Call to respect, protect human rights defenders – 10 Dec 2022

LAHORE: Pakistan Human Rights Defenders Network (PHRDN), on Friday acknowledged the immense contribution of countless individuals, groups and organisations for the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedom in Pakistan in commemoration of the International Human Rights Defenders Day.

The PHRDN alleged that many human rights defenders have been subjected to violations of their human rights over the years. They have been targeted through killings, torture, arbitrary arrest, detention, death threats, harassment and defamation, as well as restrictions on their freedom of movement, expression, association and assembly. Defenders have been the victims of false accusations, unfair trials and convictions. They are also targeted with acts of intimidation and reprisals for their cooperation with the United Nations on human rights issues.

The PHRDN called upon the govt to recognise, respect, support and protect human rights defenders’ right to freedom of association, freedom of expression and freedom of peaceful assembly. These fundamental freedoms are guaranteed under the Constitution of Pakistan’s Articles 16, 17 and 19 as well as charted in the UDHR, the ICCPR to which Pakistan is a state party. In recent years, there is a clear trend of backsliding in the area of freedom of association and expression and shrunken civil spaces because of the growing pressure and increased obstacles created through legal and administrative restrictions.

These restrictions are making it difficult to register a new organisation, opening a bank account, and receiving lawful foreign funding. The right to receive such financial assistance is in compliance with Pakistan’s constitutional and international obligations. In certain cases, the climate is so hostile that it pushes the human rights defenders to the margins of national discourse. There are a number of areas which are virtually no-go areas for human rights defenders. During recent floods in the country, human rights defenders were denied access even for relief services. The PHRDN also has expressed concern for risks and the targeting of HR defenders working on women’s rights, minority rights, transgender rights, enforced disappearances, digital rights, labour rights and rights related to land and corporate responsibility. Apart from usual harassment, violence and killing of the members of transgender community, the year under report witnessed an increasingly perilous situation when a law enacted in 2018 to protect fundamental rights of the transgender community was turned into a new controversy, making the work of those HR defenders more difficult who have been defending the transgender rights.

Read more