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Checkmate for human rights in Pakistan as government moves to outlaw non-approved NGO’s

PTI-Jalsa-at-Minar-e-PakistanBy Simon Davies

The Pakistan government intends imminently to promulgate a new law that will have the effect of destroying its entire independent human and political rights infrastructure. The regulations are planned to take force in around eight weeks.

Under these regulations, all organisations must be accredited by government, and each must have a civil service overseer to approve programs and policies. This move will have the effect of wiping out all domestic rights advocacy in this nation of two hundred million people.

The new law also appears to be pushed by ISI, indicating that political and social dynamics in Pakistan have reached a dangerous point – the precise situation when independent NGO’s are most needed.

The NGO Law Monitor Pakistan reports that the draft Foreign Contributions Act, 2014 (draft FCA), appeared back on the government’s agenda earlier this year, with the purported aim of preventing terrorist financing by regulating the foreign funding of domestic non-governmental organizations and international non-governmental organizations (INGOs).

The terrorism justification is dubious. The Pakistan government has continuously expressed its irritation at legal challenges by local NGO’s to domestic legislation. The new law also appears to be pushed by ISI, indicating that political and social dynamics in Pakistan have reached a dangerous point – the precise situation when independent NGO’s are most needed.

The not-for-profit sector in Pakistan has grown considerably in recent years in terms of both its size and its scope of work.  Today, Pakistan’s 45,000 organizations employ about 300,000 persons and engage in a wide set of activities ranging from service delivery to sophisticated financial services to technical advice in areas like agricultural extension, water and sanitation, and housing construction. All will be affected by the new legislation.

This dire situation is the West’s shame. As reported before on the Privacy Surgeon, Western media and funding organisations have largely abandoned Pakistan, leaving it to the ravages of internal division. The US, for example, contributes billions to Pakistan’s military expansion, while wealthy US institutions such as the Ford Foundation have left the country’s rights evolution to rot.

Which EU or US media outlets, for example, reported the massacre in December of over 130 schoolchildren by the Taliban in Peshawar? Almost none. Destruction of life and liberties in Pakistan is treated by the West in much the same way as it treats destruction of the African infrastructure: a hopeless case beyond redemption. The current law is a partial result of this abandonment.

Commenting on the situation, Naseer Memon observes:

Like every sector, there might be some scoundrel elements within the ranks of non-governmental organisations, yet it would be unfair to bracket all of them as anti-state and stooges of the West. Sifting venal elements require a meticulous screening system and not slander campaigns and a witch-hunt spree. Ironically, the informants’ web becomes hyper efficient when they have to keep a tab on politicians, civil society workers and human rights activists. Human radars become enviably efficient when it comes to document life and activities of peaceful civil society activists. Offices of registered and professionally reporting non-governmental organisations are stalked assiduously. However, stockpiles of lethal weapons in the middle of cities remain unnoticed and the mass-murderers often go unscathed. The state has enough muscle to control law-abiding entities but conspicuously absent while handling law-squashing outfits.

Visas are already being denied to some of the experts who could enter the country and contribute. This is how the current government – following Russia and China – is literally isolating itself from the mainstream.

This is critical time, when EU, Canada and other human rights friendly countries should stand with the Pakistan people, both diplomatically and financially. That they do not do so is an indictment on their ethos. It is also an oversight which nurtures a legal regime that risks spreading throughout the Islamic world.