Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders
c/o Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights
United Nations Office
17 October 2012
Dear Ms. Sekaggya,
I write to you from CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation, an international alliance of civil society with members and partners in over a hundred countries. CIVICUS supports citizen’s rights and democratic freedoms across the globe, including the freedoms of expression, association and assembly.
We are gravely concerned by the growing number of attacks on activists campaigning for Women’s Rights in the Provincially Administered Tribal Areas (PATA) of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province in Pakistan, especially in the districts of Swat and Kohistan. In particular, we would like to bring your urgent attention to the shooting of 14 year old Malala Yousafzai whose targeting by the Taliban in Swat, for standing up for her right to education, has appalled people around the world.
At the time of writing, all the private educational institutions in Swat remain closed, and 14 year old Malala remains in intensive care having had a bullet removed from her brain. Militant groups have stated that Malala remains a target.
This is not the first time that women human rights defenders and those who speak up for the rights of women have been targeted in Pakistan. Recently, Ms. Farida Afridi, Executive Director of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa women’s rights organization, Sawera, was shot to death on 4 July 2012 outside her home after facing threats for her women’s rights work. While in September 2012, 25 year old female NGO worker, Ms. Tasleem, was found dead in her house in Hayatabad after unknown individuals reportedly beat her to death with sticks. The targeting of female activists has also taken other insidious forms with Ms. Gulalai Ismail, founder of ‘Aware Girls’ and the ‘Seeds of Peace’ network, and based in Peshawar, experiencing social media campaigns aimed at destroying her reputation. Nevertheless, this latest atrocity marks a moment in time when institutions with human rights mandates must apply more pressure on the Government of Pakistan to provide protection for Women’s Rights Defenders and to support campaigns for the Rights of Women and the Girl Child.
Hence we appeal to your office to strongly and publicly condemn the ongoing attacks on Women Human Rights Defenders and highlight the above cases with the Government of Pakistan and to call on the Government to arrest those responsible. We also ask that a Special Rapporteur be assigned to assess the situation of human rights in Pakistan. The space for those who advance progressive, liberal ideas in Pakistan will continue to become smaller and more restricted by the day, unless institutions with human rights mandates move to protect it.
Pakistan has made international commitments to provide these protections through its ratification of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women and the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights. Pakistan must therefore be reminded that these commitments do not only require legislative reform but also action on the ground as required by the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders.
In addition, CIVICUS urges you to address the relevant administration of the PATA region, including the President of Pakistan and the Governor of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and request that the following are implemented urgently for all those working to protect human rights:
(i) Increased and effective security protection for individuals threatened by militant groups for their work on Women’s Rights including for all those living under fatwas and women working for NGOs;
(ii) Thorough and independent investigations into all reported violence against Women’s Rights defenders and against female NGO workers;
(iii) Public and effective media campaigns led by Federal Government and PATA which call for respect of Women’s Rights and which spread the message that allowing NGOs to operate is not equivalent to permitting terrorist propaganda or the denigration of Muslim culture;
(iv) Official denunciation of community and religious leaders who opposed Women’s Rights ; and
(v) Increased financial and administrative support for organisations that promote the education of the girl child.
Thank you for your consideration.
Acting Secretary General
CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation