International Human Rights Day

Author Name: Omer Aamir      16 Dec 2019     Human Rights

The 10th of December is the international human rights day. It falls on the anniversary of the signing of the Universal Declaration for Human Rights (UDHR). However, it is a burden on human conscience that on this day, atrocities are being committed across the globe from Venezuela to Kashmir. Activists who are using peaceful means, such as Jammu & Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) leader Yasin Malik, are locked up in Thirar jail without access to basic facilities.

Basic fundamental rights such as the right to life, right to enjoyment of it and right to basic provisions, are enshrined in every global human rights statue around the world. States are bound to respect these rights and refrain from interfering or curtailing them. In this regard, the violations being conducted in the Indian states of Kashmir, Assam, Nagaland and its Eastern provinces where communist rebellion is happening, are stark examples that human conscience must wake up to. Western powers are not taking cognizance of these issues because of the economic prowess of India as well as its diplomatic achievement. Treaties such as the ICCPR (International Convention of Civil and Political Rights) and ICESCR (International Convention on Social, Economic and Cultural Rights) in their common Article 1 expound upon the right to self-determination. However, this is being blatantly ignored by world powers as Kashmir is under curfew for more than the last 4 months and even the Indian constitution is not being extended to the territory. India has had a chequered history with International human rights law. It has not been held accountable for the operation against Sikhs in 1984, it has refused to accede to the 1951 Refugee Convention and has still to ratify the Convention against Torture even after 20 years of signing it. This shows that India will continue to violate Human Rights law and conventions and basic human rights will be left wanting in that country.

The Pakistani constitution on the other hand gives fundamental rights to citizens in its first 8 to 28 articles. These include the right to equality of all citizens (Art.25), right to education (Art.25A), right to fair trial (Art.10), etc. Various governmental as well as non-governmental organizations around the country are working to uphold these rights. These include the Justice Project Pakistan (JPP), Rashidabad Project, AGHS, etc. These give people the opportunity to better their living conditions and become aware of their rights. Moreover, these organizations are working to bring justice to those who face discrimination, provide food and basic amenities to those living without them, and help the poor stand up against oppression by giving them a voice.

On the other hand, some people misconstrue human rights and believe that they should not be extended to those who have picked up arms against the state. These individuals are not given protection under law, as stated in the constitution as well as in preventive detention provisions (Article 10-4). Those who conduct espionage, are a threat to the sovereignty of the country, or make attempts to destabilize the country, should be given the right to a fair trial as expounded by the International Court of Justice. However, this is only to ensure that proper law and procedure is followed. In the case challenging the 21st amendment for the establishment of the military courts, the Supreme Court expounded that if there is no malice, malintent and the procedure is rightly followed, then the trial is deemed to be fair by the military courts. However, a counter argument can be made about ICJ’s judgement stating a re-trial should be conducted of a convicted spy. The question arises, is this the extension of human rights? For someone who has incriminating evidence against him in cases involving taking innocent lives, does that person deserve to be extended a re-trial? The Geneva Convention does not extend to spies. It is only extended to belligerents of war. Moreover, according to the Geneva Convention, Consular access is granted only to people who are convicted of a crime in another country and not to those convicted of espionage. Article 36(1) of the Geneva Convention provides for consular access. However, as argued before this access is to be only given when the belligerent is a criminal or a prisoner of war. It doesn’t extend to spies who have committed acts of sabotage and terrorism.

Human rights are, however, in short supply in countries with authoritarian regimes. On the other hand, democratic countries incorporate tenets of human rights, compassion and empathy. These examples are shown in everyday activities as well as in state laws. Legally speaking, the American constitution, the world’s first written constitution built upon these rights from Magna Carta. However, in its initial years, voting rights were only extended to white men with property. As time went on and owing to the struggles of different groups, rights were extended to African Americans and women, and universal enfranchisement was extended.

Human rights have thus, in the last century, come to the forefront of the international landscape, due to the struggle of activists, leaders, and proponents of these rights who have worked tirelessly to ensure that they are made part of different constitutions and legal provisions around the world such as the Convention for Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) 1979, Convention Against Torture (CAT), International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) and others are upheld in high esteem.

 On this human rights day, let there be a pledge that atrocities being conducted by authoritarian regimes around the world are curbed and people are given their due rights and made aware of them. They should be extended the right to dignity, freedom of expression, the right to enjoy basic amenities, and most importantly, the right to life. In Pakistan, there is still a long way to go before these rights find their rightful place. However, the struggles over time by various groups have ensured that awareness of rights in and around the country has increased.


Omer Aamir is a Researcher at Center for Aerospace and Security Studies. He intends to pursue International Relations with International Law for further studies.