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Protection of Human Rights and Human Dignity Amidst Conflicts
Naeem Shakir

Although the canvas of human rights and human dignity have been broadened by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (both of 1966), the vision however has been further refined by the civil society through media and of course through the peoples struggle for freedom from subjugation, emancipation from all kinds of exploitation and right of self-determination. The concept of peace and justice was in main focus of gatherings and rallies of millions of activists and ordinary people across the world during last a few years against invasion of Iraq by American led allies. The blind war has so far slaughtered 1,118,846 Iraqis and killed 4187 allied members of military forces mainly American. And thousands have been wounded. This war has so far caused loss of more than $471,373,473,489. It has caused immeasurable loss to ancient civilization as historic cities of Babylonian period were destroyed and devastated and the immensely rich libraries of ancient civilization were looted and brought to ground by reckless bombing. These tremendous mindless losses of human life, property and civilization demonstrate the futility of war that has no legitimacy at all. The financial losses that could have been better used of providing food, clothes and shelter to the poor certainly come within the purview of violation of human rights and human dignity. When you impose your authority on others to obey and adopt your way of life and governance and occupy natural resources, you not only infringe inalienable rights of others but you refuse to respect humanity and its beauty of diversity. This oppression is imperialism. And your imperialist design is a total affront to humanity.

Notwithstanding the recognition of universality of human rights at international level, the enjoyment of such rights depends on social, economic and cultural context. Rights cannot remain in abstraction but are to be enforced in living social conditions. Civil, political and cultural rights would be meaningless unless economic resources to enjoy those are available. Therefore perceptions for the enforcement of such rights would depend on specific ground realities. The concept of quality of life would differ from region to region.
According to the World Bank well over 500 million people in Asian, African and Latin American countries are living in 'absolute poverty'. The World Health Organization estimates that one third of the world is well fed, one third is under-fed and one third is starving. In the Indian sub-continent more than 40% live under poverty line. And after every 3.6 seconds one person dies of hunger in the world. Nearly 1.3 billion people live on less that 1$. Now just consider that to satisfy world's food and sanitation requirements would cost only $13 billion an amount that the Americans and Europeans spend on perfumes each year. Therefore, freedom to lead ones way of life would depend in the context of prevailing conditions in that society.

I come from a nuclear-armed state of South Asia where its soldiers are now surrendering before the Taliban-Al Qaeda in hordes either out of fear or sympathy or both. This is happening in the northern areas part of North Western Frontier Province of Pakistan sharing border with Afghanistan. The Pakistan nation fed on war and has existed on security paradigm because its military has been in rule for most of the time since its inception in 1947. Because of the domination of the military establishment the society and state institutions have bee militarized and the concept of democracy has been slandered and stifled.

While I undertake to write on the subject of 'Protection of Human Rights and Human Dignity Amidst Conflicts', my own country Pakistan stand subjected to flagrant violation of human rights and human dignity. The army ruler, General Pervez Musharaf has declared Proclamation of Emergency, imposed Provisional Constitutional Order and the constitution has been held in abeyance whereby the fundamental rights of the people of Pakistan stand suspended. This is 3 rd November 2007. Military troops have been deployed at government installations. The print and electronic media except the government have been completely blackened and silenced. The Chief Justice of the apex court has been sacked and a new one has been given oath of office. The judges of the superior court who have refused to work under Provisional Constitutional Order and refused to take oath under PCO have been flushed out and are in a state of siege as police force has been posted at their residence shutting them to move out. The army general has ironically taken these unconstitutional steps against his own despotic regime. This in fact is martial law for all practical purposes as the Army Act of 1952 has also been amended to court martial the ordinary citizens for offences that could be treated as 'mischief' by the rulers.
The lawyers came out on streets against the actions of the military dictator on 5 th November as 4th was Sunday. They have been roughed up by police and intelligence services personal. They were severely beaten, tortured, dragged and cart led in police vans to far-flung areas and put in jails. The political activists, leaders, human rights activists and students have been humiliated and arrested. The women lawyers, students and activists were manhandled, beaten, wounded, humiliated and bundled in police vans and sent to jails. Though a sad day for the nation and the civil society but the resistance, anger and courage demonstrated by the people against the brutal attack of the despotic regime also rocked the status quo of decay, aggression and oppression. The country's institution of judiciary has been ruined. Sixty judges of the superior judiciary have been dismissed and sixteen judges of the Supreme Court are under house arrest.

The main objective for all these supra-constitutional actions was his personal interest to cling to power and keep holding two offices of chief of the army and the president. As he was awfully scared of the bench of the Supreme Court that was going to deliver judgment in a constitutional petition about his legitimacy to contest fresh election for the office of the president while holding office of the chief of army staff he was blinded in his vision to serve the state or to serve his personalized end. Therefore, the issue of legitimacy for army rulers remains alive and that generates conflicts and resultantly the fundamental rights of the citizens are violated and democratic institutions are attacked.

The peoples right to self-realization and self-determination, independence and right to life and of course the pursuit to bring an end to economic disparity results in conflicts as the oppressors and the ruling class tends to contain and adopt measures to keep them under subjugation. The previous world wars and the current global scenario would help understand the situation. However, such conflicts take different forms and become of varied nature in different situations.

The establishment of peace in the Middle East is not possible unless the issue of Palestine is resolved. Israel government has not paid any heed despite international resolutions. The conflict continues and the human rights remain subjected to oppression and repression. The continuing loss of human life and property in this region due to Israeli aggression is not only gross violation of the attainment of the inalienable right of the Palestinian people to return and right of national independence and sovereignty in Palestine in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations but speaks volumes against the US administration that plans and brokers peace negotiations between the two with malafide designs. It has been an endless war that has dehumanized the people of Palestine.

The denial of these rights has complicated the situation and has enhanced the conflicts in the region. The forces that took birth with a secular character for liberating the Palestinians such as Alfateh later out of frustration turned into religiously sectarian like Hammas as their original character was destroyed by imperialist designs and thus a different conflict emerged that caused tremendous loss to the liberating forces. If space is shut out against the indigenous forces to function and operate and denied the right of self-realization the conflicts multiply.
Sri Lanka, Philippines, India and Indonesia are facing the same problem and the ethnic issue remains unresolved causing colossal loss of human life. Although settlement of Yugoslavia occurred a few years back but simmering amongst its people continues and the human rights in this region remain unrealized.

After the tragic events of September 11, 2001 in United States of America in which more than three thousand people were killed a major conflict of terrorism has emerged. American administration has with the help of its allies waged a war on terror. Although no act of terrorism occurred on the soil of USA since 9/11, yet Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan has been continuously target of terrorism and their people and the states have suffered immensely in human life and every sphere of life. The false pretext of invasion against Iraq first for possessing weapons of mass destruction and later for existence of AlQaida elements has been exposed before the world.
Bombing of American forces in Iraq and Afghanistan has been no less terrorism for the innocent citizens including children and women. The NATO forces fighting along Pakistani borders have caused tremendous loss of human life of common people. The 'war against terror' itself has turned into terrorism for these states. The occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan has further generated religious militancy. And like these two states Pakistan has become safe heaven for these religious extremists. Suicide bombings has torn apart the social fabric and the civil society has been made hostage at the hands of these religiously brain washed militias.

This 'war on terror' has further given birth to seriously varied conflicts that include religious bigotry, fundamentalism, obscurantism, ethnic identity resulting in nationalist movements, secularism, military dictatorship, democratic order. The major conflict exists between the third world that is mostly underdeveloped and stricken with abject poverty and with the scientifically advanced industrial world. The G-8 States continue to maintain the economic disparity with their economic agenda of exploitation. The global corporate finance through its monetary and trade agencies like World Bank, International Monetary Fund, World Trade Organization devise ways and means to plunder the natural and human resources and explore markets for their industrial products. This inhuman onslaught unleashed by corporate globalization has further increased conflicts. And resultantly the right of life, right of self-realization, right of self-governance stands subjected to imperialist's designs and policies. The states in order to combat terrorism tend to amend the laws whereby human rights are curtailed. The fundamental right to be dealt with in accordance with law and to be provided due process of law if abridged on any pretext would create conflicts with the civil society and negate human rights of citizens. These are inalienable human rights and when those are snatched people are dehumanized and their human dignity is injured.

In Pakistan due to prolonged army rule the democratic institutions have not been allowed to develop. The military regime has systematically expanded its role of safeguarding territorial frontiers to state governance, landlordism and capitalism that have changed its character to corporate capital and resultantly it has become the biggest stakeholder in the state and its power structure. The US administration treated General Pervez Musharaf as its most favored ally in 'war against terror' and it is on that account that his authoritarian rule continues. Whereas religious militancy has increased in his rule as he miserably failed to purge the government and intelligence agencies of such elements. His governance has acquiesced the nefarious activities that religious extremists had been carrying on. Now suicide bombing has become a regular feature in Pakistan society. The number of Islamic madrasas (schools run by clerics) where young are brain washed for waging war of God (jihad) to win heavens has increased. These madrassas have been providing young manpower to Islamic militias. They were used as 'mujahids' (religious warriors) by the US to fight proxy war against Soviet Union in Afghanistan. Apart from the fact that Pakistan government's writ no more works against them they have generated the baneful sentiment of religious sectarianism. They want to turn Pakistan into a theocratic state for which they use mosque and extremist literature to spread their message and politics. This creates a suffocating atmosphere for the non-Muslim citizens who remain living under fear. The religious minorities have been subjected to Shariah laws and Christian and Ahmedies are most hard hit under blasphemy law as due to flawed legislation the net is cast wide open to rope in any one on the charge of blasphemy. This sectarian legislation meant to appease the religious orthodoxy has been used for settling personal scores and religious persecution.

The state of Pakistan that was framed on secular lines by its founders is now an Islamic republic. The religion of Islam has been abused for political ends and religious militancy have grown beyond proportions. The democratic institutions have been under attack and civil society a hostage by military bonapartists and religious fanatics. The democratic and progressive political forces have been sidelined. The war against terrorism without the involvement of people will fetch no results. The forces that are interested to join struggle against undemocratic and religious extremist have been placed on the periphery. Presence of democracy and terrorism are conflicting in nature. The military rule escalates conflicts and diffuse social consciousness.

Democratic order provides space to people to engage in struggle for establishing peace, eradicating poverty and fighting extremism in the society. Massive movements of the people world over to finish socio-economic disparities and for establishing peace can only bring a just order that would provide guarantee to human rights and human dignity. But the people must become dominant political force through their struggle to achieve these ends.


This paper was read at the International Consultation on the above subject organized by World Council of Churches on 5-7 December 2007 in Geneva.

Contact: Ch. Naeem Shakir, Advocate Supreme Court of Pakistan
Hassan Plaza, 1-Mozang Road, Lahore, Pakistan
Office; 92 42 7353309, Res; 92 42 5850606, 5838957.


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