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Watchdog Group in Pakistan Expresses Concern About State of Human Rights in Country

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

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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.

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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.

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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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Microsoft Rejects California Law Enforcement Agency’s Request To Install Facial Recognition in Officers’ Cars

On the other hand, Microsoft did agree to provide the technology to an American prison, after the company concluded that the environment would be limited and that it would improve safety inside the unnamed institution.

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Brad Smith of Microsoft takes part in a panel discussion "Cyber, big data and new technologies. Current Internet Governance Challenges: What's Next?" at the United Nations in Geneva, Nov. 9, 2017. VOA

Microsoft recently rejected a California law enforcement agency’s request to install facial recognition technology in officers’ cars and body cameras because of human rights concerns, company President Brad Smith said Tuesday.

Microsoft concluded it would lead to innocent women and minorities being disproportionately held for questioning because the artificial intelligence has been trained on mostly white, male pictures.

AI has more cases of mistaken identity with women and minorities, multiple research projects have found.

“Anytime they pulled anyone over, they wanted to run a face scan” against a database of suspects, Smith said without naming the agency. After thinking through the uneven impact, “we said this technology is not your answer.”

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Microsoft said in December it would be open about shortcomings in its facial recognition and asked customers to be transparent about how they intended to use it, while stopping short of ruling out sales to police. Pixabay

Prison contract accepted

Speaking at a Stanford University conference on “human-centered artificial intelligence,” Smith said Microsoft had also declined a deal to install facial recognition on cameras blanketing the capital city of an unnamed country that the nonprofit Freedom House had deemed not free. Smith said it would have suppressed freedom of assembly there.

On the other hand, Microsoft did agree to provide the technology to an American prison, after the company concluded that the environment would be limited and that it would improve safety inside the unnamed institution.

Smith explained the decisions as part of a commitment to human rights that he said was increasingly critical as rapid technological advances empower governments to conduct blanket surveillance, deploy autonomous weapons and take other steps that might prove impossible to reverse.

‘Race to the bottom’

Microsoft said in December it would be open about shortcomings in its facial recognition and asked customers to be transparent about how they intended to use it, while stopping short of ruling out sales to police.

Smith has called for greater regulation of facial recognition and other uses of artificial intelligence, and he warned Tuesday that without that, companies amassing the most data might win the race to develop the best AI in a “race to the bottom.”

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AI has more cases of mistaken identity with women and minorities, multiple research projects have found. Pixabay

He shared the stage with the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, who urged tech companies to refrain from building new tools without weighing their impact.

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“Please embody the human rights approach when you are developing technology,” said Bachelet, a former president of Chile.

Microsoft spokesman Frank Shaw declined to name the prospective customers the company turned down. (VOA)