Pakistan: Stop Attacks On Human Rights Advocates And NGO Workers - Equality Now

Pakistan: Stop Attacks On Human Rights Advocates And NGO Workers

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Equality Now and our partners in Pakistan are deeply concerned about the continuing attacks and threats against activists and NGO workers in Pakistan. Women, and those working to promote the rights of women and girls, have been particularly targeted by some of the attacks.

In August 2012, Equality Now issued an urgent alert urging the Pakistan government to protect human rights defenders. Since then, the situation has deteriorated:

  • January 2013 - gunmen shot dead six women and a man working for a health, education and water sanitation NGO in the Swabi district of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province. According to media reports, five of the women were teachers, while the sixth woman and the man were health workers.
  • January 2013 – gunmen shot dead two charity workers in Charsadda working for an organization involved with education and welfare work in the district. That same weekend, the director of a well-known NGO in KP was targeted by a bomb.  
  • December 2012 - nine polio field workers – mostly women – were shot dead in a string of attacks in Karachi, Charsadda and Peshawar, prompting UN agencies to temporarily suspend their polio vaccination campaigns throughout Pakistan.
  • December 2012 - a female Swedish NGO worker was shot dead in Lahore, a male British Muslim Red Cross worker was kidnapped and beheaded in Quetta and a U.S. development worker has been missing since being kidnapped from his home in Lahore in August 2011.
  • October 2012 - 15-year-old Malala Yousafzai, an activist advocating for access to education for girls, was shot and seriously injured by Pakistani Taliban gunmen in the Swat district of KP. According to local NGOs, threats against schools, especially girls’ schools, and NGOs are continuing and several government schools have been bombed in recent months. Girl students at a school renamed after Malala to honor her bravery of are said to have demonstrated to reinstate the original name for fear of the school being attacked by Taliban militants.

Despite the increasing attacks, neither the provincial nor federal governments appear to have taken any steps to prevent or punish these murders and attacks, although security is now reportedly being provided to safeguard those renewing the vaccination program. Civil Society organizations working in the KP province and FATA region, including the Pakhtunkhwa Civil Society Network (PCSN) and Tribal NGOs Consortium (TNC) coalitions, as well as End Violence against Women and Girls (EVAW/G) Alliance KP & FATA, have condemned the recent attacks and reiterated their call for the protection of human rights defenders and justice for those who have been murdered.

These groups are demanding that the government:

  • amend the Pakistan Penal Code and the Criminal Procedure Code to make it a specific criminal offence to intimidate, harass, threaten, attack or injure any individual because of their human rights or NGO work;
  • take immediate measures to end the culture of impunity for crimes against women, including by:
    • repealing or revising laws, policies and practices – both written and unwritten – that deny women’s equality and rights;
    • bringing to justice perpetrators of violence and discrimination against women and those who collude with them; and
    • taking legislative, educational and other appropriate measures to address the culture of silence and victim-blaming that increases the vulnerability of women to violence, results in the violation of their rights and impedes their enjoyment of full and equal citizenship.

This would be in compliance with Pakistan’s obligations under international human rights standards. As the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Margaret Sekaggya, noted in her August 2010 report, ‘Fighting impunity for violations committed against defenders is crucial in order to enable defenders to work in a safe and conducive environment.’

Please join Equality Now and our partners and ask the Pakistani government to heed the call of Pakistani civil society groups to protect human rights defenders, ensure justice for targeted activists, and prevent future violence, including by guaranteeing and promoting women’s right to equality.

FEBRUARY 6, 2013 UPDATE: The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) provincial government has pledged monetary compensation (300,000 PKR) and one government job to each of the seven victims’ families in Swabi.  While this falls short of our demands, it will be a great benefit to the families, as the victims’ NGO jobs were often the families’ main source of income.  Additionally, the fact that the government responded to the civil society organizations at all, which is fairly uncommon, is encouraging. In response to the government, local groups are calling for increased compensation to all of the murdered human rights advocates and NGO worker’s families (2,000,000 PKR), and re-iterated that all such cases be properly investigated and the perpetrators be brought to justice. Equality Now has also sent our Urgent Alert to the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders in Geneva.