You do not have the right to remain silent


First appeared in Dawn.com

Today marks the celebration of human rights around the world, but for us there’s much to mourn and little to celebrate. The scourge of discrimination lies at the root of our most pressing problems, faced with prejudice we fall silent and complacent.

In the conclusion of its State of Human Rights in 2010 annual report, the Human rights commission of Pakistan (HRCP) expressed “serious concern at the aggravation of the crisis of the state, caused primarily by a confrontation between institutions driven by insecurity or by self-righteousness”.

It further noted that the state seemed to suffer a paralysis at a challenging time. Notably the crisis of internal displacement due to floods and the war on terror, prioritising the economy and target killings in Balochistan amongst many other human rights issues.

As many as 12,580 people were killed across Pakistan in 2010, there were 581 kidnappings for ransom and 16,977 cases of abductions across the country. Faith based violence claimed the lives of 99 Ahmadis, while 64 people were charged with blasphemy. Violence against various Muslim sects claimed the lives of 418 people and injured 963. 1,159 people were killed in 67 suicide attacks and US drones strikes were responsible for 957 extra-legal killings. 2,903 women were raped and 791 women were killed in the name of honour.

Yet these are just mere stats that will unfortunately reappear scribbled in human rights reports, the numbers will undoubtedly increase but there’s little hope that this would dampen the state’s apathy.

These stats should be a source of embarrassment for the nation, the extra-judicial killings, illegal detentions, faith based violence, rape, torture – the list is all too familiar and endless. Yet every step taken by any institution of the state has been thwarted by another, delayed, obstructed or lapsed due to lack of governance and political will.

But are we willing to speak out?

Perhaps it’s not only the government that seem to suffer from insecurity and self-righteousness, the kind that blinds you in the face of atrocities, it’s the people too. A mainstream debate on human rights abuses is marred with either this or that logic.

Drone versus suicide bombings, Sympathy for Kashmir versus negligence of Balochistan, Aasia versus Afia or more commonly our foreign policy versus the rest of our problems. A rational possibility that one could condemn suicide bombings and be outraged by drone attacks seem to fail upon many. The space for public consensus on our most pressing issues continues to shrink.

I am eager to ask: What is the difference between mutilated bodies of innocent civilians blown into bits by suicide bombings and those charred by drone attacks? Why should we let rightful criticism of other countries be an excuse to undermine our own shortfalls? Why shouldn’t we be outraged (if not more than at all) at the extra judicial killings in Balochistan as we are by human rights abuses in Kashmir?

These are issues that need to be spoken of outside the realms of NGO meetings and human rights reports but with in our homes. The human rights violations should be sneering at our leaders, making their space amongst the top priorities on their mandates, there should be no qualms about the facts that our rights and liberties should be protected. Yet there’s a void, a painful indifference that shuns us into silence and makes us all equally complacent.

As people we stand painfully divided and unless we break free from our passivity and apathy and mobilise to take back our rights, there’s little hope for the future.

Selective outrage and partial morality only weaken the cause of humanity, there’s no glory in humanity that is political more than it is human.

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3 thoughts on “You do not have the right to remain silent

  1. Sana: Once again you have raised a very important topic which Pakistanis and Muslim governments prefer to ignore. I hope you readers know that Pakistan, along with several Muslim countries, signed the UN Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. In 2010, Pakistan was leading the OIC (Organization of Islamic Cooperation) effort in rejecting the 1948 UN Declaration of Human Rights as un-Islamic and adopting a modified (Islamic) version; the Islamic version includes the black blasphemy law under the guise of preventing the defamation of religion. Blasphemy laws not only restrict free speech – a fundamental human right – they have also been abused to settle political or personal enmities as you have documented. As I attended the 63rd anniversary celebration of the UN Human Rights Declaration in the US today, OIC’s rejection of this ideal was painfully reflecting in my mind. I suggest that a debate to identify the alleged anti-Islamic clauses in the UN Human Rights Declaration should be initiated in Pakistan and the Muslim world. Unfortunately, Pakistan is leading the Muslim World to go backwards in respecting Human Rights!

  2. You write of your Country, but the sentiment expressed is Universal. Silence and compliance have led all of us astray and down very dark roads regardless of Country.

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