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Human Rights and the Pakistani State and Society: An Analysis

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Tariq Mahmood Awan

Human rights are fundamental rights and freedoms inherent to all people, regardless of nationality, ethnicity, religion, gender, or any other status. These rights are rooted in human dignity and essential for a life free from fear and want. Human rights have evolved over centuries, with early notions emerging from philosophies emphasizing individual liberty and equality. Magna Carta (1215) and the English Bill of Rights (1689) are key milestones, limiting government power and protecting certain individual rights. The horrific events of World War II spurred the creation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) in 1948. This landmark document outlines a broad set of universal rights, including civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights. It has become the foundation for numerous human rights treaties and national laws. The fight for human rights continues today as individuals and organizations strive to ensure equal protection and dignity.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) stands as a pivotal document in the history of human rights, a testament to the collective efforts of representatives from diverse legal and cultural backgrounds worldwide. Adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948, the UDHR delineates the fundamental human rights that should be universally upheld. Its impact transcends borders, with translations in over 500 languages and serving as a beacon for numerous other human rights treaties.

The UDHR’s preamble stresses the importance of human dignity and equal rights for everyone. It states that these rights are the foundation for freedom, justice, and peace in the world. The UDHR was created in response to the terrible things that have happened throughout history because people have not respected human rights. It is meant to be a standard that all countries can try to live up to.

The first article of the UDHR asserts the inherent freedom and equality of all individuals. It affirms the right to independent thought and the expectation of respectful treatment, underscoring the personal relevance of these rights to everyone.

Articles 2 through 11 of the UDHR discuss specific rights everyone should have. These rights include the right to life, liberty, and security of person. No one should be enslaved or tortured. Everyone has the right to be recognized as a person before the law. Everyone is equal before the law and should be treated fairly in court. No one should be arrested, detained, or exiled arbitrarily. Everyone has the right to a fair and public trial.

Articles 12 through 17 of the UDHR discuss people’s privacy and other essential rights. Everyone has the right to privacy and to a safe place to live. People can move around freely within their own country and leave their country if they want. People can seek asylum in another country if they are being persecuted. Everyone has the right to nationality and cannot be arbitrarily deprived of it. Men and women have the right to marry and have families. Everyone has the right to own property.

Articles 18 through 21 of the UDHR discuss freedom of thought, expression, and assembly. Everyone has the right to think, believe what they want, and practice their religion. Everyone has the right to express their opinions and to get information from anywhere. Everyone has the right to peaceful assembly and association. No one can be forced to join a group. Everyone has the right to take part in the government of their country.

Articles 22 through 27 of the UDHR talk about social and economic rights. Everyone has the right to social security and a good standard of living. Everyone has the right to work, fair pay, and form unions. Everyone has the right to rest and leisure. Everyone has the right to education and to participate in cultural life.

Articles 28 through 30 of the UDHR elucidate the responsibilities that accompany human rights. They underscore the duty we all have to our communities and to respect the rights of others. This understanding empowers us to ensure that the UDHR is not misused as a tool to infringe upon the rights of others but rather as a guide to foster a more just and equitable society.

There is a need to write more on human rights in Pakistan. Pakistan may have legislative, executive, or judicial protections for human rights. However, creating awareness is the foundation of implementing human rights. I have worked in the Human Rights Department of Punjab for three years and have come to know that it is the government against whom most of the people have grievances about violating human rights. Apart from governmental violations, there are severe social and cultural violations. Therefore, there is a dire need to work on both levels: state and society. I begin my argument with a Quranic verse.

‘Mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of male and female and made you into nations and tribes where you may know each other. Verily, the best honored of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you (Al-Hujrat: 13).

The creative foundation of Humankind is dignity, equality, and parity. Therefore, human rights are a fundamental obligation. A human right is a right that belongs to every person simply for being human, regardless of any other status. Human rights are essential for many reasons, such as human rights ensure that needs are met, such as food, water, shelter, health, and education. They protect vulnerable groups from abuse, such as minorities, women, children, and people with disabilities. They also allow people to stand up to societal corruption and injustice and to express their opinions freely. Human rights encourage freedom of religion, belief, culture, and respect for diversity. Finally, they allow people to love who they choose and to form meaningful relationships.

Human rights are critical for human dignity, culture, and values because they recognize the inherent worth and potential of every human being. They also promote the development of a just and peaceful society that respects human diversity and pluralism. Human rights are based on universal principles that reflect the common values of humanity, such as equality, justice, freedom, and solidarity.

Likewise, Article 1 of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights (UDHR) by the United Nations declares that all humans are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood. Harmoniously, Articles 14, 25, and 15 to 20 of the Constitution of Pakistan protect the dignity, equality, and liberty of the citizens. Hence, all human rights codes depict absolute universality regarding instincts and natural rights. Then, there is a substantive convergence on the cultural, religious, economic, and political rights, but still, a meaningful procedural divergence exists connecting cultural, political, and economic interests among states.

Constitutionally, Pakistan is a federal parliamentary democracy. Human rights are protected as fundamental rights in the Constitution of Pakistan. Article 8 of the Constitution provides that any law repugnant to fundamental rights is void. Hence, this protection proves the significance of human rights for the state and society. Article 9 protects the security of a person—and article 10 guarantees safeguards to arrest and detention. Article 10A protects the right to fair trial and due process. Article 11 prohibits slavery and forced labor. Article 12 protects against retrospective punishment. Article 13 protects against double punishment and self-incrimination. Article 14 provides human dignity and prohibits torture to extract evidence.

Article 15 provides freedom of movement. Article 16 includes freedom of assembly. Article 17 provides freedom of association. Article 18 guarantees freedom of trade, business, or profession. Article 19 has freedom of speech, and 19A delivers the right to information. Article 20 ensures freedom to profess religion and to manage religious institutions. Article 21 provides safeguards against taxation for any particular religion. Article 22 provides safeguards to educational institutions in respect of religion. Article 23 provides the right to acquire, hold, and dispose of property in any part of Pakistan. Article 24 bestows protection of property rights. Article 25A enforces that all citizens to be equal before the law. Article 25 provides the right to education. Article 26 ensures that there shall be no discrimination regarding access to public places. Article 27 protects against discrimination in services. Article 28 allows people to preserve language, script, and culture.

Besides, Chapter II of the Constitution enunciates principles of policy. These principles are the collective rights of the society. Article 31 explains that the Islamic way of life shall be promoted. Article 32 provides for the promotion of local government institutions. Article 33 provides for the discouragement of parochial and other similar prejudices. Article 34 ensures the full participation of women in national life. Article 35 protects marriage and family life. Article 36 provides safeguards and protection for minorities. Article 37 categorically affords the promotion of social justice and eradicating social evils. Article 38 enforces the advancement of the social and economic well-being of the people. Article 39 offers the participation of people in the Armed Forces. Article 40 strengthens bonds with the Muslim world and promotes international peace. Hence, fundamental rights and principles of policy are the anthology of human rights.

The knowledge gap is the fundamental cause of deteriorating human rights in Pakistan. Awareness of the contents and motivation of human rights is instrumental for better implementation of human rights. The best way to fill the knowledge gap is to incorporate the canons of fundamental rights in the nation’s educational syllabus, followed by other awareness campaigns. Societal, cultural, political, and religious awareness is vital to undo the lock of despondency. Individuals, institutions, and organizations should play a pivotal role in disseminating human rights.

The Constitution provides the judicial remedy to citizens to enforce Human Rights. Article 184 (3) empowers the Supreme Court to enforce public rights on matters of public interest. Article 199 of the Constitution empowers the High Courts to execute writs against government functionaries to enforce fundamental rights. Application of section 491 of the Criminal Procedure Code 1898 provides that a person within the limits of its appellate criminal jurisdiction be brought up before the court to be dealt with according to law. Then, a remedy is available under section 220 of the Pakistan Penal Code alongside several legislative protections. Judicial enforcement of human rights has been long-winded worldwide. Hence, judicial enforcement is instrumental, and improved standards in civil and criminal justice systems will improve implementation. Overhauling judicial practices shall explicitly enhance improvement in implementing Human Rights in Pakistan.

Administrative remedy to human rights is the way forward. The mode is competent, prompt, and unswervingly linked to the foundation of implementation. Pakistan is confronting a capacity crisis, which is choking the governance and service delivery. Pakistan guarantees potent constitutional and legislative support to the cause of human rights, but administrative bottlenecks are making us lag far behind in implementation. Human rights are devolved as a provincial subject, and provinces require functional Human Rights departments.

Besides, implementation is only possible by raising a functional Human Rights Service HRS and devolving the function to the districts by erecting district setups. Federal intervention in provincial implementation is unconstitutional. Functional Human Rights Departments and Human Rights Services are instrumental in the cause of implementation.

Public organizations’ coded rules and laws should be revamped to achieve administrative capacity and functionality. Public and private partnerships are key to implementation. According to Article 139, almost all federal and provincial organizations have inserted human rights in their organizational rules of business. If only these rules of business are administratively implemented by the departments, implementation will improve significantly.

Then, human rights in Pakistan face many challenges, such as violence, discrimination, corruption, and extremism. According to Human Rights Watch, the government has failed to protect the rights of women, minorities, journalists, political workers, and civil society activists. Therefore, it is critical to create awareness for implementing human rights in Pakistan both at governmental and social levels. The following steps may work for implementing human rights in Pakistan.

Establishing a solid foundation for human rights in Pakistan requires a multi-pronged approach. Firstly, robust legislation is essential. Pakistan must review and update existing laws to align with international human rights standards. This includes strengthening laws that protect vulnerable groups like minorities and women and outlawing practices like torture and enforced disappearances. Secondly, effective implementation is crucial. Law enforcement agencies need thorough training on human rights principles and proper investigative techniques.

Furthermore, an independent and well-resourced judiciary will ensure fair trials and hold rights violators accountable. Thirdly, improving judicial performance is vital. Judicial training on human rights law and sensitivity towards vulnerable groups can lead to more informed and just decisions. Additionally, streamlining court procedures and tackling corruption can expedite justice delivery. Finally, fostering social and cultural awareness is fundamental. Educational curriculums should integrate human rights principles, and public awareness campaigns can educate citizens about their rights and empower them to claim them. By promoting tolerance and respect for diversity, social attitudes can shift towards a culture that upholds human rights for all. Combining strong legislation, practical implementation, improved judicial performance, and social awareness, this comprehensive approach can pave the way for a Pakistan where human rights are not just enshrined in law but actively practiced and protected. Lastly, neither the state nor society protects fundamental rights unless citizens strive for them.

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