HRCP report: 'Northern Areas need legislative and basic rights'
8 September 2005
The Daily Times
Lahore: The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) urged the government to fulfil the needs of the Northern Areas and give its people an independent judiciary, democracy and fundamental rights, and also prioritise social development there.HRCP sent a 10-member delegation to the Northern Areas from August 28 to August 31. The members were divided into two groups, one visiting Gilgit and the other Skardu. The team met various political parties, public representatives, religious leaders, professional groups and government officials and the public to discuss the areas' constitutional status and its impact on people rights, sectarianism and administration. The HRCP mission's recommendations wereConstitutional Status and Democratic Government The majority of Northern Areas' people want the areas to be merged into Pakistan as a fifth province. However, they want to be given autonomous status, such as Azad Jammu Kashmir, if this is not possible. HRCP recommended that a Legislative Council be appointed and given the status of an elected Assembly with legislative powers. The areas' chief executive should be an elected member of this and answerable to it. The executive should be based in the area and given full executive authority, at par with the chief minister. All Pakistani laws should be extended to the Northern Areas and their extension should not be at the Kashmir And Northern Areas (KANA) Division's discretion. Judiciary and Fundamental Rights HRCP recommended that the judiciary be independent of the executive (presently, the KANA secretary appoints all judges). The chief court should be given powers of the high court under the Constitution, including transferring judges to subordinate courts. Chief court judges should be given security of tenure. An appeals court should be established and retired judges should not be appointed on both the chief court and the court of appeal. The HRCP observed the areas' people doubted the present judicial set up, whose jurisdiction was given to the chief court in 1999 by an amendment in the Legal Frame Work Order. Administration HRCP recommended a local administration be set up answerable only to the chief executive. It said that Islamabad's rule had made public servants arrogant and not accountable to locals, adding that the absence of a service structure had frustrated local civil servants. Police and Jail The local police is understaffed, said the HRCP. Therefore, the administration has to rely during disturbances on the Frontier Constabulary and the Rangers. The conditions in the jails are worse and buildings are in disrepair. Jails are over crowded and lack clean water and food.Sectarianism Northern Areas sects lived peacefully for centuries and sectarian violence started in the early 70's because of outside influences, such as the Iran Revolution and Afghan War, according to HRCP. The local administration and federal government did not react in time to the situation, and resultantly all sects are suspicious of the government's role. The present Shia-Sunni sectarian clashes were because of an Islamiat textbook (issued by the Punjab Text Book Board). The book showed the Sunni method of 'Namaz' as the correct way of offering prayers, to which the Shias objected. The administration, both in the Northern Areas and Islamabad failed to correct the error, and the situation escalated from there.The KANA minister, also the Northern Areas' chief executive, visited Gilgit only once for two hours. No other political leader has visited the area. Skardu On January 13, a curfew was imposed in the city at 1pm. A mob allegedly numbering in thousands burned Sunni madrrassa, houses and shops and hotels. Allegedly, local authorities encouraged the rioters during this 4-5 hour period. Since then all high-ranking government officials have been transferred. So far no one has been compensated, the Skardu district coordination officer claims that compensation is in the pipeline. However, Sunni leaders claim that those arrested for the riots were treated like heroes in detention and later the terrorism charges against them were dropped after Shia protests. The leaders of all sects in the Northern Areas demand punishment for the rioters, compensation for the damage and security guarantees. Education HRCP reported the areas faced a huge shortage in schools and colleges, particularly for girls. There are no institutions for technical education. The newly created Karakoram International University is not fully functional yet. There is also a shortage of teachers. The seats reserved by the federal government for students of the Northern Areas in professional colleges have been clubbed together with the seats reserved for the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). It is alleged that the students from FATA due to better educational opportunities get seats not in proportion to their population.Health There is a serious shortage of proper health facilities in entire area, particularly outside Gilgit and Skardu, said HRCP. Mother and Child Care Centres established under the World Bank loan mostly remain non-functional. Communication HRCP said that communication was among the major problems of the area because it was mountainous. The roads need constant maintenance and are presently in disrepair. Flights in and out of Gilgit and Skardu are weather dependent and sporadic. Only PIA is operating on the Northern Areas Route and the sky should be opened for other airlines to operate on the route, which would also have a sobering effect on PIA operations. The Army (SCO) presently manages the telecommunication system and the PTCL needs to take responsibility for the area. Women's Rights HRCP reported that Family Laws applicable in Pakistan had not been extended to the Northern Areas, as a result women were forced to take family matters to civil courts.Kargil Conflict Affected People displaced because of shelling by Indian Forces and the Kargil Conflict have been forced to take shelter in camps in other parts of Northern Areas need to be compensated and provided assistance in rehabilitation, said HRCP. Dams and Electricity HRCP alleged that the proposed Skardu Dam, would completely submerge Skardu City and destroy major portion of the Balti Culture. There is consensus amongst the people of Northern Areas that the Skardu Dam should not be constructed.Language and Culture Local languages are not being taught in schools, said HRCP, adding that locals expressed fears that they were losing relevance. For an area, with such rich and varied cultures there is little official patronage for local arts and culture. There is only one museum and numerous artefacts have been lost.