Fundamental Rights in Pakistan


Prof. Ijaz Khan


The constitution of Pakistan guarantees ‘Fundamental Rights to all its citizens. The state of Pakistan is party to a number of International Treaties regarding Human Rights, which include a Covenant on Civil and Political Rights including the various treaties dealing with particular Rights like CEDAW about women’s Rights, Racial Discrimination Convention, Child Rights Convention, and Convention against Torture. There are a number of Non Governmental Organizations actively keeping an eye on any abuse of Fundamental Rights. This should mean the guarantee of Fundamental Rights in Pakistan but the reality on ground is rather dismal. Everything from social practices, state policies and the approach of those who are responsible for ensuring Fundamental Rights as guaranteed by Pakistan’s Constitution and international obligations are far from satisfactory.

Making correct laws is just one-step in the right direction. The Constitution itself gives rights in one place but taking them away in another. It guarantees Fundamental Rights but the insertion of Objectives Resolution negates most of what is guaranteed. Then, though it grants fundamental rights to all citizens of Pakistan, it denies them to Pakistani citizens of FATA by having no judiciary there, which is the only real means to ensure the guarantees given by the constitution. The various international conventions are acceded to or become party of with reservations that negates their spirit. Space does not permit it but in various specific laws the religious rights of minorities are not protected. But more important is the lack of a culture of respect for Fundamental Rights that deprives People of Pakistan from enjoying fundamental rights.

Awareness is the first and the most important step in guaranteeing any right. When you know something is your right, then you are ready to fight for it, protect it and get it. If you are not aware that something belongs to you, you do not even miss it; and that is what is happening in Pakistan. Most people in Pakistan are not even aware of their rights, under Pakistani Constitution and laws or the state’s obligations under International Law. Then the dominant political culture considers concern for Human Rights as a western phenomenon, a policy tool of western powers, especially the USA; as something against the values of Islam and irrelevant to Pakistan’s culture, traditions and interests. The struggle for respecting Human Rights is mostly limited to NGOs with the mainstream political parties not considering it as their concern or responsibility. Any talk of Democracy and Rule of Law without Fundamental Rights is meaningless. In fact the three go hand in hand, supporting, promoting and protecting each other; rather are necessary pre requisites for each other.

Human rights are human as the term suggests; they are fundamental or basic for human life. In fact the justification for Human Rights comes from the basic idea that a human being should be treated like a human being deserves. If one just starts defining life as a Human Being, one will be able to list all Fundamental Rights without reading any book or the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. A living being to be live must breath and eat. That living being is known as human when s/he can think. The whole structure of human rights is structured to ensure these characteristics that make one human. These characteristics’ are neither western nor eastern, have no religion and no race. Human beings created state and organized collective life to survive better as a race. Ensuring these fundamental rights is the main justification for the state. All state policies and laws must be educated and guided by human rights considerations. Every law, every policy must be weighed along with its cost and benefit in the specific field that they are designed for by the impact they will have of Human Rights. That is a requirement and principle that is based in the purpose and justification of any given state or any other human entity.

The specific character of the International Society, based on State Sovereignty and lack of or a very weak International Judicial system, makes states behave in a certain manner.  The state centric International system has led state behavior to be guided more by their self interest than any other considerations, in their mutual relations. One must quickly add that the State Centric system is on its way out and humanity has in some areas gone beyond it. Advance in technology communications and economy has made individuals connect bypassing state boundaries. This has made it possible for the emergence of global and human voices movements and process in various areas of human activity, whether cultural, political or economic. Protection of human rights within states is part of that global civil society and not of specific states. Although we still see policies driven by Statist self interest / power politics, so the use of International Laws and responsibilities for specific policy purposes can also be seen. What needs to be understood is that Human Rights, Whether some developed state supports it or not, and whether that support is clearly selective does not in any way affect the substance of human rights. Abuse of a good principle for wrong purposes, or purposes that one does not agree with, simply cannot mean discarding of the principle.

Those afraid of voices for human rights as a threat to their privileged status, must understand states are stronger if people are satisfied in it and are loyal to those/that who/which protects them and what is theirs. Patriotism cannot be created through emotional slogans and anthems only. Continued denial of Fundamental Rights under one pretext or another is guaranteed recipe for destruction of the very fabric of the society. The communications revolution means awareness of the people for long is no more possible. It is vital to understand that respect for Fundamental Rights is the best and proven way to economic and social progress and peaceful and just society, at peace with itself and its neighbors. It is vital in order to ensure democratic pluralism, development and Rule of Law to make respect for Fundamental Rights as the rallying point for political parties and this society’s struggle for a democratic Pakistan.