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Human Rights Group Criticizes Pakistan Government - 2002-03-27

A leading human rights group in Pakistan has criticized the government for maintaining a poor human rights record and not doing enough to root out religious extremism.

The independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan says that despite its promises, the government has failed to curb religious extremism, reduce violence against women and scrap discriminatory laws against religious minorities.

The commission's chairman, Afrasaib Khattak, presented its annual report at a news conference in Islamabad. He says that President Pervez Musharraf has pledged to root out religious extremism, but he has not completely cut ties between religious groups and some members of the military-led intelligence community.

"We feel that this government does not have enough political will to take on militancy. President Musharraf has been talking about misguided [Islamic] clerics, but he has failed to talk about misguided generals. I think those generals are part of the problem and not its solution," Mr. Khattak said.

President Musharraf has promised to overhaul the country's intelligence network. He made the pledge after a recent attack on a church in Islamabad, which killed five people. In recent weeks, the government has detained more than 2,000 religious activists in a crackdown on extremist groups. The president also banned several militant and sectarian-based organizations.

The group's annual report also says the government has done little to prevent violence against women. It says 1,600 women were killed last year for allegedly undermining family honor by marrying men their families have not approved of. Asma Jehangir is the former head of the group.

"The problem in Pakistan is large-scale impunity against violence against women. I mean, not just that a woman is beaten up, she finds no help from the state. There is no state mechanism that will come to her help. When you have no law which can actually even punish a person, who goes and kills a woman at whim, how can the courts help you, how can the lawyers help you, how can the police help you?" Asma Jehangir said.

The commission says that during the past year, 44 people died in police custody, but no officials have been charged in the deaths. It also criticizes the government's ban on political meetings and rallies. The report says political leaders and activists have been detained to prevent them from organizing meetings.

The government so far has not reacted to the report. The U.S. State Department's annual review of human rights in Pakistan recently reported similar findings, which Pakistani officials described as "factually inaccurate and unwarranted."