Ahead of Thursday’s parliamentary election in Pakistan, we deplore all acts of violence against political parties and candidates, and urge the authorities to uphold the fundamental freedoms necessary for an inclusive and meaningful democratic process.
In the lead-up to the vote, there have been no less than 24 reported instances in which armed groups have staged attacks against members of political parties.
Pakistan’s democratic gains over the past 15 years have been hard-won in the face of many security and economic challenges. Elections are an important moment to reaffirm the country’s commitment to human rights and democracy, and to ensure the right to participation of all its people, including women and minorities.
We are disturbed therefore by the pattern of harassment, arrests and prolonged detentions of leaders of the Pakistan Tehreek e Insaf (PTI) party and their supporters which has continued during the election period. Multiple legal cases have been brought against former Prime Minister Imran Khan, which have disqualified him as a candidate and sentenced him to long prison terms. We expect the higher courts will carefully review these conclusions in line with applicable due process and fair trial rights, and Pakistan’s wider international human rights obligations. All eligible parties must be able to compete fairly.
Additionally, the election is a reminder of the barriers faced by women and minority communities in Pakistan, particularly the Ahmadis. Despite 22 percent of seats in the National Assembly being reserved for women, some political parties appear to have not met the legal quota of having five percent women candidates on their party lists. Separate voter lists - as is the case for the Ahmadis - expose them to harassment and violence, despite the equal rights guaranteed to minorities in Pakistan’s constitution.
Mindful of Pakistan’s political journey, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Volker Türk, appeals to the authorities to ensure a fully free and fair vote and to recommit to the democratic process and an environment that promotes and protects the full range of economic, social, cultural, civil and political rights – which are clearly interconnected.