The Brussels-based International Crisis Group (ICG) has put out a press release calling for the immediate release of Asma Jahangir, a UN special rapporteur and a member of the ICG Board:
The ICG release says that “Forces loyal to Musharraf rounded up hundreds of political and civil society leaders after his imposition of martial law at the weekend. Dr Jahangir – Chairperson of the independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), UN Special Rapporteur on the Freedom of Religion or Belief, and Crisis Group Board member – was placed under house arrest for 90 days, along with scores of other HRCP members.”
The ICG statement also demands a restoration of Pakistan’s “constitutional order”.
In the statement, Lord Patten of Barnes, Co-chair of the Board of the Crisis Group, said that “Asma Jahangir must be freed at once … Musharraf’s actions are completely unconstitutional, and he has no legal basis to hold Asma or any of the others wrongfully detained over the past few days.” And U.S. former Ambassador Thomas Pickering, fellow Crisis Group Co-chair, said, “What has happened to Asma has happened to countless Pakistanis – the political opposition, civil society, the judiciary and the media are all under attack. Asma and the others must be set free, and fundamental freedoms must be restored in Pakistan right away.” Former Australian Minister Gareth Evans, Crisis Group President, said that “Asma Jahangir is unlawfully detained just as her country’s constitution has been illegally suspended … For her sake and for the good of the whole country, Musharraf must be made to reverse his decrees. Only a legitimate democratic order can save Pakistan from a descent into further turmoil.”
Later on Thursday, a group of UN human rights experts issued a statement saying that they were “deeply alarmed at the imposition of the state of emergency in Pakistan and condemn the suspension of fundamental freedoms, including the right not to be deprived of one’s liberty, freedom of movement, peaceful assembly and freedom of expression. The imposition of the state of emergency entails an attack on the independence of the judiciary. We are concerned that President Musharraf’s declaration of emergency powers is in response to judges allegedly ‘overstepping their limits of judicial authority’ and ‘interfering in Government policy’, particularly in the context of countering terrorism and addressing extremism. We condemn the retaliation measures, including the abuse of the notion of terrorism, against those who are expressing their dissent against the imposition of the state of emergency. Considering the frequency of arbitrary detentions occurring during states of emergency, the exercise of power under such conditions must be in strict compliance with the principle of proportionality…”
The group of UN human rights experts got down to mentioning Asma Jahangir somewhere in the fifth paragraph: “In particular, we are extremely concerned about the detention and house arrest of leading judges, lawyers and human rights defenders. This includes the United Nations Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, Asma Jahangir, who has been placed under house arrest for a period of 90 days, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, and other members of the Supreme Court who were also placed under house arrest when they refused to take the oath of allegiance to the Provisional Constitutional Order. We call for their immediate and unconditional release. We are concerned that placing a Special Procedures mandate holder under house arrest may adversely impact on his or her ability to carry out the activities necessary to fulfill the mandate. We are alarmed that a detention order remains in place against Hina Jilani, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on the situation of human rights defenders. We urge the authorities to immediately overturn this order…”
The group also stated that “We condemn the excessive use of force by the police, the brutal repression and the massive arrests that have occurred during demonstrations organized by lawyers to protest against the suspension of the Constitution. We also express our serious concern about the pervasive restrictions placed on the media, in particular the suspension of broadcasts of all international and national privately owned channels, as well as the serious assaults inflicted upon journalists by members of the police and security forces. We urge the Government to fully remove all restrictions to the exercise of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, including freedom of the press. The suspension of fundamental freedoms, in what appears to be an imposition of a state of emergency in breach of national laws and international standards, undermines the enjoyment of all sets of rights and affects all sectors of the population. We urge Pakistan to return to democratic rule and to stop the ongoing escalation of human rights abuses”.
On Monday, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour, issued a statement in which she expressed “concern about reports that leading judges, lawyers and political and human rights activists have been detained or placed under house arrest, including United Nations Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion and belief, Asma Jahangir. The High Commissioner called on the Pakistan authorities to clarify the status of those detained and ensure that no one is detained for the peaceful exercise of their political beliefs”.
The UN High Commissioner said, in the statement issued in her name, that she was “alarmed over the suspension of fundamental rights and imposition of a state of emergency in Pakistan. ‘A state of emergency should only be used to deal with a dire security threat to the nation, not to undermine the integrity and independence of the judiciary’, the High Commissioner said”.
The statement noted that “under accepted rules of international law, fundamental rights, such as the right to life, the prohibition on arbitrary detention, torture and cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment, cannot be suspended even in times of emergency. Such far-reaching restrictions of rights must be proportional and may only be applied to the extent and for the time strictly required by the situation”.
The UN High Commissioner’s statement is posted here.