The annual report on the State of Human Rights for the year 2022, released by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan on Wednesday, does not leave much room for optimism or hope for the future. Apart from highlighting the climate-change crisis in the country as well as the rising persecution of transgender persons, the report shows how the tussle between the country’s opposing political forces and dispute between institutions has further worsened the lives of ordinary people, even if some progressive legislation has taken place. This progressive legislation, the report points out, has come in both the centre and provinces and pertains to the minimum wage, harsher punishments for employing children as labour, and attempts to resolve issues such as harassment at the workplace. On the other hand, legislation such as the law protecting transgender persons passed in 2018 saw a backlash with the community being attacked from various sources.
The HRCP report, as detailed and nuanced as always, is a stark reminder of just how far we still have to go before all of Pakistan’s citizens can lay claim to the land they belong to. The year 2022 saw a political crisis emerge in the country – one that has followed through to 2023 and still shows no signs of abating. To add to all this, 533 lives were lost due to terror and the issue of disappearances continued across the country, most notably in Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (Balochistan 2115 and KP 3369), with 2210 cases still unsolved. The 2022 floods were the most important challenge the country had to face, despite having been overshadowed by selfish and petty political dramas, and the HRCP report does a good job of showing just why we need to take this challenge with the utmost seriousness and priority, with 33 million people affected by the floods. The report says these people have not received adequate rehabilitation. Year after year, the HRCP’s annual reports point out the state of women in the country; 2022 was no different as 4226 women had to survive rape and gang-rape. But what we should really be asking is why all these issues are so familiar to us that they are almost expected in every report. Has nothing changed on the ground? Or has it all become even worse? One hopes those in power and those trying to be in power realize the realities in which the people they say they represent actually live. The report is particularly bleak about the extent of the use of political disputes and the use of sedition, a colonial aid era law, to punish people often over petty matters, the destruction of graveyards belonging to minority groups, the resurgence of terrorism, and the continuing lack of the basic freedoms of speech, assembly, housing to the people of Pakistan. Essentially, the HRCP’s annual report – a labour of dedication and hard work – paints a picture of a country where there is little respect for the rights guaranteed to us by the constitution. Ironically, this is the same constitution every single institutional stakeholder is today claiming to defend.