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Pakistani human rights activist Nasreen Azhar, second left, addresses the audience at a launching ceremony for the report, 'State of Human Rights in 2018,' in Islamabad, April 15, 2019. VOA

An independent monitoring group in Pakistan has expressed concern about the state of human rights in the country and called for the immediate redressal of the issues highlighted in its annual report, released Monday.

The report from the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, or HRCP, said freedom of expression was violated to an “unprecedented level” under the “opaque shroud of ‘national security concerns.’” The report, State of Human Rights in 2018, also said journalists faced harassment from state institutions and took to self-censorship to avoid intimidation. Coverage of certain events faced a media blackout, it said.

The HRCP itself faced the consequences of highlighting the state of human rights when authorities raided the home of the editor of the 2017 report. “She was held for over an hour, threatened with physical violence, questioned, and robbed for good measure,” the authors pointed out.

The 2018 review also highlighted other issues, like the tenuous state of minority rights, child rights, labor rights, and the general lack of quick and effective administration of justice, among others. Separately, the report said elections last year were marred by alleged vote-rigging. There was no immediate government response to the findings.

Modern day slavery

Pakistan is ranked eighth on the 2018 Global Slavery Index, with an estimated 3 million people living in modern day slavery or “bonded labor.” Around 12 million children are estimated to be working as child laborers and close to 23 million children do not attend school. In addition, only 4 percent of the country’s children receive a “minimally acceptable diet” according to the United Nations, saying the issue leads to stunted growth.

Pakistan children sort through garbage for recycleable items to sell, at a dump in Karachi, April 4, 2019. VOA

The instances of child sex abuse also rose sharply last year, with a 75 percent rise in reported sexual abuse in children under the age of 5, according to the HRCP.

Gender equality

Separately, Pakistan was named the second worst in terms of gender equality in the Global Gender Gap Index 2018. Despite the passage of several laws to protect women, violence against them persisted.

Pakistan spends less than 1 percent of its GDP on the health sector, leading to an increased dependency on the private sector to fill the gap and a rising cost of health care. The HRCP report also cited a backlog of almost 2 million cases pending in various courts of Pakistan by the end of 2018, overwhelming the system and pointing to the need to urgently reform the judicial system.

Rights to freedom

The rights to freedom of assembly, association, or political participation were violated by various state institutions through detention of activists, restrictions or banning of international non-governmental organizations, and “excessive and arbitrary use of Exit Control List,” that bans a person from traveling outside the country, according to the report.

Minorities continued to suffer violence and cases of abductions and forced conversions to Islam, HRCP said.

Journalists and social activists chant slogans during a rally protest which they say is against layoffs and the non-payment of salaries, in Karachi, Pakistan Feb. 8, 2019. VOA

The rights organization also criticized a court ruling that demanded that all people applying to government jobs declare their faith on their applications, as well as a government decision to withdraw the name of an economist, Atif Mian, from an economic advisory council after Islamist religious groups criticized his Ahmadiyya faith.

Rights of disabled people and a concern for the environment also remained paramount, the report said. Pakistan is among the top 10 countries impacted by global warming and parts of the country are experiencing drought-like conditions.

HRCP also noted that Pakistan continued to ignore requests for country visits from U.N. Special Rapporteurs to monitor the condition of human rights in the country.

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Although the general state of human rights remained grim, HRCP said there were some positive developments. A new law allowed transgender persons to define their own sexual identity, more women participated as candidates in last year’s general elections than ever before, and for the first time, a transgender candidate contested the elections. In the Sindh province, a record number of labor-related measures included the first ever law to protect domestic workers. Pakistan also pledged to the Human Rights Council that it was going to uphold the rights of all its citizens. (VOA)



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