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In the Pursuit of Justice

By Husnain Raza
October 31, 2023
Originally published in Daily Times

In the pursuit of justice, survivors of Gender-Based Violence (GBV) in Pakistan often confront a perilous path littered with systemic obstacles that obstruct their access to legal remedies. Inside the solemn halls of the Sindh High Court (SHC), a profound moment unfolded in Sarang Sher’s case. As reported by Dawn on 16 August 2023, SHC bench reiterated in its verdict that, the trial court did not adopt a legal course and the acquittal was a clear miscarriage of justice.” This incident serves as a stark reminder that Pakistan grapples with a profound crisis in delivering justice to GBV survivors.

As revealed by the report of National Commission of Human Rights (NCHR),over the past three years, an alarming around 63,000 GBV complaints have been reported in Pakistan. This staggering statistic underscores a fundamental issue. While many attribute the problem of sparse laws on GBV, however, the core problem runs far deeper – it’s the existing loopholes in and lackluster implementation of these laws.

The case of Sarang Sher vividly illustrates this disconcerting reality. The trial court’s decision to accept a conciliation plea and subsequently acquit the accused without conducting a thorough forensic examination casts a troubling shadow over the realm of justice, leaving the survivors deprived of the justice they sought. In rape cases, the law explicitly prohibits conciliation (Section 376, Pakistan Penal Code), and the court retains the authority to order forensic examinations (Article 164 of the Qanun-e-Shahadat Order, 1984). In this instance, the law was unambiguous in favor of justice but it was the frailty of human judgment within the judicial system that faltered.

However, Sarang Sher’s case is not an isolated incident. The release of Muhammad Waseem on February 13, 2022, after he retracted his statement in the Qandeel Baloch murder case, reveals yet another facet of this crisis. Gender-based violence (GBV) laws in Pakistan have proven to be distressingly porous, allowing for concerning manipulations. One glaring example is brought to light by Courting the Law, a legal news and analysis portal, which sheds a spotlight on a critical gap within Pakistan’s anti-honor killing legislation. This legal blind spot redirects cases away from the stringent Criminal Law (Amendment) Act of 2016, which unequivocally prohibits conciliation and stipulates a minimum sentence of life imprisonment for perpetrators of honor killings. However, this crucial protection can be circumvented if the abhorrent act of honor killing is tactfully recharacterized as a general murder, thereby qualifying for pardon under section 302, Qisas and Diyat Ordinance 1990. However, the forgiveness from Baloch’s family resulted in Waseem’s swift release, perpetuating a lasting sense of injustice for late Qandeel Baloch. This blatant exploitation of legal intricacies further corrodes faith in Pakistan’s judicial system.

Whether or not justice is provided to the GBV survivor is a long-standing debate that begins with the cumbersome and difficult process of filing a First Information Report (FIR). Survivors often find themselves coerced into parting with substantial sums just to have that critical FIR registered. Reluctance from the police is observed in many cases to file these reports, particularly if it is against the influential individuals, or it is mostly filed only when evidence has been tampered with or the perpetrators have vanished without a trace.

In this nightmarish web of law enforcement failures, legal loopholes, and judicial shortcomings, justice remains an elusive dream for GBV survivors. Alarmingly, Pakistan ranks as one of the most perilous places for women on a global scale, boasting a meager 1-2.5% conviction rate, as revealed by United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). This ignominious distinction earned Pakistan the dubious rank of 142 out of 146 countries in Global Gender Gap 2023, according to the World Economic Forum (WEF).

 

To break free from this cycle of despair, Pakistan must unite at the national level. Legislative reforms must take the forefront, addressing gaps in existing laws and making them immune to exploitation. Simultaneously, the nation’s law enforcement agencies need a comprehensive overhaul, with a strong focus on training and empowerment.

Central to this endeavor is the media, wielding its influential voice to ensure the accurate reporting of GBV incidents and spearheading awareness campaigns. A unified front, comprising government, civil society, and the media, is the need of the hour to combat this societal plague.

In the crucible of Pakistan’s gender-based violence crisis, hope may be faint, but it remains resilient. The nation must rise to the occasion, fortify its legal arsenal, and commit to an unwavering pursuit of justice. Only then can Pakistan hope to cast off its grim reputation and offer a lifeline to its GBV survivors, ultimately forging a safer and more equitable future for all.

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