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October 27, 2016
Criminal Justice Reform in Pakistan: A Case Study
2:00 – 1:00 p.m.
Please join us for a lunchtime discussion with Professor Osama Siddique, Henry J. Steiner Visiting Professor in Human Rights, on the human rights implications of criminal justice system reform in Pakistan. In most developing countries, criminal justice reform is driven by internationally-funded efforts, which often cut out critical local actors. In Pakistan, members of the justice sector are engaged in complex and meaningful dialogue that has influenced the process and content of criminal justice reform to more sustainable effect. Professor Siddique examines Pakistan’s cutting-edge effort and considers what lessons can be drawn from it for other countries.
September 29, 2014
September 30, 2014
“Apartheid of the Ahmadis in Pakistan”
A Talk by Pakistani Jurist Mujeeb-ur-Rahman
12:00 – 1: 15 p.m.
Lunch will be served
Please join us for a discussion with renowned Pakistani jurist Mujeeb-ur-Rahman, who has been at the forefront of the struggle for religious liberty in Pakistan for five decades. Mr. Rahman has argued scores of human rights cases before the Pakistan Supreme Court, including Zaheeruddin v. State, which legitimized persecution of the Ahmadi Muslim minority by affirming the power of the state to legally define who may call him or herself a Muslim.
October 29, 2012
Posted by Zainab Qureshi, LLM '12
Last March, a 13-year-old girl named Ayesha was gang-raped by three men in the small village of Ratta Amral, which is situated on the rural outskirts of the city of Rawalpindi. I was many thousands of miles away when it happened, finishing up my LLM degree at Harvard Law School. I had always wanted to work in human rights litigation—women’s rights, in particular. But even I had never heard of Ayesha’s case.
This is not surprising. Even as sexual violence continues to escalate in Pakistan, only a small proportion of reported incidents of rape get much attention, let alone result in convictions. From the moment the rape survivors and their families file a complaint with the police, they face immense pressure to recant their statements and resolve the matter “out of court.” The pressure comes not only from the accused, but from the family of the accused—and often in connivance with the police, the prosecutors, and the judges.
In Pakistan, because rape is considered an offence committed against the state, a case cannot be settled between the parties out of court, for example, in exchange for compensation. Still, “out of court settlements” do exist in these cases; they are simply brokered by the accused and the state agents. Judges then rely on these settlements to exercise their power (under Section 265-K, Code of Criminal Procedure) to acquit the accused at any stage of the trial, provided the probability of a conviction is slim or non-existent.
This is exactly what happened to Ayesha, as I found out when I returned home to Pakistan to work for the law firm of Raja Muhammad Akram & Co. The firm had taken on her case, and for good reason: Ayesha’s case illustrated everything that was wrong with the justice system for women in Pakistan.
Shortly after the rape, facing isolation in her village and inaction by the police, Ayesha tried to commit suicide. Finally, the media became interested, and the Chief Justice of the Pakistan Supreme Court, through a suo moto action, took notice of the police negligence and apathy, ordering an investigation.
But when the case was at trial in the District Courts, Ayesha’s family was coerced into an “out of court settlement” with the accused parties, pressured by both the police and a jirga (informal village council) constituting of members of their community. The Prosecutor General then accepted the settlement as a basis for dropping the charges against the accused parties.
To address the prevalence of such miscarriages of justice in Pakistan’s criminal justice system, our firm filed a petition, titled Salman Akram Raja and Another v. Government of Punjab and others, under the public interest jurisdiction of the Supreme Court. The petition asked, first of all, for the issuance of direction to the Prosecutor to proceed with action against the accused parties (including the negligent police officers), which the Supreme Court accepted, directing the District Courts to resume the trial.
The second part of the petition ran into more resistance. It asked for the issuance of directions to the lower courts, police, and prosecutors for the institution of safeguards to insulate rape survivors and their families from pressures to enter into “out of court settlements” with the accused.
The safeguards we proposed are based upon extensive research on the successful conduct of rape trials in comparative jurisdictions. They include establishment of rape crisis cells at police stations; mandatory DNA testing and preservation of DNA samples in rape cases; in camera trials, placing of screens between the survivor and the accused in court; and allowing survivors’ statements to be recorded through videoconferencing.
After several delays and adjournments, the entire petition was finally accepted by the Supreme Court on October 4. However, the final order remains pending.
The trial of the accused parties is underway in the District Courts, and the accused—along with the jirga members, who coerced the family to enter into the settlement—are currently in remand, a form of imprisonment during trial. During the last hearing, one Supreme Court Justice fittingly commented: “What has happened to Ayesha can never be reversed. However, we can extract something positive from this case by ensuring that such miscarriages of justice do not reoccur.”
Zainab Qureshi, LLM ’12, is an associate at the law firm of Raja Mohammad Akram & Co. in Lahore. She is also an independent consultant on maternal mortality litigation in Pakistan for the Center for Reproductive Rights.
October 26, 2012
Posted by Cara Solomon
At a packed event co-sponsored by HRP and the Harvard National Security and Law Association, Ben Emmerson, the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and Counter-terrorism, announced a UN investigation yesterday into civilian deaths from drone attacks, as well as other forms of targeted killings conducted during counter-terrorism operations.
In his remarks, Emmerson took aim at the Obama administration for neither confirming nor denying the existence of the U.S. drone program- while publicly trying to justify the legality of drone strikes.
“In reality the administration is holding its finger in the dam of public accountability,” he said, according to the prepared remarks. “There are now a large number of law suits, in different parts of the world, including in the UK, Pakistan and in the US itself, through which pressure for investigation and accountability is building.”
He pointed to figures from the London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism that suggest at least 474 civilians have been killed in Pakistan alone, and that 176 children are reported among the deaths. (For more on civilian deaths from drones, here is a joint report recently released from Stanford University and New York University, “Living Under Drones.”)
Emmerson also delved into the U.S. presidential elections, particularly around the issue of waterboarding, which Obama believes is torture. Mitt Romney has said he does not believe it is torture.
“Let us be clear on this,” Emmerson said. “Secret detention is unlawful as a matter of international law. Water-boarding is always torture. Torture is an international crime of universal jurisdiction. The torturer, like the pirate before him, is regarded in international law as the enemy of all mankind. There is, therefore, a duty on States to investigate and to prosecute acts of torture.”
Mindy Roseman, Academic Director for HRP, said she was struck by the substance of his speech. The event has already made international news.
“Emmerson’s announcement is bold and courageous, and at the very least should renew interest in holding the US government accountable for military actions, such as drone strikes, ostensibly undertaken to stop terrorism,” she said.
Here is a selection of media coverage of Emmerson’s speech:
November 22, 2011
Posted by Cara Solomon
As we wind down for Thanksgiving week, here are a few recommendations for bus/train/plane reading. We’ve enjoyed these blogs and websites over the past few months—and hope you will too.
The first is a series of in-depth interviews the Harvard Law School Human Rights Journal is running on its website. In the first installment, James Tager, JD ’13, interviews Osama Siddique, an Associate Professor at Lahore University of Management Sciences, recent S.J.D. graduate from Harvard Law, and Pakistani legal scholar. The topic: Siddique’s recent scholarship on Pakistan’s anti-blasphemy laws.
We’re also religiously checking the blogs by Ben Hoffman, JD ’11, and Marissa Vahlsing, JD ’11, who are helping to set up an office for EarthRights International (ERI) in Peru. Ben and Marissa were fixtures on HRP’s blue couch last year; this year, they’re working as Henigson fellows, focusing on indigenous land rights and the environment in the Amazon.
Ben’s latest post explores the protest by thousands of indigenous people in Bolivia over a proposed highway through their territory. Marissa most recently wrote about a trip into the Amazon to meet indigenous leaders in the Ucayali region of Peru. The leaders’ main concern: a proposed highway that would cut through some indigenous communities, and expose others to unwanted contact with the outside world.
If you have suggestions for what we should read, and/or encourage others to read, please email me at [email protected]. We’d love to hear from you.
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