Salmaan Taseer, the outspoken Governor of Punjab, and Shahbaz Bhatti, the Minister for Minorities (and sole Christian cabinet member), were assassinated in January and March, respectively, because of their criticism of the blasphemy laws. Security forces continued to be implicated in violations, including enforced disappearances, torture and extrajudicial executions, especially in Balochistan and the Northwest. In May, US forces killed al-Qa’ida leader Osama bin Laden in a raid on his hideout in the north-western city of Abbottabad. Senior US officials publicly accused Pakistan of supporting the Taleban in Afghanistan. The Pakistani Taleban and other armed groups killed civilians in targeted and indiscriminate attacks across the country. Karachi was gripped by a wave of killings sparked by rival gangs associated with different ethnic and political groups. Individuals continued to be sentenced to death, but there were no executions. A successive year of monsoonal floods led to further displacement and outbreaks of dengue fever countrywide. Chronic energy shortages caused violent protests in most major cities and stifled economic activity. Women and girls in conflict-prone areas in the Northwest and Balochistan faced severe difficulties in accessing education and health care.
The human rights situation remained poor, with security and intelligence officials often complicit in violations. The authorities were frequently unwilling or unable to protect women, ethnic and religious minorities, journalists and other vulnerable groups from abuses, and bring perpetrators to justice. Promises by federal and provincial authorities aimed at improving the rule of law in violence-wracked Balochistan province – including greater oversight of police and the paramilitary Frontiers Corps, increased recruitment of ethnic Baloch into the civil service, and a rise in the province’s share of the national budget – had little effect.
Nearly one million people remained displaced as a result of continued conflict between the security forces and the Pakistani Taleban, while communities returning to regions recaptured from the insurgency complained of lack of security and access to basic services. A parallel judicial system based on a narrow reading of Shari’a law was established in Malakand despite the removal of the Pakistani Taleban, creating fears that their harsh social codes might be applied. In June, President Zardari granted security forces in the Northwest retrospective immunity from prosecution and sweeping powers of arbitrary detention and punishment. On 14 August, Pakistan’s Independence Day, the President approved landmark reforms, extending the Political Parties Order 2002 to the Federally Administered Tribal Areas and amending the Frontier Crimes Regulation, a British-era law that deprived residents of the region of many of their human rights and protections under Pakistan’s Constitution. The reforms limited state powers of arbitrary detention and collective punishment, allowed people in the region a right to judicial appeal of decisions under the Regulation, and enabled political parties to operate in the Tribal Areas.
On 9 June, Pakistan ratified the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography. In September, Pakistan removed most of its reservations to the ICCPR and the Convention against Torture, but retained other problematic reservations that prevent non-Muslims from becoming Prime Minister or President, and discriminate against women’s equal right to inheritance.Top of page
Security and intelligence forces acted largely with impunity and were accused of violations, including enforced disappearances, torture and killing of civilians, journalists, activists and suspected members of armed groups in indiscriminate attacks and extrajudicial executions.
Reports of extrajudicial executions were most common in Balochistan province, as well as the Northwest and violence-ridden Karachi.
The state failed to bring perpetrators of enforced disappearance to justice; most victims remained missing. In March, the government established a new Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances but took six months to appoint retired Supreme Court Justice Javed Iqbal to head it. Since the previous commission commenced in March 2010, over 220 of the several hundred individual cases filed had been traced. Both commissions were criticized for failing to protect witnesses and for conducting inadequate investigations, especially in cases where state security forces and intelligence agencies were implicated.
The Pakistani Taleban targeted civilians and carried out indiscriminate attacks using improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and suicide bombings. Several tribal elders were victims of targeted killings. The Taleban also tried to assassinate a number of politicians affiliated with the Awami National Party. According to the government, 246 schools (59 girls’ schools, 187 boys’ schools) were destroyed and 763 damaged (244 girls’ schools, 519 boys’ schools) in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province as a result of the conflict with the Taleban, depriving thousands of children of access to education. Threats of violence from the Pakistani Taleban imposed severe restrictions on access to health services, education and participation in public life for women and girls.
Nationalist groups in Balochistan assassinated members of rival factions, ethnic Punjabis and state security forces, and claimed responsibility for attacks on gas and electricity infrastructure, causing severe energy shortages in the province. Sectarian attacks by the armed group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and others on Shi’a Muslims resulted in at least 280 deaths and injuries.
Karachi saw a surge of violence as rival gangs, some linked to political parties, clashed over territorial claims, killing 2,000 people. Security forces detained hundreds of suspects but the Supreme Court criticized political parties for fuelling the violence and authorities for failing to stop many known perpetrators.Top of page
At least nine journalists were killed during the year. Media workers were threatened by security forces, intelligence agencies, political parties and armed groups for reporting on them. Pakistani authorities failed to bring perpetrators to justice or provide adequate protection to journalists.
Sectarian groups continued to threaten minority Ahmadis, Christians, Hindus and Shi’as, as well as moderate Sunni practitioners, and incited violence against those calling for reform of the country’s blasphemy laws. The state failed to prevent sectarian attacks against religious minorities or bring perpetrators to justice.
The trial judge who sentenced Salmaan Taseer’s assassin to death was forced to go into hiding due to death threats while Shahbaz Bhatti’s killers had yet to be brought to justice. Politician Sherry Rehman withdrew a blasphemy law reform bill from the National Assembly following death threats. Aasia Bibi, a Christian farmer sentenced to death for blasphemy in 2009, remained in detention while her case was on appeal.Top of page
Women faced legal and de facto discrimination and violence at home and in public. The Aurat Foundation documented 8,539 cases of violence against women, including 1,575 murders, 827 rapes, 610 incidents of domestic violence, 705 honour killings and 44 acid attacks. In December, Pakistan’s parliament sought to address this problem by passing the Acid Control and Acid Crime Prevention Bill 2010 and the Prevention of Anti-Women Practices (Criminal Law Amendment) Bill 2008, aimed at empowering and protecting women and increasing penalties for perpetrators of gender-based violence. This was the first time that acid attacks and practices like forced marriages were criminalized in Pakistan.
More than 8,000 prisoners remained on death row. According to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, at least 313 people were sentenced to death, over half of them for murder. Three people were sentenced to death for blasphemy. The last execution took place in 2008.Top of page