PESHAWAR: Shortage of staff and lack of financial resources threaten to undermine ability of the newly established Human Rights Directorate (HRD) in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to deal with human rights violations in the province, say lawyers and human rights activists.
“The idea of having a human rights directorate at provincial level is excellent but it needs practical support to make it result oriented,” said Irshad Ahmad, a Peshawar based Lawyer who deals with human rights cases.
According to an official working with the HRD who declined to be named for fear of job security, the directorate has “minimal outreach and is understaffed.”
“It is currently run by only two officers, including a director and an administration officer,” said the official. “The government has pledged to extend HRD offices in 14 districts of the province that would help sort out issues related to human rights abuses. But in addition to financial constraints, there is lack of coordination between public bodies causing replication of services across departments. To wit, the Social Welfare Department KP and HRD have same functions to some extent.”
In order to guarantee human rights in the province, a Peshawar based human rights cell was set up in 2012 which was converted into an independent directorate by the PTI led provincial government in KP in July 2014. Despite challenges, the directorate that was set up under the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Promotion, Protection and Enforcement of Human Rights Act, has tackled 475 complaints out of the 500 received during 2015.
Noor Zaman Khattak, Director of HRD, said cases of different nature related to the education department, health department, domestic disputes, violations in recruitments and transfers in different departments, violation of minority rights etc. have been taken up by directorate so far despite lack of staff.
Complaints that do not fall under jurisdiction of HRD are referred to the relevant departments for resolution and feedback to the directorate. The directorate cannot investigate or inquire mattes related to foreign affairs and those connected to defense of Pakistan or matters covered by law relating to military forces.
Though the directorate’s performance has been decent given its constraints, negligence on part of the provincial government to finance operations and shortage of staff are getting in the way of the country’s first ever human rights directorate’s ability to deliver in a province that has seen a spike in human rights violations in the last decade, mainly due to conflict and militancy.
“Not a single penny had been allocated to HRD in 2015-16 for advertisement and awareness campaigns by provincial government so far,” said the official at the directorate.
The official’s fears are echoed by representatives of non-government organizations dealing with cases of human rights.
“The HRD is compromised due to political interference and lack of support,” says Qamar Naseem, Program Coordinator at Blue Veins that has been advocating transgender rights in KP. He says the people of KP have faced grave rights violations in Pakistan over the last decade.
“The director has power under the constitution to support a fully functional Human Rights Directorate but he is appointed by the KP law department, so we do not expect him to go against the decisions of the government.”
Khalfan Khattak, Provincial Coordinator for Democracy Reporting International (DRI), a democracy and governance group, says the directorate has the power to create checks and balances system within the government machinery and non-government sector with the sole aim to empower citizens but this responsibility comes without any financial backup and staff needed to follow up on HR cases.
“For a human rights organization, the directorate lacks engagement with citizens,” said Khalfan. “Due to financial problems there is no active website of the Directorate. There must be a citizen complaints portal so people can lodge online complaints. The procedure to file cases should be shared with people in native languages for awareness.”
The official at the HRD says most complaints forwarded to the directorate are from government departments, including the Chief Minister’s Complaints Cell and Mardan Complaints Cell, as few people lodge their complaints directly due to lack of awareness. “We receive a majority of complaints from the Chief Minister’s Complaint Cell as there is no advertising to promote the directorate.”
The KP Law Minister Imtiaz Shahid confirmed that the directorate was having difficulty accessing finances. “The Finance Department did not approve the expected budget to directorate which affects the performance of HRD”, he said.
He said the Finance Department had assured them of releasing funds soon because the HRD has zero budget so far. To address the large scale human rights violations in the province, he said, the government plans to establish sub-offices of HRD in districts. These offices have not been established so far due to paucity of funds even though the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs will be funding an office to be established in Hayatabad, Peshawar.
Advisor to the chief minister on human rights, Arif Yousaf, who is also a member of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly, expressed ignorance about problems the Directorate is facing. When approached, he said “he would have to check with the Law Department staff about the existence of the directorate before he could speak.”
Under the KP Promotion, Protection and Enforcement of Human Rights Act 2014, the HRD has the brief to review the human rights situation in the province, promote protect and enforce human rights, hold inquiries into complaints of the victims of human rights violations; formulate, implement and regularly update polices to protect human rights; co-ordinate activities of the government department to protect human rights; carry out initiatives for harmonization of legislation; ensure regulations and practices with international human right covenants and agreements to which Pakistan is party.
It also had to monitor implementation of the covenants by developing and conducting information programme for public awareness of human rights and laws and remedies available against the abuse of human rights.
Syed Jafar Shah, a provincial legislative member affiliated with nationalist Awami National Party (ANP), said that there was great hype surrounding the establishment of the directorate but it was not as effective as expected.
“Implementation of laws is important,” said Shah. The KP government, he said, did not appear serious about its laws if it was not supporting the institutions that are mean to implement them.