KARACHI - Dominance of security and ideological narratives and the shrinking space for civil society have undermined the civic freedoms in the country and the political parties need to evolve a charter of basic civic freedoms like the charter of democracy signed a decade ago.

This was stated by Senator Farhatullah Babar while addressing a seminar on ‘challenges to civic freedoms in Pakistan’ organised by the Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research here on Thursday. “Civic freedom means freedom of expression and freedom of association, enabling the civil society organisations to play their role in ensuring that the state does not deviate from its social contract with the people,” he said, and added, “But it has been undermined by the dominance of security and ideology narratives.”

He said it was due to this domination, that citizens were picked up by security agencies in Balochistan, KP, FATA and Sindh with impunity, the due process is shrinking, and the attempts to correct the situation are viewed as against national security interests.

“Likewise, progressive legislation such as the Child Marriage Act, recent legislation against forced conversions, the anti-rape and anti-honour killing laws, the Women Protection Act and the legislation to prevent harassment at work place have come under attack on grounds of ‘threat to ideology,” he opined. He called upon the political parties to get together and at least adopt a charter of civic freedoms just as they had signed the Charter of Democracy a decade ago. 

“Civic freedoms are also hampered by a weakened and dysfunctional National Commission on Human Rights (NCHR) and absence of right to information which has shrunk the space for human rights defenders and civil society organisations,” he said.

He said that Pakistan had signed and ratified seven out of nine core human rights treaties, “While under the GSP Plus, we have pledged to sign 27 international treaties,” he added. He called for a sustained campaign to put pressure on the state to fulfill its obligations under the international treaties it had already signed and ratified.

He said that early this month, the UN Human Rights Committee had asked some questions arising out of Pakistan’s compliance report it had submitted after signing the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

“The state agencies operating without legislation should be brought under the law, and the impunity with which people mysteriously disappear and media persons and human rights defenders are attacked must be ended,” he emphasised.

In this connection, he stressed that the recommendations made by Senate in 2014 and reiterated recently by the Senate committee be implemented without delay. “The anti-torture legislation, already passed by the Senate, and the RTI legislation adopted by the Senate Committee on Information should be passed by the parliament as soon as possible,” he underscored.

Demanding an end to demonizing the civil society organizations, he said that these organisations existed by right and not due to charity of any government.  “The state and people are bound by a social contract, and these organisations are there to raise voice if the state deviates from its contract with the people,” he added.

He admitted there was no doubt that NGOs were bound under the constitution. “But it is also their fundamental right to raise voice against some articles of the constitution,” he opined.

“Why nobody should be allowed to raise voice against barring non–Muslims from becoming prime Minister or president when the constitution itself guarantees equality of all citizens,” he argued.

He equated stifling of civil society with stifling of dialogue and demolishing the edifice of social contract between state and the people.  He warned that “It is a recipe for disaster.”

He said that the regressive provisions in the trade union law will soon be examined by the Human Rights Committee of Senate and civil society’s help would be sought in this regard. Babar also stressed the need for scrutinizing the performance of military courts before deciding to give them extension early next month.

He said that there was total blackout of information with regard to who were sentenced to death, for what crime and whether they were jet black terrorists or ordinary murderers.

“Death sentences have been announced through tweets without bare minimum information and nobody, not even the reporters of the Human Rights Commission, was allowed to witness the proceedings,” he said, and added, “These factors must be weighed before taking any decision.”

The PPP leader also called for a review of delegated legislation, like the rules and regulations critically, to ascertain whether these were in violation of the basic law itself.