Monday, November 12, 2007

Musharraf gets flak

MEPs, NGOs join hands to lambaste curtailing of human rights

There was an outcry against the imposition of a state of emergency in Pakistan by President Pervez Musharraf as members of the European Parliament were joined by human rights NGOs to voice their strong condemnation at a public hearing on Bangladesh and Pakistan by the EP Human Rights Subcommittee.Reiterating the warning already given in an earlier EP resolution on October 25 against “the imposition of emergency rule,” the chair of the subcommittee, MEP Helene Flautre, described the situation in both countries as “worrying.”

MEP Jo Leinen described the unfolding events in Pakistan as “unacceptable” and asked “how can free and fair elections take place in an emergency situation?” a point underscored by MEP Laima Andrikiene. Accusing Musharraf of “destabilising Pakistan” while proclaiming “the notion that he was the single person” to hold the Taliban at bay, Brad Adam of Human Rights Watch argued “the EU should assess all programmes with Pakistan from top to bottom,” so as to send a political signal.

Although the key demand of most of the speakers boiled down to a complete cut-off in aid, there was a catch as senior European Commission official Helen Campbell pointed out that most of the aid going through NGOs is directed at education, health and poverty eradication programmes. There is, however a small percentage of aid going to the government and Campbell agreed, “Of course it is not business as usual” in EU relations with Pakistan.

A statement read out on behalf of Mohammed Tahseen of the Pakistan Coalition for Free and Fair Elections, who was unable to attend the hearing, criticised Musharraf’s actions, notably “pre-election rigging” and attacks on the judiciary and media.

Also on the agenda of the meeting was Bangladesh (former East Pakistan) – another Asian country reeling under a state of emergency. Adams brought to the notice of the audience the negligible restraining influence over the military which was ruling by proxy.

Moreover, Rosaline Costa of Hotline Human Rights Bangladesh listed violations of minority rights and the extrajudicial “crossfire” killings by the Rapid Action Battalion, an elite anti-crime squad.Costa urged the EU to press for the lifting of the state of emergency and the holding of free and fair elections.

Earlier, EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana had added his voice to international concerns over the declaration of emergency rule in Pakistan.Even if the country was confronted by a difficult political situation, “deviation from the general democratic line cannot be the solution,” he said, calling for a return to regular law and order. Solana also called for the scheduled general election to go ahead next January, adding: “Abandoning the path to democracy is not the answer.”EU envoys in Pakistan also reiterated the call for holding of free and fair elections on schedule and said there must be a restoration of civilian rule, respect for the independence of the judiciary and freedom of the media.

The Brussels-based International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) expressed concern at the ongoing grave situation with annihilation of free expression and brutal crackdown along with censorship.Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary outlined a protest programme in the coming weeks along with a proposed delegation visit to Pakistan.

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