With questions of political and economic uncertainty on the horizon, issues related to human rights often get sidelined in the country. This has not gone unnoticed in the international community – a committee of the United Nations recently pointed out that the Pakistani state has to address a large number of failings on the human rights front. From abductions by state institutions to increasing the tempo of executions through the death penalty, the Pakistani government has not done enough to protect the rights of its citizens; in fact, on many occasions, it has colluded in the marginalisation.

The UN’s dissatisfaction with the state of human rights in Pakistan is to be expected. The protection of human rights has not been one of the priorities of the current government. But perhaps the UN committee’s findings lay bare the lack of human rights in explicit terms – pinning the blame on laws that do not adequately address rights, the inability to dispense justice to victims and the willing participation of state institutions in torture, enforced disappearances and a number of other transgressions imply that the problem is all-encompassing. The laws that need to be passed to guarantee human rights often aren’t, even when they are implementation is a problem and finally, the institutions that are sworn to protect not only fail in their duties but also add significantly to the problem.

The government’s lack of control over intelligence and law enforcement agencies for instance, is a glaring failure on its part – citizens are picked up, tortured and killed for charges unexplained, all under the guise of national security. False accusations and lynchings through the blasphemy law are on the rise and press freedom is consistently clamped down upon through overt and subtle threats to journalists.

The standard argument in defence of state-sponsored human rights abuses is always that the protection of national security trumps human rights. But while it is important to remember that Pakistan is a country fraught with turmoil, and certain steps of the government perceived to be harsh have been deemed necessary there have been too many occasions where the state has gone too far, or not far enough. Even if we take the security situation into account, there must be some measure of accountability of law enforcement and intelligence agencies; at the very least, all of them should be answerable to the government, which is not the case currently. Beyond that, the state is expected to make more of an effort towards safeguarding rights – laws such as the draconian cybercrime law has exacerbated the issue of rights instead of protecting them (which was the state intention). There is a need to focus on one of the most important aspects of governance – the protection of basic and inalienable rights.