Maybe we’re all born knowing we have rights – we just need to be reminded” — Romanian HRE trainer
Human Rights can be defined as those basic standards without which people cannot live in dignity as human beings. Human rights are the foundation of freedom, justice and peace. Their respect allows the individual and the community to fully develop. They are “rights and freedoms to which all humans are entitled”. Human rights are certain moral guarantees that people in all countries and cultures allegedly have simply because they are people. Calling these guarantees “rights” suggests that they attach to particular individuals who can invoke them, that they are of high priority, and that compliance with them is mandatory rather than discretionary.
You are a human being. You have rights inherent in that reality. You have dignity and worth that exist prior to law.
— Lyn Beth Neylon
Human rights are frequently held to be universal in the sense that all people have and should enjoy them, and to be independent in the sense that they exist and are available as standards of justification and criticism whether or not they are recognized and implemented by the legal system or officials of a country.
An alternative explanation was provided by the philosopher Kant. He said that human beings have an intrinsic value absent in inanimate objects. To violate a human right would therefore be a failure to recognize the worth of human life.
A right is not what someone gives you; it’s what no one can take from you.
— Ramsey Clark
The situation of human rights in Pakistan is complex as a result of the country’s diversity, large population, its status as a developing country and a sovereign, Islamic republic as well as an Islamic democracy with a mixture of both Islamic and colonial secular laws. The Constitution of Pakistan provides for fundamental rights, which include freedom of speech, freedom of thought, freedom of information, freedom of religion, freedom of association, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly and the right to bear arms. These clauses are generally respected in practice. Clauses also provide for an independent Supreme Court, separation of executive and judiciary, an independent judiciary, independent Human Rights commission and freedom of movement within the country and abroad.
The founder of Pakistan Muhammad Ali Jinnah wanted Pakistan to be a moderate secular state blended with some Islamic values and principles. Nevertheless, Pakistan’s status as an Islamic Republic should not be confused or compared with other Islamic Republics in the region, such as the Islamic Republic of Iran. Unlike Iran, Pakistan is not a theocracy, but rather an Islamic democracy. Elections in Pakistan regularly take place on time and are mostly free and fair. Most of Pakistan’s laws are secular in nature, most of which were inherited from the United Kingdom’s colonial rule of modern-day Pakistan before 1947. In recent times, there has been increasing pressure on Pakistan to amend or replace some of its outdated laws made during the time of the British Empire.
Although the government has enacted measures to counter any problems, abuses remain. Furthermore, courts suffer from lack of funds, outside intervention, and deep case backlogs that lead to long trial delays and lengthy pretrial detentions. Many observers inside and outside Pakistan contend that Pakistan’s legal code is largely concerned with crime, national security, and domestic tranquility and less with the protection of individual rights.
In May 2012, President Asif Ali Zardari signed the National Commission for Human Rights Bill 2012 for the promotion and protection of human rights in the country.
Violence in Pakistan and the Taliban conflict with the government have heightened humanitarian problems in Pakistan. Political and military interests have been prioritised over humanitarian considerations in their offensives against the Taliban, and issues likely to get worse as people are encouraged back home prematurely and face once again being victims of the insurgents. Displacement is a key problem and humanitarian organisations are failing to address the basic needs of people outside displacement camps, nor are they able to address issues such as the conduct of hostilities and the politicisation of the emergency response. Researchers at the Overseas Development Institute argue that aid agencies face dilemmas with engaging with the government, as this does not always produce the desired results and can conflict with their aim of promoting stability and maintaining a principled approach. A principled approach limits their ability to operate when the government emphasises political and security considerations. Many donors see the conflict as an opportunity for more comprehensive engagement in an effort to promote stability in the region, to promote a legitimate government and curtail transnational threats. The ‘Friends of Pakistan’ group, which includes the US, the UK and the UN, is key in the international community’s drive to promote stability. The US has adopted a joint ‘Af-Pak’ (Afghanistan and Pakistan) strategy in order to suppress the insurgency and defend its national security interests. This strategy seeks engagement with the government and the military intelligence communities, develop civilian and democratic governance, for instance through the provision of services and support in ‘cleared areas’ in FATA and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, and increasing assistance including direct budget support, development aid and support with counter-insurgency work. The UK equally sees an opportunity to counter instability and militancy through a combined military and ‘hearts and minds’ approach, through judicial, governance and security sector reform. The UNDP/WFP takes a similar line.
Yet the success of this approach is by no means clear, as both the government and society at large are not welcoming of foreign interference. USAID takes into account political as well as humanitarian dimensions in its decision making process.Many civilians see little distinction between aid agencies, the military operations and “western interests”; ‘you bomb our villages and then build hospitals’.Many humanitarian organisations thus avoid being too visible and do not mark their aid with their logos.Friends of Pakistan must come forward to assist in her commitment.