed to document human rights violations. “We failed to argue our case in various international organizations,” he said.

Other who spoke on the occasion included Ghulam Nabi Sumji, Zamrooda Habib, Abdul Majid Zargar, Muhammad Shafi, Abdul Ahad Para, Arjimand Hussain Talib and Peer Saifullah.