On Wednesday November 29 Pakistan failed to win reelection for membership of the United Nations Human Rights Council, the prime Human Rights body of the UN. Votes were cast by 193 members of the General Assembly to elect 18 members out of 47 members of the Council. Pakistan contested for a seat in the Asia/Pacific category in which five seats were up for grabs. The 18 new member countries that were elected by a secret ballot include Belgium, Burundi, C te d’ Voire, Ecuador, Ethiopia, Georgia, Germany, Kenya, Kargystan, Mongolia, Panama, Philippines, Republic of Korea, Slovenia, Switzerland, Togo, The United Arab Emirates and Venezuela. Their term will start from January 1, 2016. Human Rights Watch (HRW) has criticized Pakistan and Venezuela for their internal policy on the human rights front and their voting pattern in UN on rights issues.

The verdict of UN General Assembly on Pakistan’s HR record is not surprising in view of the bleak situation in the country on this front.

International concern is bound to deepen due to two aspects of the aforementioned bleak situation. One, unfortunately some of the state organs remain to be the main and most blatant violators of the human rights in the country. Two, there is almost complete impunity as there is no forum, including the parliament and higher judiciary of the country, to make the violators accountable. It would be fair to say that it is not a new problem in Pakistan and the record of the past governments can hardly be called impressive in this regard. But unfortunately the situation has worsened under the present government.

One of the first steps taken by this government immediately after coming into power in 2013 was to abolish the human rights ministry and merge it into the law ministry. If some one argues that the government did that to save some money by reducing the number of ministries, that is not true because the government actually created two new ministries. The real issue is that of priorities. By taking this step Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif made it clear that human rights is not a priority for his government. As Chair of the Senate’s Functional Committee on Human Rights at that time I wrote a letter to the Prime Minister raising objection over his decision. I never received a reply.

The problem of missing persons due to enforced disappearances worsened as the Apex Court of the country stopped whatever little it was doing under Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry by asking the intelligence agencies to produce the missing persons. The investigation about the mass graves found in Balochistan reached nowhere as the government lost interest in finding out the culprits. The families of the missing persons knocked every door but to no avail. While people of the country support the action by law enforcement agencies against terrorists and insurgents but they are definitely concerned about almost the total lack of any kind of civilian monitoring or oversight of the aforementioned operations. For example Frontier Core in Balochistan and the Rangers in Sindh have made no secret of their defiance of the policies or orders of the elected provincial governments in those provinces. There have been reports about lot of bloodshed in Balochistan in the last few months. But the people of the country have to listen to only one version and that is the official version. Similarly the prolonged military operations in FATA have never faced any scrutiny from the human rights angle. Reports about the “collateral damages” have never been looked into. Pashtun IDPs are forced to live as subjects and not as citizens because their views are totally disregarded by the state when decisions are made about their life and future. Pakistani state has been dominated by the army during most of the time of the country’s existence but the vast area of policy making and execution ceded to the armed forces by the present government is unprecedented even by Pakistani standards. For all practical purposes the army dominated apex committees are running the country and there is no end in sight for it.

Theoretically the media is free but it knows the limits of its freedom. The all powerful intelligence agencies have been able to make example out of individual journalists and media houses. With very few noble exceptions, self censoring is quite common in Pakistani media. But threats to freedom of expression are not limited to state institutions. Religious extremism is also taking its toll on freedom of expression. There are powerful “non state actors” physically attacking those who express a different opinion or who criticize them.

Experience has proved the fact that the state is not able to protect citizens with different religious faith or opinion. Women, children and religious minorities have been at the receiving end of the rising extremist violence in our society. Women have faced new curbs on their social mobility where extremist religious views have tended to reinforce the already existing patriarchal values.

The present government has already made a place for itself in the country’s history by its penchant for bringing in draconian laws. Although all political parties bear responsibility for passing some draconian laws in the name of curbing terrorism, the present government is not content even with that. It has failed to understand that extremism and terrorism rose in Pakistan mainly due to the misguided state policies during the Cold War and after. Consequently, it is not able to grasp the fact that the menace of extremism and terrorism can be overcome by introducing corrective measures in state policies. The government still seems to be hell bent upon bringing fresh draconian legislation. The proposed bill against cyber crimes brought in the National Assembly is a good example. It should be opposed by all democrats as it will impose further restrictions on media, particularly on social media. It can be a great setback for the youth of the country who are making effort to express their opinion and influence policy making by using social media.

The Wednesday vote in the UN General Assembly is definitely an indictment of the Pakistan’s human rights deficit but will it prove to be a wake up call for the parliament, political parties and the civil society?