ISLAMABAD: Although the bi-partisan National Action Plan (NAP) to counter terrorism and extremism in the country was launched amid pomp and circumstance, its implementation has, of late, become a major cause for concern for both the government and the military.
Then consider the fate of another action plan – not as high-profile, but equally as important – that has been lying in cold storage since February of this year; the Action Plan to Improve the Human Rights Situation in Pakistan.
An ambitious government attempt to improve the state of human rights in the country, prepared ostensibly on the instructions of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, has not even filtered down to the departments tasked with its implementation.
Unveiled in February by Law Minister Zahid Hamid, Information Minister Pervaiz Rashid and then-PM’s Special Assistant on Human Rights Zafarullah Khan, the plan contains a blueprint of steps needed to introduce necessary amendments to laws and policies; change the way justice is delivered and – perhaps most importantly – protect the rights of women, minorities, children, disabled people and prisoners.
But many officials from the ministries of information, law and justice and federal education and professional training – that are tasked to deal with various aspects of the plan – are not even aware of its existence.
Amid concerns over NAP implementation, HR ministry’s ambitious plan is all but forgotten; 1099 helpline ‘unheard of’ in Fata, GB
It has not been publicised even half as much as other ruling party projects, such as the metro bus, the renovation of schools in the capital or the launching of new energy projects.
Even the blueprint document, which is supposed to be available on the official website of the Ministry of Human Rights, is no longer accessible.
A copy of the plan, available with Dawn, lays out the government’s plans to make changes to the educational curriculum and to raise awareness about human rights issues, along with the implementation of international treaties that Pakistan has ratified.
The plan is divided into three neat columns; one lists the actions to be taken, the next names the department or ministry responsible for seeing it through and the third notes the date by which the action is to be completed, the latest being December 2016.
Given the breadth of the tasks laid out in the plan, the first question which arises is that of timeframes: why, if the government is serious about the plan, did it set out to achieve so much in so little time, i.e. Feb to Dec 2016?
When asked to comment, an assistant director at the Ministry of Human Rights claimed this was because an outdated copy of the plan was uploaded to the ministry’s website.
According to him, the plan was submitted last year and was supposed to be launched at the beginning of FY2015-16. When the plan was finally launched in February, the dates on the document were supposed to be changed accordingly.
“Maybe they uploaded the wrong one,” was his simple explanation for the short timelines mentioned in the plan. He added that tangible actions – such as amendments to the Constitution – had been given specific deadlines, while outcomes that needed constant monitoring had been categorised as ‘ongoing actions’.
Barrister Zafarullah Khan, who was one of the architects of the action plan, told Dawn: “When I was associated with the law and human rights ministry, we had completed the document and finalised all the timelines for specific actions. All tasks mentioned in the document are time-bound on the PM’s directions. The first actions on this plan should have begun in September-October this year. But I don’t know what the situation is currently; whether the process has begun or not.”
A key component of the plan was the 1099 helpline, set up by the Ministry of Human Rights to provide “legal advice on human rights violations” in May 2015.
According to a helpline official, anyone who finds their rights being violated can call this number and report their situation to the officer who picks up. The officer will then refer the case to the appropriate government agency or department, along with identifying sections of the law under which that particular agency is required to take up the case.
“We then stay in touch with the victim and the agency to which the case has been referred, to ensure that justice is done. We also take cases to the National Commission on Human Rights (NCHR), which has the powers of a magistrate,” the official said.
He claimed the government was allocating the resources needed to help victims, and that the helpline also helps such victims with their cases in the courts.
The official also said that they would help people who complained their rights were encroached on by security agencies. “The procedure for cases against security agencies is the same as for other cases. All the victim has to do is get in touch with us.”
The helpline has also established a database which can provide information requested by students and journalists.
Data provided to Dawn by helpline officials showed that between Feb and Jul 2016, the helpline received a total of 22,657 calls, of which only five were referred to other departments or institutions.
At least 9,872 calls were “instantly disposed of”, 848 callers were provided legal advice and 941 were subject to “instant referral” to the concerned department.
While these numbers may sound impressive, a further breakdown of the calls reveals that most of them originated from Punjab (53pc), while it received no calls from Gilgit-Baltistan and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) – two of the country’s most under-developed areas.
The official explained that these areas were considered “off-the-grid” in terms of telecommunication coverage, so the helpline was being promoted there via seminars, ads in local papers, and interactions with students, among other means of direct outreach.
The call data also offers an interesting insight into the kinds of problems that were reported. At least 24pc of the calls dealt with women’s rights issues, while 26pc complained of problems with government, administration or allied departments. However, it was not clear from the data how many of these cases were taken to their logical conclusion.
Published in Dawn September 5th, 2016
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