Prepared in Bonn, Germany, by the ISHR Secretariat (June 2023)
Pakistan and India are two of the world’s most populous countries. With long histories of rich cultural development, notable advancements in the sciences, arts, philosophy, research, technological innovation, and more, they each merit significant international attention from external actors. At the same time, both states share a history of difficult trajectories toward democratic developmentand bear less than ideal records of defending human rights, ensuring equality and full protection before the law, and maintaining compliance with international legal standards on the fundamental rights, necessary protections, and basic entitlements for their citizens.
The following brief has been prepared by the Secretariat for the International Society for Human Rights with a dual purpose, to a) inform and raise awareness around critical human rights issues in Pakistan and India, respectively,and b) to communicate its requests and recommendations for authorities and relevant engaged actors in each state in order to guarantee respect for and honor the dignity and most fundamental rights of all those residing in Pakistan and India today.
The issues included have been listed in an order not intended to reflect any sort of differing weight orimportance associated with each. ISHR is an apolitical, independent organization which does not affiliate itself with, nor wish to imply support for, any political group or campaign in any country, and seeks primarily and solely to identify, raise awareness, and engage in assistance and aid around human rights issues around the world.
Pakistan is a state facing conflict, tension, and threats to its integrity from every angle. Amidst its political, economic, social and environmental crises it is without a doubt in a time of great difficulty. However, this is not, and cannot ever, be an excuse for continued systematic and substantial practices of human rights abuse and violations. Pakistan’s sweeping polito-social movement carries thepotential for widespread and revolutionary change in the coming months and years – whatever changes are to come, be they forward or backward, must not be mutually exclusive with progress in the defense and respect of its citizens’ most fundamental rights as human beings. The International Society for Human Rights (ISHR) specifically requests the following from Pakistani authorities and engaged actors of relevance in the state:
- Freedom of speech must be guaranteed – this includes access to uncensored forms of communications, access to online services without political interference, and the freedom to demonstrate without fear of violent treatment, retribution, or even death
- Political movements must not seek to alienate or target vulnerable minorities, exposing them to danger, violence, and persecution
- Economic decisions must be made in consideration of those most vulnerable to their effects – forced austerity cuts or changes to governmental subsidies and assistance programs must ensure that they are done so as to not further imperil those most at risk of any potentially dire consequences
- Civilians must not be tried in civilian courts – doing so is a violation of international human rights lawand will tarnish the integrity and human rights record of Pakistan on the world stage
- Fair and open democratic political processes must be not only allowed, but facilitated free of third-party interference in the country
- Those affected by natural disasters must be provided with immediate and adequate medical assistance to protect the most vulnerable segment of Pakistan’s population from famine and an inescapable fall into even further poverty
- Prison reform must be undertaken in full haste – prisons must uphold a basic level of respect for the rights of prisoners, regardless of their crimes or actions. Sanitary conditions, access to adequate food, appropriate medical care, and proper bail reform must be an immediate priority of the state
- Pakistan must restrain from provoking or inadvertently causing further escalation in Kashmir and make further attempts at peaceful resolution with its neighbors where possible and feasible
Imran Khan and the Political Situation in Pakistan Today
Pakistan is in the middle of one of its most serious crises ever. Its economy is spiraling downward threatening a catastrophic collapse while its political scene enters into uncharted territory. Politics and governance is facilitated bythe Pakistani army, which has had de-facto, if not extremely far-reaching, control over Pakistani politics and affairs since independence in 1947. The current crisis began mid-April 2022, when then-Prime Minister Imran Khan was removed from office after losing a vote of no-confidence held in Parliament over his perceived mishandling of the economy and deemed political failures. On May 9th 2023, police arrested Khan on corruption charges. This arrest led Khan’s supporters to protest and riot, attacking police and settingvehicles and schools ablaze. In efforts to stop the demonstrations, police fired on and used excessive force against protesters.
After the protests, thousands of members of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), Imran Khan’s political party, were arrested on charges of criminal intimidation, rioting, and assault on government officials. Internet shutdowns followed, cutting access for millions to healthcare, information, and other essential services. On May 12th, Imran Khan was released from jail, although many more political and opposition figures remain in prisons in unsafemedical and sanitary conditions. Thousands of those arrested are to be tried in military, and not civilian courts. This is a matter of high concern for international and domestic observers. Using military courts for civilians is a violation of international human rights law ensuring due process and a fair trial for criminal suspects. A likelyreason for the use of such courts is that such widespread and public protest against the arrests of Imran Khan and claims of his corruption has caught the military off-guard and threatened their hegemonic control over Pakistani affairs and politics.
Tehreek-e-Insaf has now become a target, as has anyone standing in their way. Notably, this has included humanrights defenders, journalists, media and minority groups empowered by Khan’s rhetoric and populism.
Pakistani law allows for weaponization of anti-blasphemy protections to conduct arbitrary arrests, prosecution, raids, harassment, and intimidation of dissenting and opposition groups. These laws are beingheavily utilized as the military responds to the largest ever challenge to its power. There is unprecedented support behind Imran Khan in the public arena, and it is unclear where he and his supporters, the military, and the current government will stand in the coming weeks and months. The political chaos along with looming economic collapse and widespread poverty is a potent mix; there exists a high likelihood of increased violence, worsening of food shortages and spread of famine, and a sharp increase in the number of human rights abuses perpetrated by the government against civilians and persons belonging to civil society.
Pakistan’s government is nearing completion of highly consequential negotiations with the International MonetaryFund (IMF) over a bailout package to rescue its economy, as it is facing one of its worst ever economic crises. The country has long suffered with economic instability and faces an even steeper path to recovery following thedevastating floods which, in late 2022, caused destruction and significant environmental and economic damage. The IMF is almost certain to attach austerity conditions to any loan disbursed, which has the potential to buckle Pakistan’s already limited ability to assist and support its poorest and most at-need populations. Over a quarter of Pakistan’s population before the floods lived below the poverty line – this proportion is unlikely to have shrunk since then and the effects offorced fiscal reforms is equally unlikely to provide any immediate reduction thereto.
Current negotiations revolve around Pakistan’s hope to unlock as soon as possible the full remaining amount of a near7 million USD IMF loan agreed on in 2019. The funds are needed in order to address a series of economic issues which, if left unresolved, threaten a catastrophic collapse even by the standard of present conditions. Foreign exchange reserves are dangerously low, decreasing by 16percent in late January to $3 billion – enough to cover only three weeks of imports. Further shortages, or even a depletion, of foreign currency could have implications ranging from inability to access life-saving medicines to the inducement of famine where food imports are expensive beyond the reach of most Pakistanis.
Pakistani prisons are today miserable centers devoid of the most basic respect for prisoner rights and dignity. Everyone of the 116 jails in Pakistan is severely overcrowded, on average by 136%, and run on archaic penal structures with minimal oversight. Current laws contribute to this overcrowding problem, and have created conditions whereina large percentage of prisoners have been neither tried nor convicted, and instead must face inhumane conditionswhile awaiting trial. Bail is routinely denied or rendered so high as to be impossible to reach, leaving prisoners trapped if they cannot pay the necessary bribes or afford legal support.
A disproportionate number of prisoners in the system are those from the lowest socioeconomic rungs of Pakistani society, and therefore the least individually capable of advocating for their cause or escaping the horrific conditions in the prison system. Such conditions are only exacerbated for minorities,such as those with disabilities or women, who face additional challenges including child-rearing responsibilities.
Many prisoners are forced to pay for their own food, are denied fundamental sanitary conditions and thus rendered vulnerable to a vast array of illness and disease. Health care is minimal where accessible, and the quality is poor. Medical access is limited and is aided little by the prolific corruption present among prison administration officials and staff. Impunity is standard for abuses perpetrated by those in power in the system. Despite Pakistan’s constitutional courts declaring several aspects of the current prison system, specifically its bail practices,
unconstitutional and demanding reform, little to no action has been undertaken to date. Reports of torture, policeabuse, political weaponisation and exploitation of the system, and lengthy and inhumane pre-trial detentions continue unabated and remain commonpractice.
In August of 2022, Pakistan was decimated by powerful floods which inundated up to a third of the country at its peak. It was Pakistan’s largely poor and rural population who bore the brunt of the flooding, wherein millions losttheir homes, property, assets and communities, assuming they had survived at all. Indeed, over 1,500 were killed in 2022, with a long-term death toll likely much higher due to health risks posed by contaminated water, scant to non-existent access to medical resources or facilities, and starvation. Among those killed, 400 were children, and by a UNICEF estimate, at least 3.4 million more were in immediate need of humanitarian assistance following the floods. An additional 16 million lack housing and safe drinking water, not to mention are vulnerable to any number of waterborne diseases now widespread in affected regions.
It is estimated that more than 33 million in Pakistan today are displaced, many with no home to return to. The millions of acres of crops wiped out raise the potential for massive famine, compounding health risks posed by conditions on the ground. The floods are also responsible for billions of dollars of damage to homes and critical infrastructure, which adds to concerns around Pakistan’s worsening economicproblems. Inflation is exceptionally high, severely affecting food and fuel prices. The floods occurred just as the country is negotiating an IMF bailout deal, with anticipated austerity reforms raising concern over the government’s ability to respond to devastation andhavoc wrought on some of the country’s poorest and most disadvantaged.
Pakistan itself is one of the most vulnerable to the ever-increasing effects of climate change, yet is largelyunprepared and inadequately equipped to address its own climate resiliency problems. Its projected warming far outpaces the global average and future flooding is essentially inevitable as increased rainfall is all but guaranteed inthe coming years and decades. Pakistan’s climate insecurity only amplifies another issue: its weak and troubled record of protecting women and girls. In the past flooding, more than 650,000 pregnant women and girls were directly affectedand over 73,000 were forced to give birth with limited access to sanitary facilities, medical experts or often any form of adequate maternal care at all.
India is on an autocratic path from which it must take immediate actions to free itself. In name, it is the largest democracy in the world – and this must be protected and fought for before the consequences of democratic backsliding balloon even further than they have already shown signs of doing. Through a methodical approach to sidelining and marginalizing minorities in the way of full realization of a Hindu-majoritarian state, the leading party, BJP, has indirectly greenlighted, if not directly facilitated rising acts of violence against Muslim, Christian, Sikh, and other minorities in the country. Attempts at erasure and rewriting of history, political manipulation andexploitation of ethnic tensions, and repeated overlooking of human rights abuses where expedient, have created dangerous and concerning conditions throughout the country. Such conditions have led to horrific acts of violence and hate in regions like Manipur, where bloody ethnic conflict has received minimal international and even domestic attention, if not even implicit encouragement fromcentral authorities and common techniques of oppression and autocratic control have been employed to quell not only violence, but the ability of those in the state to share calls for help and document the abuses occurring there. The International Society for Human Rights specifically requests the following from Indian authorities and engaged actors of relevance in the state:
- Greater initiative to preserve and expand true democratic principles in India must be undertaken as quickly as possible in a thorough and truly committed manner
- Incitements to violence, implicit or explicit, must be stopped and eliminated as a political tool by any faction, party, or individuals in power in all levels of India’s government
- The rights of minorities must not be ignored, deliberately abused and dismissed, or forgotten. Full participatory rights must be ensured, full access, due process, and impartiality in the judicial system must not be abridged, and justice for perpetrators of violence against minority individuals or communities mustbe held accountable for their actions to the full extent of the law, no less than would be brought against a member of any other ethnic, social, political, religious, tribal, or economic group
- Full access to and use of all communication platforms, means, and resources must not be curtailed by the government on any level. Internet blackouts, censorship, and control over information and access to newsinformation must not be used as a political tool or to political ends
- Harassment and targeting of groups engaging in the defense of human rights, freedom of speech, protection of minorities and vulnerable groups, and members of intellectual and academic institutions, societies, and groups must cease and be reversed immediately. Such actions are that of an authoritarian state and have absolutely no place in India.
- The ideology of Hindu-majoritarianism must be abandoned as a central organizing principle for a stateas politically, ethnically, religiously, and ideologically diverse as India. The government must pursue a more inclusive and mutually tolerant approach in its domestic and international affairs.
- Conflict in regions such as Manipur must not be ignored, swept under the rug, or allowed to grow in the darkness of internet blackouts and the silence in domestic and international media. India must pursue immediate actions to restore peace, resolve internal-state conflicts, build a more equitable and sustainable power-sharing and conflict resolution mechanism in the state, and ensure equal representation and access of all citizens to the political process and public institutions, resources, and opportunities.
- India must not seek to, or act in a way that might, provoke conflict in Kashmir. Purposeful demographic manipulation, suppression of free speech and access to the democratic process, use of violence againstcivilians, and oppressive measures of control must be discontinued, restricted, and significantly altered.
- Actions to pursue a sustainable and mutually agreeable peace in Kashmir must be undertaken in Kashmirthat does not inherently preclude surrender of some, if not more, central control over the territory is an essential and required aspect of future peace negotiations which are implored to be initiated as soon as possible.
Erosion of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms
Since his election in 2014, Narendra Modi has served as India’s Prime Minister and the de-facto head of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Since taking office, he has systematically sought to erode fundamental rights and freedoms of Indian citizens, aided by strong support for the BJP on national, state, and local levels across the country. The BJP represents a Hindu-majoritarian ideology and movement, and has moved to eliminate by a variety of means any group or other perceived threat that might stand in the way of realizing an essentially Hindu-nationalist state.
India has produced, with a significant increase in the past years, ever more reports of incitement to violence by authorities and public and party officials against minorities such as Muslims, Christains, Sikhs, and others. Discrimination against women is on the rise, and civil society is facing a campaign of harassment, censorship, and oppression. Activists, journalists, and academics across the country have been jailed, with reports of torture faced by those in custody. Many critical news stations have been forced to end operations, often conducted through the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act. The act has also been used to target NGOs, international human rights organizations, and many other civil society groups, subjecting them to tax raids and allegations of fraud and financial irregularities.
The government has weaponized technology and is credited with imposing the highest number of internet shutdowns of any country globally. Such shutdowns remove access to government programs, essential services, access to medical care, e-commerce, online banking, among other activities away from millions for whom other means of access may be non-existent. Shutdowns also curtail citizens’ rights to privacy, freedom of expression, and access to information and news online.
The ruling government in India is led by the Bharatiya Janata Party, or the BJP. The party is constructed on an ideology of what has been termed “Hindu majoritarianism”. In practice, this has meant anescalation of legislative and public-driven acts seeking to harass, marginalize, and attack minorities in the country. The most prominent among these minorities, and the primary target of BJP’s attacks, is India’s sizable Muslimpopulation. It is not only domestic populations affected however, as Rohingya refugees fleeing Myanmar have been largely denied asylum in India. BJP’s efforts have also targeted Christians, Sikhs, and numerous other minorities in the country.
India operates as a semi-federal system, meaning its states possess a degree of autonomy from the federal levelbased in New Delhi. States with elected BJP administrations are a driving force of rights abuses against non-Hindu majorities in the country. Their actions are often ignored, if not implicitly or even explicitly supported by officials in New Delhi. These actions include, among others, systematically discriminatory laws and policies, as well as both direct and indirect incitements to violence against minorities. Those in opposition to such policies are held to account, with numerous cases of Muslim homes and properties being demolished and individuals publicly humiliated and punished for protesting in states such as Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat.
Religious sites such as churches and mosques have also been targets for attacks and harassment of their respective populations.
Hindu Festivals have specifically been utilized by the BJP to rally public support and solidarity with their Hindu-majoritarian views and incite violence among its supporters with implicit guarantees of impunity. Minorities havefewer and weaker means of recourse from authorities if rendered victim to such acts, as bias in policing andenforcement is prolific and equal protection under the law cannot be guaranteed.
In India’s far eastern state of Manipur, ethnic clashes have broken out in the past few months resulting in reports ofwidespread acts of violence and human rights abuses. The violence arises from the state’s deep divisions between itsHindu/Muslim tribes located in the more prosperous central urban valley, and its more rural and Christian tribes who reside in the hills and forests encircling the central valley. Within the valley, the population is largely made up of the Meitei tribe who speak either their own language or Manipur and have access to the majority of medical, business, and educational opportunities and facilities in the state. Outside of it, the Christian tribes are most prominently represented by the Kuki and Naga, and are significantly more socio-economically disadvantaged.
Indian authorities have historically granted tribes deemed to face high obstacles to prosperity, access, and opportunitywith the designation as a “Scheduled Tribe”, granting them quotas in government jobs and educational institutions as well as provision of economic benefits and other means of support. The Kuki and Naga are included under this designation, while the Meitei are not. However, the Meitei caused outrage and anger among the rural tribes of Manipur when in April they announced their intention to also obtain the designation. Members of rural tribes have highlighted a severe imbalance in wealth, power, and development status in the state, arguing that extending quota and economic benefits to the Meitei will only exacerbate inequality in Manipur. Importantly, Manipur is currently run by the Hindu-majoritarian BJP party, with the ruling government andBJP officials disproportionately representing the urban, and Meitei, center of the state.
Protests broke out in early May, and since then have left more than 70 dead and 35,000 displaced. Of the 70, at least 40 were Kuki militants killed by security forces, although this is disputed by local groups. In addition, at least 1,700 homes have been destroyed and over 200 churches burned. Violent clashes have been worsened by the use of weapons and ammunition looted from police stations and there have been reports of police refusing to intervene or even partaking in the violence. Despite intercessant pauses in the violence, the killings are ongoing.
The government has responded harshly, and internet blackouts and cuts have been used frequently. Such cuts havemade collection of information, verification of claims and abuses, and any on-the-ground reporting difficult and dangerous.
Kashmir is a diverse and geopolitically significant region located on the northern border of India and Pakistan. Claims over the region are fiercely argued over by the governments of the two countries, and their status as nuclear powers further raises the stakes of miscalculation amidst such high tensions.Upon India and Pakistan’s independence in 1947, Kashmir elected to join India, angering Pakistan and causing awar. A UN intervention in 1949 ended the conflict and created a cease-fire line, which has roughly demarcated the parts of Kashmir under the control of the respective nations today. However, this has not meant peace, and since 1949 two more wars have been fought and sporadic outbreaks of fighting remain common.
India-controlled Kashmir was, until 2019, lumped into the state of Jammu and Kashmir which was affordedconstitutional protection as a special autonomous region, with its own constitution, flag, only ceding foreign affairs,defense, and communications affairs to the federal government. The region has been difficult for New Delhi, however, having fought an armed rebellion against Indian rule for over three decades in the territory. In light of these issues, and in reflection of domestic political trends, the government changed the status of Kashmir. It was split from Jammu and integrated as a federal state. This caused anger, protests, and severe tensions between India and those in India-controlled Kashmir, as well as between India and Pakistan.
India has conducted several campaigns to squash dissent and opposition in the region, especially in the realm of communications. Internet blackouts, among other measures, have been used prolifically by New Delhi to counter broad public dissent with increased federal influence and authority in Kashmir.
Those within India-controlled Kashmir are majority Muslim, the only state in India in which this is the case. Giventhe rise in anti-Muslim acts in the country, concerns over curtailed freedom of religion and from discrimination are widespread. Most in Kashmir would, ideally, join Pakistan or become independent. Many view Indian rule as an occupation and reports of human rights abuses by security forces are numerous. Some even claim that India is seeking to dilute the Muslim nature of the region, to undercut any demographic, religious, or political homogeneity capable of threatening Indian authority.
Imran Khan and the Political Situation in Pakistan Today
- https://www.hrw.org/news/2023/01/12/pakistan-rights-besieged-amid-polit ical-turmoil
- https://www.hrw.org/news/2023/05/20/pakistan-mass-arrests-target-politic al-opposition
- https://www.hrw.org/news/2023/05/11/pakistan-excessive-force-against-vi olent-khan-protests
- https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/pakistan-uncharted-territory-ar my-seeks-vanquish-imran-khan-2023-05-22/
- https://www.hrw.org/report/2023/03/29/nightmare-everyone/health-crisis- pakistans-prisons
- https://www.hrw.org/news/2023/03/29/pakistan-prisoners-deprived-adequa te-health-care
- https://www.ohchr.org/en/statements/2023/05/turk-there-should-be-un-hu man-rights-office-everywhere
- https://www.hrw.org/news/2023/01/12/pakistan-rights-besieged-amid-polit ical-turmoil
- https://www.hrw.org/news/2023/02/06/pakistan-imf-bailout-should-advanc e-economic-rights
- https://www.hrw.org/news/2023/05/27/india-should-back-global-human-rights-an d-end-abuses-home
Erosion of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms
- https://www.hrw.org/news/2023/01/12/india-suppression-free-speech-min orities
- https://www.hrw.org/news/2023/05/30/india-investigate-police-bias-allege d-manipur-violence
- https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2023/02/india-tax-raids-on-the-bb c-are-an-affront-to-free-speech/
- https://www.hrw.org/news/2023/04/05/indias-hindu-festivals-bring-increas ing-anti-muslim-violence
- https://www.hrw.org/news/2023/05/30/india-investigate-police-bias-allege d-manipur-violence
- https://www.reuters.com/graphics/INDIA-VIOLENCE/movakzwygva/ind html