Pakistan: Asma Jahangir Human Rights Conference 2018 Human rights transcend cultures and nations

, by HRCP

The Asma Jahangir Conference 2018, centering on the theme ‘Justice for Empowerment’ concluded successfully on 17 October 2018.

A wide range of sessions were held, focusing on the protection of
fundamental rights, justice for all and impunity for none, freedom of
expression, and challenges to implementing rights legislation.

The conference resolved that the state must protect citizens’ fundamental
rights, lift the ban on non-government organizations and cease the
harassment of human rights defenders. All political parties must have a new
charter of democracy to set ground rules for protecting the democratic
process – and the major political parties must take the lead in doing so.
Judicial overreach must be checked, since it impinges on the constitutional
role of other state institutions. The Supreme Court must consider
formulating parameters for taking suo moto notice.

Freedom of expression must not be curtailed by the state and undeclared
censorship of the print and electronic media must cease. Parliament must
approve a new bill for the independence of PEMRA according to the
recommendations of the Media Commission report.

The panelists noted that existing electoral laws had not been implemented
in the 2018 general elections. There should be thorough accountability of
the Election Commission of Pakistan and a performance report presented to
Parliament. Cameras should be used during vote counts.

Pakistan must implement legislation to criminalize forced disappearances.
The government must prevent the use of torture by adopting the 2014 bill
passed by the Senate. The conference resolved that the Commission of
Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances must prosecute the 153 identified
officials responsible for enforced disappearances. The conference also
resolved that there was a disproportionately large population of
under-trial prisoners, which represented a deep flaw in the justice system.

Pakistan must revise the education syllabus to remove portions that
discriminate against religious minorities. The state’s appeasement of
religious fundamentalism must end and the Christian minority must be
protected in the face of new threats. Laws that discriminate against
minorities must be abolished.

The law on sexual harassment against women in the workplace is not being
implemented: there are hardly any cases under this act before the
ombudspersons despite numerous women reporting sexual harassment. The law
should be refined to introduce the crime of “sextortion” and sexual bribery
as introduced in Bangladesh.

On transgender rights, the conference resolved that the Transgender Persons
Act 2018 must be implemented in letter and spirit. It was recommended that
a monitoring body for the implementation of current protection laws for the
transgender community be established. Broad-based measures must be taken by
the government, media, civil society, essential service providers and the
education sector to increase awareness of transgender persons and their
rights across society.

The conference resolved that visa-free policies must be introduced to
reclaim solidarity among South Asian countries. The panel resolved that
there was a need to revive the South Asian Association for Regional
Cooperation, co-founded by Asma Jahangir, and demanded that the 18th SAARC
summit be called immediately.

On gender equality, the conference resolved that, until women are treated
equally by the law, gender equality cannot be achieved. This relates in
particular to family laws and matrimonial property (hitherto an unknown
concept in Pakistan), and maintenance and custody. While women legislators
in Pakistan have worked very hard, there is still a glass ceiling for women
in terms of decision making within political party structures. There is a
need to change the way media portrays women in order to transform mindsets
and attitudes regarding the role and status of women in society.

On constitutionalism and challenges to the 18th Amendment, the conference
resolved that any attempts to roll back provincial autonomy and
entitlements granted by the 18th Amendment as well as by the Constitution
of 1973 generally, such as the National Finance Commission Award, must be
resisted. Pakistani federalism must be based on cooperation between
constitutionally autonomous provinces and empowerment of local governments.
The role of the Parliamentary Committee in judicial appointments to the
superior courts must be revived.

Pakistan should promulgate refugee laws. It also needs a survey on internal
migration data and research. Pakistan should ratify the 1951 Refugee
Convention and promulgate a refugee law. On the death penalty, there was
clear consensus that the system does not provide due process of law and
until this is in place, the death penalty will lead to irrevocable gross
injustices.

The organizers committed to holding an annual conference to continue the
mission of Asma Jahangir, who fought for human rights principles, which she
believed transcended all cultures, government agendas and nations.

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Participants listened to speeches from PPP chairperson Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, ANP leader
Afrasiab Khattak, federal minister for human rights Dr Shireen Mazari, and
former speaker of the National Assembly Ayaz Sadiq. The conference was
hosted by the Asma Jahangir Foundation and AGHS Legal Aid Cell.

Among the distinguished guest speakers were Chief Justice of Pakistan Mian
Saqib Nisar, Chief Justice of the Lahore High Court Yawar Ali, former Prime
Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, Rana Maqbool (senator PML-N and former IG
Punjab), I A Rehman (honorary spokesperson, HRCP), Farhatullah Babar
(former senator, PPP), Akhter Hussein (advocate, Supreme Court), Dr Farooq
Sattar (MQM), Shazia Marri (PPP), Bushra Gohar (ANP), Kamran Arif (KP
vice-chair, HRCP), Pir Kaleem Khurshid (president, Supreme Court Bar
Association), Anwar-ul-Haq Pannu (president, Lahore High Court Bar
Association), Malik Arshad (president, Lahore Bar Association), Azam Nazir
Tarar (former vice-chairman, Pakistan Bar Council), Ahsan Bhoon (former
vice-chairman, Pakistan Bar Council), Abid Saqi (former president, Lahore
High Court Bar Association), Justice Ali Baqar Najfi, Ali Ahmed Kurd
(former president, Supreme Court Bar Association), Ali Zafar (former
president, Supreme Court Bar Association), senior lawyer Salman Akram Raja,
Farooq Tariq (spokesperson, Awami Workers Party), Ahmed Awais (Advocate
General Punjab), Malik Rafique Rajwana (former Governor Punjab), Chaudhry
Manzoor Ahmad (former parliamentarian) and Justice Shehram Sarwar, Peter
Jacob (executive director, Centre for Social Justice), and Jakhongir
Khaydarov (UNDP Pakistan).

Ambassadors from various countries attended the conference, including HE
Jean Francois Cautain (head of the European Union Delegation), HE Koebler (
Germany), HE Ingrid Johansonn (Sweden), HE Margaret Adamson (Australia) and
HE Ajay Bisaria (India). Among international guests who travelled to attend
the conference were the Hon. Michael Kirby AC CMG (former justice of the
High Court of Australia), Kirsty Brimelow QC (chair of the Human Rights Bar
Committee, England and Wales), HE Annika Ben David (Sweden’s Ambassador at
Large for Human Rights, Democracy and the Rule of Law), Kamla Bhasin
(Indian poet and activist) and Dr Nimalka Fernando (attorney and women’s rights activist, Sri Lanka).


HRCP

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P.S.

For more information contact *Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP)* 107 Tipu Block, New Garden Town, Lahore 54600 Phone: (92-42) 3584 5969 Fax: (92-42) 3588 3582 Email: hrcp hrcp-web.org

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