View from the courtroom: UN working group set to review country’s progress on human rights

The United Nations Human Rights Council’s Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) is set to consider on Monday (today) the National Report of Pakistan sharing progress made in the field of human rights from 2012 to 2017. This is the third UPR Report of Pakistan to be considered by the Working Group. The earlier two reports were reviewed in May 2008 and Oct 2012, respectively.

While through this report the Government of Pakistan has tried to portray the overall human rights situation in the country, it has failed to address some of the recommendations of the previous review about which it had extended its support on some of the issues especially that of “Enforced and involuntary disappearances,” impunity to perpetrators of violence against human rights defenders and mediapersons, domestic violence, child marriages, rights of religious minorities, bonded labour, etc.

The advance questions put forward by different member states of the Working Group also focuses on different issues specially the issue of “Enforced disappearances”, death penalty, customary practices, including honour killing, misuse of blasphemy law, right to free and compulsory primary education, prevention of torture, etc.

In the previous UPR Report, there were several recommendations by the members related to “enforced disappearances”. Recommendation No 20 states: “Specifically criminalize enforced disappearances in the penal code and reinforce the capacities of the Pakistan Inquiry Commission on Enforced Disappearances in order that the commission can fully carry out its mission.”

Recommendation No 111 provided: “Reinforce its efforts to fight impunity regarding cases of enforced disappearance by bringing all responsible persons to justice.” The recommendation No 114 provided: “Take effective measures against enforced disappearances by strengthening the Commission of Inquiry and expanding their mandate to all security agencies. Vest the National Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances (COIED) greater authority and resources to conduct investigation.”

The Government of Pakistan had submitted its response to the recommendations made in the UPR Report 2012 in March 2013, and had spelled out its commitment to most of those recommendations, and also expressed its inability to support some of the recommendations.

While the government had extended support to the recommendations related to “enforced disappearances” it had also stated that the government had been implementing another relevant recommendation which states: “Ensure investigation and prosecution of those responsible for abduction and enforced disappearances and encourage the Supreme Court to continue investigation on this problem.”

While the superior courts and COIED continue to hear cases of “missing persons”, the government has yet to incorporate provisions in Pakistan Penal Code related to this phenomenon. There are provisions in the law related to wrongful confinement, but no specific provision has been incorporated to deal with “enforced disappearances.” Similarly, as far as prosecution of elements involved in such offences is concerned, it has still been a far cry.

Over this issue, in its National Report the government has mostly mentioned the performance of COIED as the steps it has taken to implement the said recommendations. “In order to take effective measures to deal with the issue of enforced disappearances, in April 2010, the federal government set up the COIED. The Commission also has powers to order production of a person in respect of whom it is suspected by the Commission to be held in illegal detention of some Law Enforcement/Intelligence Agency,“ the report states.

The report provides that the Commission has been able to dispose of 2,416 cases from March 2011 to November30, 2016, of which 1,798 persons have been traced as either returned home or confined in jails/Internment/Rehabilitation Centres on criminal/terrorism charges and the remaining 618 cases were closed either due to non-prosecution or after thorough investigation found these not being cases of enforced disappearances.

Recommendation No 21 states: “Enact a provincial legislation on domestic violence as well as an increased number of support structures for women on the provincial level.”

While the other three provinces have enacted law dealing with domestic violence, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has yet to enact the relevant law. For the last many years different bodies, including KP Provincial Commission on Status of Women, have been working on draft of a Bill, but so far it could not be tabled in the provincial assembly.

Another recommendation relates to forced and child marriages, which states: “Take effective measures to prevent forced or early marriage, in particular with a view to ending rape, sexual exploitation and forced conversions of scheduled caste girls.”

While the colonial-era Child Marriages Restraint Act, 1929, remained in vogue in the country, controversy continues to persists regarding several of its provisions especially about what should be minimum permissible age for a female child to marry. The existing law mentions the prohibitory age as 16 years for a female child and 18 years for a male child.

About the rights of journalists, Recommendation No 118 provides: “Bring to justice perpetrators of attacks on journalists by effectively investigating all individuals and organizations accused of such abuses.” Similarly, Recommendation No 119 states: “Introduce strong legislation prohibiting attacks against journalists to effectively investigate such acts and prosecute the perpetrators.

Despite the commitment made by the government, cases of violence against mediapersons continued during last couple of years. Recently, a journalist Ahmad Noorani was attacked by unidentified persons and was severely tortured. Similarly, three journalists named Shahnawaz Khan Tarkzai from Mohmand Agency, Islam Gul Afridi from Khyber Agency and a freelancer Junaid Ibrahim, were picked up separately by unidentified persons in October. The former two were set free after an overnight captivity, whereas the third one was set free after three days.

The situation of human rights defenders also remained gloomy during last five years. One of the prominent cases was that of a female freelance journalist and human rights defender, Ms Zeenat Shehzadi, who was pursing case of an Indian national Hamid Nehal Ansari. She was kidnapped in Lahore in Aug 2015 and was set free by her captives after over two years of captivity in Oct 2017. So far no details are available as to who had kidnapped her and where she had been kept.

Advocate Malik Jarar, an office-bearer of Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, was killed in Feb 2013. Lawyer and member of HRCP, Rashid Rehman was killed in May 2014 in Multan. He was receiving threats as he was defending an accused in a blasphemy case.

Murder or suicide: mystery shrouds death of teenage girl

CHAKWAL: Mystery shrouded the death of a 17-year-old girl who was ‘found’ hanging with the ceiling fan at her home in the Dhoke Dabri village in the area of the Neelah police.

Sources told at Sunday that the family members of the deceased told the police that the girl had committed suicide on Friday evening.

“The family members were not ready for a postmortem. They exercised their utmost influence on the police to bury the body without any autopsy but the police did not accept their unjust demand,” said a police official on the request of anonymity.

The postmortem report obtained by Media stated that there was a “lacerated wound about 5x2cm (like slant mark) on left scapular area and a 1x1cm burn mark like of a cigarette on the left buttock.”

It adds that a half circled ligature mark of about 8cm was also found on front of the neck while the hyoid bone was fractured.

A senior doctor at the District Headquarters Hospital, who had seen the autopsy, expressed doubts on the death of the girl.

“Through the findings of the report I can say the girl was murdered,” the doctor added.

A senior official of the district health department confirmed that the deceased was subjected to external assault.

“The father of the deceased told us that he and his wife were not present at home and the girl was alone. When the mother returned she found the gate of the house locked.”

The official said when the mother got the gate opened she found her daughter hanging with the ceiling fan.

When contacted, SHO Neelah police station Faisal Manzoor said there was a marriage dispute as the deceased was not ready to marry the boy chosen by her parents.

“According to our preliminary investigations due to the girl’s refusal her father beat her in the morning and left for the police station to get his documents verified,” the SHO said.

When asked about the nature of the documents, the SHO said the father of the deceased was an employee of a security company and needed the verification of his documents by the police.

“He was on his way to the police station when he was informed by his wife about the death of the girl,” the SHO said.

“The actual cause of death would be established only when the chemical examination report is issued,” the SHO added.

Trump hails ‘great relationship’ with self-proclaimed killer Duterte

Donald Trump declared on Monday he had a “great relationship” with Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, a self-proclaimed killer who is waging a drugs war that rights groups say involves mass murder, as the leaders joked with each other in Manila.

The US president is in the Philippines with leaders of 18 other nations for two days of summits, the final leg of a headline-grabbing Asian tour dominated by the North Korean nuclear crisis.

Allegations of Russian meddling in last year’s US presidential elections have dogged the second half of his 12-day trip, which has taken him from Japan to South Korea, China and Vietnam.

Rights groups had called on Trump to end his Asian journey with a strong statement against Duterte’s drugs war, which has seen police and suspected vigilantes kill thousands of people.

But Trump and Duterte had a series of encounters on Sunday night and Monday morning in which they appeared to enjoy each others’ company, leading to warm praise from the US president during official talks at lunchtime.

“We’ve had a great relationship. This has been very successful,” Trump told Duterte in brief opening remarks at their meeting.

Trump praised Duterte for his organisation of the summits, saying he handled them “beautifully”.

“I’ve really enjoyed being here,” he said.

As the reporters were being escorted out of the room, one asked if Trump would raise the issue of human rights, to which Duterte jokingly called the media “spies”, and neither answered.

Duterte’s spokesman later said the meeting lasted for more than 40 minutes, and that Trump did not raise any human rights concerns.

Duterte won elections last year after promising to eradicate illegal drugs with an unprecedented campaign that would see up to 100,000 people killed.

Since he took office, police have reported killing 3,967 people in the crackdown.

Another 2,290 people have been murdered in drug-related crimes, while thousands of other deaths remain unsolved, according to government data.

Hundreds of demonstrators gathered in Manila on Monday to protest against the two men. They were met by riot police and water cannon.

‘I already killed someone’

Many Filipinos back Duterte, believing he is taking necessary measures to fight crime, but rights groups warn he may be orchestrating a crime against humanity.

Amnesty International accuses police of shooting dead defenceless people and paying assassins to murder addicts.

When pressured over allegations of extra-judicial killings carried out by police, Duterte insists he has never told them to break the law.

But rights groups say police are following Duterte’s incitements to kill, including comments made last year when he said he would be “happy to slaughter” three million addicts.

He has also repeatedly boasted about killing people himself, most recently last week while in Vietnam for the Asia-Pacific economic summit.

“At the age of 16, I already killed someone. A real person, a rumble, a stabbing. I was just 16 years old. It was just over a look,” Duterte said.

Former US president Barack Obama was one of many prominent critics of Duterte’s handling of the drugs war.

Relations between the Philippines and the United States, longtime allies bound by a mutual defence treaty, deteriorated sharply as Duterte turned towards China and Russia.

Duterte last year declared the Philippines’ “separation” from the United States.

But Trump told Duterte in a telephone call in April that he was doing a “great job”, which helped to begin a diplomatic thaw.

“We are your ally. We are an important ally,” Duterte said on Monday, appearing to confirm relations were back on track, although he has also continued to court China and Russia.

Champagne, love song

Duterte and Trump sat next to each other at a pre-summit banquet on Sunday, during which they smiled, chatted and clinked champagne glasses.

Duterte, 72, also sang a Filipino love song, saying light-heartedly that he did so on the orders of the US president.

Duterte is hosting the world leaders because the Philippines holds the rotating chair of the 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) bloc.

The events on Monday and Tuesday in Manila are two separate ASEAN-hosted summits, which also include China, Japan, Russia, South Korea, India, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

The rising threat of the Islamic State group across Southeast Asia, and further efforts to pressure North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un to abandon his nuclear ambitions, were top agenda items in Manila.

“Terrorism and violent extremism endanger the peace, stability and security of our region because these threats know no boundaries,” Duterte said in an opening ceremony speech on Monday.

Orbital ATK launches eighth cargo mission to ISS

WASHINGTON: An unmanned cargo ship packed with 7,400 pounds (3,350 kilograms) of food and supplies for the astronauts living at the International Space Station blasted off Sunday from Wallops Island, Virginia.

Orbital ATK’s barrel-shaped Cygnus cargo ship launched atop an Antares rocket at 7:19am, a day after a last-second delay due to an unexpected aircraft in the area.

“Five, four, three, two, one and we have ignition,” said Orbital ATK’s mission control operator, as the rocket’s engines lit up the chilly, gray morning and cheers erupted from spectators near the launch site. The spacecraft reached orbit about nine minutes later.

Nasa commentator Rob Navias described the launch as “flawless.” The mission is the eighth for Orbital ATK, which has a $1.9 billion contract with Nasa to resupply the orbiting outpost.

SpaceX also has a $1.6 billion contract with Nasa, sending its Dragon cargo ship to regularly re-stock the space lab.

Among the experiments on board is a satellite that will test how bacteria grows in microgravity, and determine the minimum amount of antibiotic needed to stop its growth.

Knowing how bugs will act during long-duration missions will help the US space agency, which hopes to send people to deep space in the coming decades, with a human mission to Mars sometime in the 2030s. Cygnus is scheduled to arrive at the orbiting outpost on Tuesday.

Chinese firm all but stops work on power transmission line

LAHORE: A leading Chinese company has drastically slowed down work on the $2 billion 660kV high-voltage direct current (HVDC) transmission line from Lahore to Matiari due to various problems, including differences with the government over size of a revolving fund.

For its part, the government has decided not to enter into an agreement over another HVDC transmission line of 660kV (between Port Qasim and Faisalabad) with the company till the completion of the first line (between Lahore and Matiari), according to sources.

The 878km Lahore-Matiari transmission line is part of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and is the country’s first project based on direct current (DC). The line will have capacity of transmitting about 4,000MW of electricity.

The Port Qasim-Faisalabad transmission line is also part of the CPEC and has features similar to that of the first line.

Size of revolving fund, delay in building of power plants cited as main reasons

According to official sources, the sites where the Chinese company has either slowed down work drastically or stopped it altogether are near Balloki, Bhaipheru (about 50km from Lahore), and near Matiari (near Hyderabad).

Each site comprises 175 acres and is meant to be used for building two converter stations, for converting alternating current (AC) to DC and DC to AC. The government handed over the large pieces of land to the company in January this year.

The company started construction work there after getting a letter of interest from the government in February.

“The [Chinese] company has slowed down its work on these two major sites due to three major issues that are yet to be resolved. One issue is related to establishment of a revolving fund and the other to operation and maintenance of the project,” said an official of power division in the energy ministry.

The revolving fund, according to the official, is required to be set up for making payments to the Chinese company in case its bills are delayed. But the contentious issue is the amount of money to be allocated to the fund.

The Chinese want the government to quickly set up the fund, but the authorities want to deliberate on the issue well before taking a final decision on the matter.

“The second major issue relates to the operation and maintenance of the project. The Chinese want the government [National Transmission and Despatch Company or NTDC] to purchase spare parts from China on its own and supply it for the operation and maintenance of the project. But the government wants the Chinese to perform this job so that the company could be held responsible for related problems, if any,” the official explained.

The third issue is the delay in setting up of power plants, as four coal-fired power plants in Thar, which were earlier scheduled to be commissioned in May 2020, are now expected to be operational by November 2020.

“Actually this transmission line is supposed to evacuate power from these plants… The government thinks that if the transmission line is ready in May [of 2020] and the plants are not, it will have to pay over 90 paisa per unit in wheeling tariff, which will run into billions for a period of six months [from May to November 2020],” said the official.

“And there are chances of further delays in the commissioning of the power plants. That is why the official date for the start of the project, which has to be completed within a period of 27 months, is yet to be announced by the government.”

The official said that in view of the above problems the Chinese company had slowed down work on the two sites. It had even sent some of the engineers back to China and accelerated its efforts to get the pending issues resolved.

“It also continues to request the government to sign papers about the second [Port Qasim-Faisalabad] line at the earliest. But the government looks to be in no mood to sign them at the moment, as it urges the Chinese officials to wait for a final decision based on the future load after completion of the first line,” the official maintained.

Despite repeated attempts, the managing director of the NTDC could not be contacted for comments.