US report: ‘Culture of impunity’ in Pakistan

U.S. Reports Decry Curbs on NGOs, Internet, Minorities, and setbacks in one or more of these areas took place in many countries last year, including Venezuela, Russia, China, Pakistan, and a number of Middle Eastern and Southeast Asian countries, according to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who released the Reports Friday.

“Societies flourish when they address human rights problems instead of suppressing them,” Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said as she announced this year’s report at the State Department.

Washington: The United States said on Friday that Pakistan’s security forces enjoyed a “culture of impunity” on human rights and voiced concern at religious intolerance in the frontline US war partner.

The report provides detail on human rights conditions in over 190 countries for 2010.

The Reports is based on reporting by other governments, international and local non-governmental organisations (NGOs), journalists, academics, and U.S. diplomats based in the relevant countries.

The New York times says, The report is an exhaustive yearly exercise in cataloging rights abuses in 194 countries, and includes both friends and foes of the United States government. It includes more than two million words and, if printed, more than 7,000 pages.

An annual State Department survey on human rights reported widespread concerns in Pakistan, including violence against women, child labour, corruption, prison abuses and discrimination against religious minorities.

The report said Pakistan had not held anyone accountable for a 2009 incident — shown in a leaked video — in which men in military uniforms shot dead six young men who were lined up and blindfolded with hands behind their backs.

“A failure to credibly investigate allegations, impose disciplinary or accountability measures and consistently prosecute those responsible for abuses contributed to a culture of impunity,” the report said.

The United States cut off some military training to Pakistan over the abuse. But it has maintained multibillion-dollar packages in defence and civilian aid in a bid to help Pakistan fight extremism and assist the war in Afghanistan.

Pakistan in 2008 ended a decade of military-backed rule, with civilian Asif Ali Zardari becoming President. But the State Department report was blunt about the persistent power of the armed forces.

“Security forces did not report to civilian authorities and operated independently from the civilian government,” it said.

Presenting the global report, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton voiced concern about Pakistan’s blasphemy law which allows for the death penalty. Critics say it has been frequently abused against minorities.

“The blasphemy law has been enforced against Muslims who do not share the beliefs of other Muslims and also against non-Muslims, who worship differently,” Hillary told reporters.

Salman Taseer, the governor of Punjab province and a leading Pakistani voice for reforming the blasphemy law, was assassinated on January 04 by his own bodyguard, who was given a hero’s welcome in some quarters.

Two months later, gunmen shot dead Shahbaz Bhatti, the sole Christian in the cabinet who had fought to improve the rights of non-Muslims as the minister for minorities.

“The issues of intolerance in Pakistan trouble us greatly, and I think they trouble most Pakistanis,” Michael Posner, the assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labour, told reporters.

He voiced concern about the Urdu-language press and its role in intolerance.

“We can’t force that change, but we are very mindful… to the real challenges that we and the Pakistani government face in trying to tamp down the intolerance that now is so pervasive,” Posner said.

The report took note of Pakistani government efforts to improve human rights, including a new law against sexual harassment and the allocation of reserved seats in Parliament for religious minorities.

But the report said that women spoke of rape in custody, with few perpetrators held to account, and said that women and girls were often subjected to abuse or “honour killings” as part of family disputes.

“Women often were treated as the property or goods of their families, and perpetrators were often husbands and other male family members,” it said.

Blasphemy laws used to harass minorities:

“In Pakistan, religious freedom violations and discrimination against religious minorities continued. The blasphemy laws were used to harass religious minorities as well as vulnerable Muslims or Muslims with minority views,” said the US State Department’s ‘Country Report.

The report also said that religious minorities — namely Christians and members of the Ahmadiyya community — were more likely to suffer abuse in prison and reported cases of torture in custody.

In the first two months of 2011, liberal and outspoken Pakistan Peoples Party senior leader Governor Punjab Salman Taseer & Federal Minister for Minorities Shahbaz Bhatti, who publicly challenged these laws were brutally killed, it said.

There were numerous reports of politically motivated killings in Karachi and Balochistan.

The ‘Dawn’ newspaper reported that 1,981 persons were killed in political violence in Karachi, of which 748 were targeted killings, the State Department report said.

According to Human Rights Watch, the targeted killing and disappearance of Baloch leaders, activists, and civilians increased in 2010.