Justice on trial – 27 Jul 2022

IN an unprecedented move, the ruling coalition on Monday decided to boycott the proceedings of the apex court expressing `lack of confidence` in the judges hearing the case on the validity of the election of the Punjab chief minister. The decision came after the Supreme Court refused to form a fullcourtforthe hearing.

It may not be for the first time that the credibility of the third pillar of state is being questioned, but a lot more is at stake now as the institution is caught in the midst of a political power game.

With the two other institutions of the state the executive and the legislature in a state of paralysis, the latest controversy over the role of the judiciary marks an impending systemic collapse.

Predictably, the Supreme Court has struck down the election of Hamza Sharif as illegal and declared Pervaiz Elahi Punjab chief minister. The ruling has come as a blow to the ruling coalition.

But the crisis is far from over.

With the worsening political crisis, the top court is increasingly becoming the venue of ongoing political battles. The warring sides seek judicialintercession in the disputes that should have been dealt with in parliament. In a highly charged political atmosphere, arbitration on sensitive political and constitutional matters to the satisfaction of both sides is extremely dif ficult.

Not surprisingly, recent court rulings have led to more controversy. Judicial activism too has added to the problem. Overstretching the role of the judiciary that often encroaches on the domain of the executive and the legislature has created a dangerous imbalance. In certain cases, the perceived attempt to rewrite the Constitution rather than strictly sticking to the interpretation of the law has affected the credibility of the highest court.

A case in point is the recent judgement on Article 63-A of the Constitution relating to the defection clause. Most legal experts argue that the ruling invalidating the vote of defecting members goes beyond the interpretation of the provision of the law and is, in f act, an attempt to rewrite the Constitution. The contentious ruling has been the main cause of the controversy over the elec-tion of the Punjab chief minister. Some other seemingly contradictory rulings too have complicated the matter.

In this situation, the demand for the constitution of a full court to review the ruling on the defection clause was not misplaced. Some retired Supreme Court judges had reportedly endorsed the full court demand too. According to media reports, retired justice Maqbool Bagar warned against attempts to rewrite the Constitution.

It is a worrisome impression that the same bench is being assigned to hear sensitive political and constitutional matters, while other senior judges are bypassed, raising questions about the credibility of the judgements. In fact, such criticism has come from within the institution as well.

In his farewell speech in April this year, justice Maqbool Bagar, who was reputed to be one of the most independent and fair-minded judges, said: `Exclusion of certain judges from the hearing of sensitive cases on account of their independent and impartial views has an adverse effect on the impartiality of judges while also tarnishing the public`s perception about the independence and integrity of the judiciary.

Justice Bagar was not the only judge to have expressed his reservations on the composition of the bench on constitutional matters ignoring senior judges. In a letter to the chief justice in March, that was also reported in the national media, Qazi Faez Isa, the senior puisne judge of the Supreme Court, had raised questions over the composition of a larger bench to hear the presidential reference thatconcerned theinterpretation and scope of Article 63-A. In a letter to the chief justice, he was reported to have said that the senior-most judge was not being consulted in the constitution of the bench to hear the cases. He pointed out that the judges who were fourth, eighth and 13th on the seniority list comprised the bench.

He said it was troubling because there was a possibility that it might lead to misgivings that were avoidable. He had written in his letter to the chief justice: `Af ter all the adage justice is not only done but is also seen to be done has been oft-repeated by the Supreme Court.It was not the first time that Justice Isa, one of the most upright and outspoken judges, expressed his critical views on judicial procedures. Some of his strong rulings caused displeasure in the establishment and perhaps that was the reason why the Imran Khan government filed a reference against him.

But the attempt to remove the judge failed as the bar and the bench stood by him. His criticism of the procedure of the formation of bench on critical consututional issues has exposed the fault lines in the functioning of the superior judiciary.

Thereis aneed toaddressthese concernsinorder to restore the credibility of the institution.

It is important to alleviate concerns arising about the impartiality of the apex judiciary in order to strengthen the court`s authority. The judicial activism exercised by former chief justices Iftikhar Chaudhry and Saqib Nisar has done huge damage to the credibility of the judiciary.

Some of their populist judicial actions grossly encroached on the spheres of the executive and legislature, hampering the democratic process in the country. Reckless judicial intervention crippled the executive, making it harder for the elected governments to deliver. It also widened the imbalance in the distribution of power between the pillars of state. It is imperative that power and discretion be exercised reasonably and f airly to allow the system to work smoothly.

These are indeed testing times for the judiciary as for the other state institutions, especially with the worsening political polarisation in the country. The judiciary must stand up to the pressure being built by vested political interests. Any perception of succumbing to pressure is extremely damaging for the rule of law and democratic process in the country. It is also imperative for the political leadership not to drag the judiciary into politics. They must try to resolve political issues through elected forums rather than looking towards the apex court for the solution. • The writer is an author and journalist.

zhussain100@yahoo.com Twitter: @hidhussain

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Sexual violence – 27 Jul 2022

Sexual crimes against women are becoming so rampant in Pakistan that the situation defies description. Girls and women of all ages – irrespective of their origin – find themselves at the mercy of sexual predators nearly everywhere in the country. In the most recent case, an American woman has come forward and said she was raped by her tour guide and his two accomplices at the tourist resort of Fort Munro in Dera Ghazi Khan. The survivor is a social media activist and vlogger who is now seeking justice. She says she was sexually assaulted on July 16 when she was on a trip to the resort. Though the Border Military Police have arrested the prime suspect, the progress on arresting others is reported to be slow. Such crimes against women are increasingly becoming common. In most cases, victims and survivors get delayed justice – or more often than not no justice at all. That this happened to a woman of foreign origin makes it particularly disturbing, given Pakistan’s recent attempts at lifting its tourism potential.

However, for the women of Pakistan, tourism is a distant concern when they are unsafe not only on the streets, in public transport, and at work but also within their homes. No country can claim to be civilized if such cases take place with such impunity. While the crime of rape is hardly unique to Pakistan, our system of investigation is primitive, that of prosecution is even more so. There was some hope that a sense of shock or yearning for justice would force society to demand safety for women, children and trans persons. That unfortunately has been a long wait. Whenever such crimes take place there is temporary outrage, and then society goes back to normal. In this particular case, initially there were reports that the suspect had confessed to have committed the crime; then there has been an eerie silence on this case. According to the FIR, the woman also received threats to her life if she reported the matter to the police. The crime was also reportedly filmed by the culprits.

First off, local authorities in all tourist spaces in the country must ensure that there are women police stations with trained female staff to provide immediate aid to sex-crime victims. There are not many DNA labs to help in investigation in the country. Pakistan needs modern labs and state-of-the-art investigation and prosecution methods without which conviction rates remain dismally low. We are no more sensitive than the worst of countries when it comes to how we discuss and tackle rape. Blaming the victim is commonplace among the police, judiciary and even the media while our patriarchal society seems to almost instil a rape culture. In cases where rape is alleged, the authorities have to believe the victim – just as they do when other crimes are reported. Most victims are scared of reporting the crime out of fear that it is their character that will be put on trial. This inversion of justice now needs to stop.

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Access to justice – 27 Jul 2022

Access to justice is a basic right and a vital responsibility mandated upon the State

The edifice of modern and civilised societies is built on the foundation of justice. Although delivery in accordance with law is the obligation of all branches of the government, here the term is discussed in relation to the judicial organ of the state. Justice is thus considered to be the cardinal principle and the soul of the judiciary.

Occupying a centre stage in ethics, legal and political philosophy harmonises the balance of society and acts as an effective tool in resolving conflicts of all natures. ‘Access to justice’ as a term is used to reflect the fact that in a rights-based society, everyone must not only understand their rights but also the ways to enforce them, in case of their infringement. The term ‘access to justice’ is not confined to any reform program. It has a broader horizon and includes all justice sectors and stakeholders such as the police, the prosecutors, the court staff, the investigators, the witnesses and the bars. The litigant is the focal person and access to justice deals with empowering the litigants to ensure that their rights are upheld. Access to justice means approach or admittance to justice. It means existence of an effective system where rights are provided and remedied in case of breach.

According to Black’s Law Dictionary, access to justice deals with the potential of a society to effectively use courts and other legal institutions to protect its rights and to prosecute the claims. The preamble to the Constitution of Pakistan proclaims that principles of democracy, freedom, equality, tolerance, and social justice shall be fully observed, thereby guaranteeing fundamental rights.

Access to justice is a basic right and a vital responsibility mandated upon the State. Without an efficient and effective justice system, the enjoyment of this right is hard to achieve. Its effective enforcement acts as a litmus test for the efficiency of not only the judicial system but also of governance in general. In this context, the fourth Chief Justice of the US, John Marshall, stated that the very essence of civil liberty “consists in the right of every individual to claim protection of laws, whenever he receives injury. One of the first duties of government is to afford that protection.”

Corollary of this is the right to life guaranteed by Article 9 and the right to fair trial under Article 10 of the Constitution of Pakistan, which further strengthens the due process. Added to this is the right to consult a counsel in case of arrest, and to be informed of one’s charges. Pakistan has an elaborate justice and administrative system that is accessed by thousands of people daily. But majority of surveys highlight the decades-long problem of inordinate delays in the dispensation of justice. Even writ petitions take years. Therefore, it is not out of place to mention the age old saying, “justice delayed is justice denied.” Every citizen expects expeditious justice but is frustrated when faced with delays. Statistics given by the Supreme Court showed around 52,796 cases pending by June 2022.

Connected to this is the problem of consulting a proper lawyer of caliber, who usually takes a hefty fee. Since many belong to low-income households, citizens cannot avail their service, thus depriving them of justice. Poor investigations, rampant corruption in the patwar system, and slow response of government officials adds insult to injury. As a result, the trust deficit in the system is rapidly eroding. When confidence and cooperation are lacking, people resort to seeking redressal for their grievances through illegal or illegitimate means.

All these impediments in the dispensation of justice also provide opportunities to extremist organisations to unleash scathing criticism against the Anglo-Saxon justice system, while assuring that their own model is a panacea for the resolutions of conflicts, within time and at low cost. It is therefore high time that the government bring revolutionary reforms to ensure access to justice.

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Pakistan’s judicial system – 26 Jul 2022

The judiciary’s role in the evolution of Pakistan’s democracy has been invaluable

Nothing seems to be more essential to the stability and growth of a country than a strong judicial system. A robust judiciary, impartial and independent of all external influences, is a cornerstone for stability and growth. A strong judicial system is one that inspires confidence in ordinary individuals and provides them with an innate satisfaction that they can turn to judicial forums for speedy justice; that their cases will be heard and adjudged impartially, fairly and in the most reasonable manner. To reach a judgment solely on the basis of evidence and facts is the only way for our courts to discharge their constitutional obligations, and our judiciary is persistently trying to achieve the same with utmost respect while upholding the Constitution and rights of individuals.

Despite of Pakistan’s checkered history, its judiciary has persevered in the face all political crises and has emerged as a beacon of hope for its people. The judiciary’s role in the evolution of Pakistan’s democracy has been invaluable. Although many attempts have been made to undermine its mandate, the judiciary has grown stronger and more independent with every obstacle it has encountered.

In a democratic state, the role of the judiciary is essential in maintaining the balance of power and upholding a system of checks and balances. All members of the judicial system, at every level, have been tirelessly making efforts to uphold the law, set better precedents, and provide justice to the ordinary citizens of the country. Numerous developments have been made to organise the system in a way that allows for swift provision of justice. The National Judicial Policy, 2009 has played a major role in assisting the disposal of cases despite human resource and infrastructure deficiencies. In tandem with the resilience of the Pakistani people, its judiciary is also equally resilient. One of the greatest signs of improvements in the judiciary is the increasing number of cases registered in courts, exhibiting that people are trusting the system to uphold justice. This is hope for a more just and stable future.

The institution has remained independent and focused. The Chief Justice of the apex court, as the driving force of the judiciary, has always stood like an iron wall protecting the institution from any external threat and has never allowed any unwarranted action to demoralise public confidence. The commands of the judiciary have always been held by the best in the benches. Refined judges continue to emerge and take control of the institution, proving that it belongs to the most honest and most gifted individuals that have incredible grasp over legal, moral and ethical matters. The current Chief Justice of Pakistan, Umar Ata Bandial, is one the finest and most well-spoken judges our country has ever produced. In recent times, various attempts have been made to shake the public’s confidence in the judiciary. However, the manner in which His Lordship tackled the adversities with sheer intelligence merits applause. It will not be incorrect to suggest that by collective wisdom of the judiciary, Pakistan as a state was safely anchored ashore from the whirlpool of political uncertainty.

The power of a strong judiciary was recently witnessed when Justice Qazi Faez Esa was subjected to false and fabricated reference, which was collectively dismissed by the judiciary later on. The entire episode till it reached its climax showed that even a judge is accountable. As of today, Justice Qazi Faez Esa continues to administer justice fairly and impartiality, whereas the fingers that were wrongfully pointed at him have twisted. As the recent events in the country unfold, it is a bitter truth that only the judiciary remains an institution that has gained maximum support from the public due to its integrity, honesty and independence.

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Child abuse epidemic – 23 Jul 2022

CHILDREN already have a rough deal in this society, but frequent cases of child abuse point to a deep sickness that is simply not being treated. Along with the physical world, digital spaces are also highly dangerous for minors, as the horrific number of images of child exploitation uploaded to Facebook indicate. According to the FIA director general as well as officials of Meta, which owns Facebook, over 2m explicit images of children were uploaded from Pakistan in 2021. Speaking at a seminar in Karachi on Thursday, the FIA DG said that over the last five years only 343 cases related to indecent pictures of children have been reported.

This indicates that much greater action from the state, social media companies, as well as the public, is required to punish the criminals involved in these horrific crimes, and protect youngsters from abuse.

It was thought that after the shocking 2015 Kasur child pornography scandal and the brutal murder of little Zainab, who was abducted from the same city, state and society would have taken firm action against child abusers. Sadly, perhaps because children are so low on our priority list, after the initial rage few tangible actions, apart from the enacting the Zainab Alert, Response and Recovery law, have been taken to protect minors, as the massive number of exploitative images cited above indicates. There can simply be no lethargy when it comes to child safety. Social media firms and lawenforcement must respectively take down these images immediately, and track down those responsible for uploading them. There needs to be a concerted effort involving all major social media firms, including Meta, Google, TikTok etc, because child safety is everyone`s issue.

The gangs involved in these heinous crimes must be smashed and given exemplary punishment, while exploited children and their families should be given professional care to help them deal with the trauma of abuse. Moreover, the #ReportDontShare campaign needs to be supported by the public, so that crimes against children can be duly reported to the authorities, and those involved punished.

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Transforming the justice system – 23 Jul 2022

Delays in clearing court cases are a serious challenge in Pakistan. There were 1.5 million pending cases and 2.6 million new cases were filed in our courts in the year 2010. In 2021, it increased to 2.2 million pending cases and 38.5 million new cases.

Considering that there are only about 5000 judges in Pakistan; can this enormous case load be cleared in a timely manner? What are the reasons for the delay? How can legal tech help reduce the delay by making the justice system more efficient?

None other than an honourable judge of the Supreme Court of Pakistan, Justice Mansoor Ali Shah, provides an answer. Justice Shah points out that the “traditional closed architecture of our courts” cannot address the issue of delay. He adds that the time has come to bring technology to run our ‘court house’ – a generic term used for courts in Pakistan. “Delay, delay, delay is the biggest challenge,” he says.

Citing the reasons for the delay, Justice Shah underlines the poor case management system; non-use of technology to monitor the progress of cases; unregulated adjournments and strikes; lack of training of judges and communication between the three tiers of the judiciary. To regulate delays, he refers to an automation system that was employed in Punjab. For example, an SMS service was introduced to inform lawyers as to the fixation of cases; a mobile app was launched to enable lawyers and litigants to monitor the progress and status of their cases; a database was created to categorize cases.

However, says he, “nothing really changed because everything behind the automation system was manual”. The so-called automation system lacked intelligence. It failed to indicate which cases were to be fixed for hearing and the court a case was to be fixed before. Furthermore, there were no flags to indicate the age of cases and the stage of proceedings. That is why the cases of women, children, disabled persons, prisoners, students or cases relating to the economy and to law and order remain pending for years with serious implications for people’s rights and the national economy. The system completely lacks a sense of urgency and there is no intelligent way to find out which judgments are conflicting, multiplying the litigation. Thus, lacking a technology-based system to monitor the processing of cases, there should be no surprise, if the performance of our justice system is poor.

Justice Shah stresses that we need to move from “automation to transformation”. We need “refiguring and restructuring” of the justice sector. Once a bail or injunction is granted, the proceedings are considered to be over. This must change. “The trial has to complete”, he emphasized. The shelf life of a case should be reduced to one year or even less. In this context, Justice Shah proposes:

First, the concept of ‘access to justice’ needs to be redefined. Access to justice should mean not only approaching the courts but also the conclusion of a case from the trial courts to the SC. It will help promote rule of law and set in an effective system of accountability in society.

Second, a mandatory mechanism of mediation and alternative dispute resolution must be embedded in our justice system. Alternative Dispute Resolution centres should be established in each district, reducing the workload on courts and delays in justice. The domestic arbitration law should be revised to minimize courts’ interference in the arbitration proceedings. This would facilitate the transition from the adversary legal system to mediation and arbitration.

Third, an e-filing portal should be created for the filing of documents – pleadings, applications for adjournments and evidence. For an adjournment, a certificate must be uploaded directly by a hospital. The entire proceedings should move through an electronic system, with an inbuilt system of costs for frivolous adjournments and proceedings. The service of summons and notices can be affected through a GPS-enabled e-portal.

Fourth, the system of ‘synchronized hearing’ of cases requires a paradigm shift. The physical presence of parties and their lawyers may be dispensed with. Lawyers can file written submissions or send skeleton arguments through audio or video link. This will allow judges to decide cases quickly. One should deposit security to confirm an appearance on a fixed date of hearing, if a personal hearing is necessary for doing complete justice.

Five, data rooms should be established to monitor the progress of cases. Without live monitoring data rooms, superior courts are unable to gauge what is happening with cases in a district or a province. There is no intelligent system to find out on a day-to-day basis how many cases are fixed or not fixed and decided or not decided. Why are cases adjourned or why are they not moving towards disposal? Thus, there is an urgent need to deploy a smart case management system in our courts.

Six, smart online research centres can be established to facilitate lawyers and judges in legal analysis and research. It will help improve the quality of legal assistance and judgments and would be hugely beneficial for lawyers and judges working in remote districts and subdistricts. The legal fraternity should also use apps like Grammarly to improve writing skills.

Justice Mansoor Ali Shah, in his speech at Islamabad, reminded us that fundamental reforms are needed in the justice system of Pakistan, especially underscoring the need for using legal tech to run a ‘court house’. If the past few years have taught us anything, it is that we must introduce tech to curtail delays for the welfare of the people.

The Global Legal Tech Report 2021-2022 informs that apps like document automation, legal operations, task management, collaboration, compliance, online legal service, client portal, and knowledge management are increasingly used in the legal profession across the globe. Thus, the legal fraternity should embrace legal tech to help transform our justice system. Without lawyers’ appreciation and willingness to move forward, no transformation can take place in the system. Bar councils, thus, must support the judiciary to reform our justice system. Government and tech experts should provide financial and technical assistance to the judiciary to reduce delays. This will help protect fundamental rights, changing the life of the people of Pakistan.

The writer is an advocate of the Supreme Court.

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Climate goals – 23 Jul 2022

Climate change has emerged as one of the most challenging items on the international agenda in the 21st century. Global pledges to mitigate the impacts of climate change have not received the required funding from the world’s leading economies. Whatever funding is available has for the most part not translated into proper planning. Funding pipelines need to open up to address the challenges that most of the developing countries are facing. A ministerial dialogue, the 12th Petersberg Climate Change Conference, that Germany hosted on July 18-19 – ahead of COP27 in November this year in Cairo – has focused on these issues, with senior officials from 40 countries participating. The world has seen conference after conference in the past 20 years or so with, all lacking in concrete results. The pace and scale of climate change is accelerating and there has not been any substantial improvement that can prevent environmental degradation. Meanwhile, the world is increasingly vulnerable to erratic weather patterns as Europe is witnessing now in the shape of its heatwaves that are scorching by continental norms.

It is disappointing that developing countries are still waiting for rich countries to provide $100 billion in climate aid each year. The world’s richer nations had promised to meet this target by 2020. There are accelerated climate-induced events that are taking place across the world, and a multitude of risks involved that need prompt handling and swift responses. These include increasing forest fires, glacial lake outburst floods (GLOFs), paucity of water, fast approaching droughts in many parts of the world on the one side and on the other torrential rains and flooding; early, prolonged, and in some years delayed monsoon; and depleting greenery resulting from growing desertification. Added to this is a rise in sea levels that is threatening many coastal cities and towns. Looking at Pakistan, we can feel and see an impending climate catastrophe that is likely to decimate precious flora and fauna if governments keep postponing measures to tackle this problem.

This continuing climate stress is taking its toll on both developed and developing countries but the latter are in a more precarious situation. The very economic stability of many countries to a great extent depends on climate patterns. Despite a lot of talk at various forums, the fact remains that some irreversible impacts have already devastated many areas around the world. Internal displacement is becoming increasingly common and contributing to malnutrition and poverty. Now there has to be much more than just ambitions. If these do not find expression in financial commitments, the goals will just remain goals. It is noteworthy again that most developing countries have contributed only a fraction of greenhouse gases in comparison with the rich world. An energy transition to net zero emission is easier said than done. No transformational shift will take place unless resources flow from the Global North to the Global South.

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Emerging mental health crisis – 23 Jul 2022

Worsened public mental health will have a drastic impact on the country’s demographic, resources, labour productivity

Since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, Pakistan reported an uptick in the rate of mental illnesses and suicide. Recently, mental health experts have warned of the adverse effect of crushing inflation on people’s mental health. In the absence of government relief, people have grown irritable and find themselves in a state of constant distress, despair, or hopelessness about the future.

Although both genders, all age groups, and people belonging to different strata of society are vulnerable to mental illnesses, individuals between the ages of 18 to 40 face a considerably higher risk. These individuals are a part of the working population and some of them are the sole breadwinners of their households. Therefore, their stress and anguish can multiply as they struggle to manage their responsibilities, expectations, and aspirations. Unfortunately, the social stigma against mental illnesses, a lack of awareness and the absence of adequate support prevent people from navigating their mental state and seeking help. People suffering from mental illnesses also neglect their physical health and are more likely to do so now with increased medicine prices and doctors’ fees. This can result in a higher prevalence of other diseases.

Considering that many parts of the country have already reported a high incidence of suicide, a worsened public mental health will have a drastic impact on the country’s demographic, resources, labour productivity, morale, etc. Therefore, the Ministry of Health Services should work with provincial and district health departments to curb the problem before it spirals out of control. A widespread campaign should be launched to inform people about the different mental health conditions and the need to seek professional support. The general healthcare system should incorporate rehabilitation services and counselling facilities to ensure early intervention.

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Absurd jirga decision – 22 Jul 2022

IT has been observed that the cacophony of national politics often drowns out the real societal issues of the day. Thanks to the ongoing electoral brouhaha, the reports of a tribal jirga in Bajaur district slapping a complete ban on women visiting tourist spots in the area went relatively unnoticed by both the government and mainstream media. A council of tribal elders in Salarzai tehsil decreed that women cannot visit local tourist or picnic spots, even when accompanied by male family members. While the tribal districts are usually more conservative than the rest of the country, in issuing this ludicrous decree, the Salarzai jirga appears to have gone one step further than even the regressive Afghan Taliban. The obliviousness of state institutions to this `decree` is condemnable; unfortunately, there has been very little effort by most politicians in this country to stop the effective erasure of women from public life in many parts and to hold to account those who deprive them of their fundamental rights. It is a situation that exposes the sheer hypocrisy of those who claim to stand for democracy: the jirga was organised by the local chapter of the JUI-F, one of the coalition members at the centre. The gathering of elders was reportedly attended by a number of party members.

According to the jirga, visiting tourist or picnic spots in the area by women went against local Islamic traditions. Moreover, the council demanded that the local authorities implement their decision by next Sunday, otherwise, they would do so themselves. Considering how the tribal region has been wracked by religious extremism and militancy, do we really need to point out how perilous this trend would be if lef t unaddressed? In an environment where women struggle to be educated and to vote, such an order by a parallel justice system is a mockery of the state`s writ, besides being a direct assault on the marginalised women of the area. The government needs to put a stop to this before others are inspired to follow suit.

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Human trafficking report – 22 Jul 2022

Federal, provincial govts criticised for failing to address ‘credible reports of official complicity’

A recent US State Department report shows that Pakistan has ‘improved’ enough in its efforts to combat human trafficking to be taken off the watchlist. However, the country remains in tier two category. This category includes countries whose governments are not in full compliance with the Trafficking Victims Protection Act — a US federal law under which human traffickers can be prosecuted for their crimes if Americans citizens or residents (whether victims or traffickers) or American soil was involved in the illegal transaction.

The report noted a concerning distribution of Pakistani trafficking victims, with some being found in tiny European countries and even war-torn African nations, apart from the Middle Eastern and Western European countries that generally come to mind. Pakistan was credited with not letting the Covid-19 pandemic slow down its efforts to improve reporting, investigations, prosecutions, convictions, and the use of our own Prevention of Trafficking in Persons Act. The US also removed Pakistan from its Child Soldiers Prevention Act list, meaning there is no evidence that government or government-backed armed groups are using child soldiers, as some tribal lashkars had done in the past.

However, there was some important criticism, including how the report noted Pakistan’s failure to sign on to the UN’s Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, making us one of a handful of countries — and by far the largest — not to have done so. But the local situation did get some deservedly harsh criticism, including for the continuing use of bonded labour at brick kilns and farms. Fines instead of jail time are still imposed in some cases when victims of sex crimes are male. Federal and provincial governments were also criticised for failing to address “credible reports of official complicity.” This last point is perhaps the most important — we cannot fight human trafficking if the traffickers are being rewarded with positions of power in the government.

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