The Pakistani Taliban’s assassination attempt on a teenage human rights activist in October underscored the serious risks faced by human rights defenders and journalists in the country. Religious minorities suffered persecution and attacks, with targeted killings by armed groups and religious leaders inciting violence against them. The Armed Forces and armed groups continued to perpetrate abuses in the tribal areas and Balochistan province, including enforced disappearances, abductions, torture and unlawful killings. The courts successfully compelled the authorities to bring a handful of victims of enforced disappearance before them, but failed to bring perpetrators to justice in fair trials. In November, the military authorities carried out Pakistan’s first execution since 2008. Attacks on health workers had a significant impact on access to medical services in remote and strife-torn regions of the country. Parliament passed laws, in February and March respectively, on the establishment of separate national commissions on the status of women and on human rights.
Pakistan faced several political crises as the military, courts and elected government clashed over a range of issues, including corruption investigations. On19 June, the Supreme Court forced then Prime Minister Gilani to resign after finding him in contempt of court, underlining the increasing power of the judiciary. In a landmark decision on 23 September, the Supreme Court ruled that members of the transgender community are entitled to the same rights under the Pakistan Constitution as other citizens. Hundreds of prisoners were transferred between India and Pakistan as part of a wider agreement on consular relations signed in May, signalling improved relations between the two countries. An undisclosed number of civilians, including children, were killed or injured as a result of “targeted killings” carried out by unmanned US drones in the tribal areas (see USA entry). By the end of the year, relations had improved between Pakistan and the USA, its chief foreign ally.
Pakistan began its two-year membership of the UN Security Council in January. A number of UN human rights experts visited the country for the first time in 13 years: the Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers in May, the High Commissioner for Human Rights in June, and the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances in September. Pakistan’s human rights record was assessed under the UN Universal Periodic Review in October; states raised a range of human rights issues including reform of the blasphemy laws, progress towards abolishing the death penalty, and ending enforced disappearances. Pakistan was elected to the UN Human Rights Council for the third time on 12 November.Top of page
Security forces continued to act with impunity and were accused of widespread human rights violations, including arbitrary arrests, enforced disappearances, torture, deaths in custody and extrajudicial executions targeting political activists, journalists, and suspected members of armed groups. In the northwest tribal areas, the armed forces exploited new and old security laws to provide cover for these violations beyond the reach of the courts.
Hundreds of unlawful killings, including extrajudicial executions and deaths in custody, were widely reported. They were most common in the northwest tribal areas, and Balochistan and Sindh provinces.
The Supreme Court was granted unprecedented access to some victims of enforced disappearances, including seven surviving members of the “Adiala 11” in February, and several others from Balochistan throughout the year. The Chief Justice threatened to order the arrest of law enforcement personnel for failing to provide a legal basis for arrests and detentions in Balochistan, and the Peshawar High Court continued to pressure the authorities to provide details of all individuals held in security detention in the northwest tribal areas. However, reports of enforced disappearances continued across the country, especially in Balochistan province and the north-west tribal areas; no serving or retired security personnel were brought to justice for their alleged involvement in these or other violations. The UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances made its first ever visit to the country in September, but key officials refused to meet them, including the head of the Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances, Chief Justices of the Supreme Court and most High Courts, and senior security and military representatives.
The Pakistani Taliban, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, the Balochistan Liberation Army and other armed groups targeted security forces and civilians, including members of religious minorities, aid workers, activists and journalists. They carried out indiscriminate attacks using improvised explosive devices and suicide bombs.
Journalists remained under serious threat from state security forces, armed opposition and other groups, particularly in Balochistan and Sindh provinces, and the north-west tribal areas. At least eight journalists were killed during the year. Several journalists claimed to have been threatened for reporting on the military, political parties or armed groups.
The government occasionally blocked websites, including YouTube and Facebook, without explanation or for content deemed offensive to religious sentiments. The courts threatened to bring criminal proceedings against journalists under contempt of court laws for reports criticizing the judiciary.Top of page
Ahmadis, Hindus and Christians remained at serious risk of violence and intimidation on the basis of their religious beliefs. There were at least 79 attacks on Shi’a Muslims – the most for any religious group in the country. Religious minorities were disproportionately represented in incidents where private individuals sought to invoke Pakistan’s vaguely formulated blasphemy laws.
Women and girls and those campaigning for their rights continued to face discrimination and violence in the home and in public. Human rights groups documented thousands of cases of violence against women and girls across the country with a majority from the most populous province of Punjab. Cases included murders, rapes and incidents of domestic violence. This was likely only a fraction of all incidents given limited reporting of these abuses.
More than 8,300 people remained on death row, some for 20 to 30 years, and 242 were sentenced to death during the year. In November, military authorities executed Muhammad Hussain for killing a superior officer and two others in Okara district, Punjab province, after appeals for clemency from the Army Chief and President were rejected. It was the first death sentence carried out in Pakistan since 2008. The government distanced itself from the decision to proceed with the execution, as it had been carried out by the military authorities, but activists were concerned it risked opening the door to a resumption of executions.
In July, the government began consultations on a draft parliamentary bill to commute all death sentences to life imprisonment.Top of page