The Minister for Human Rights (HR), Dr. Shireen Mazari, has given a sharp rebuke to the Human Rights Watch, which had written a letter asking Prime Minister Imran Khan to address serious challenges faced by Pakistan. In response to the letter, Dr. Mazari reiterated the government’s commitment to protecting human rights, and criticised HR Watch, an international NGO, for selective outrage on issues in Pakistan while neglecting human rights violations in India and Israel. “The government does not need to be informed or reminded of our human rights agenda,” She wrote as a reply to HR Watch.
The HR ministry’s defensive response to HR Watch is surprising, considering the original letter issued by the NGO was not disparaging and did not warrant such a hostile answer. In the original letter, HR Watch expressed hope that the new government would work with them to further activism on human rights, and offered polite, conducive suggestions. It is strange why the HR Ministry would want to burn bridges with the HR Watch, an organisation which can be of great assistance to it. The HR watch and HR Ministry are not in competition with each other- both organisations should instead walk hand-in-hand to combat rights violations.
Moreover, the HR Minister is factually incorrect to assert that the HR watch is selectively focusing on issues in Pakistan and is silent on violations in other countries. The HR watch has conducted worthy global activism that doesn’t just highlight Muslim rights issues in Palestine, Kashmir and Europe but also in Russia, China and KSA. It seems pertinent to mention that even if HR Watch didn’t cover rights issues globally, it still does not make its argument of increasing activism in Pakistan any less relevant. Blaming the situation in other countries as a response to human rights violations in our own is not productive for anyone and is reminiscent of the same what-about-ism that India also resorts to when reminded of its oppression in Kashmir.
Reviving the much needed Human Rights ministry was a commendable step by this government, but this response by Dr. Mazari shows there are still many important developments which need to be taken to make the Ministry as well-established as the others. In order to deal with the many issues in our society, the HR Ministry needs to function independently and prioritise human rights violations, instead of being defensive and protecting the government from criticism.