By Faisal Siddiqi
IT is commonly believed that human rights at one end, and repression and violence at the other are inherently incompatible. This presumed incompatibility has given rise to the ‘protecting liberty versus safeguarding security’ debate. The latter discussion has, in turn, translated into contemporary debates on civilian criminal courts versus military courts and the presumed innocence of accused persons versus the operations against militants in Karachi and Fata involving large-scale extrajudicial killings.
This debate has led to two ideological camps — the liberal human rights camp (eg HRCP), which believes that the enforcement of human rights will lead to a secure and strong state in the long run, and the state-centric camp (eg the military), which believes that safeguarding security, through a strong state, requires violent repression and the suspension of human rights in the short run. But what both camps presume is incompatibility between human rights, and repression and violence.
However, what if the presumed incompatibility is a myth?
Historical twins: Why is it that the contemporary wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria are all being fought in the name of human rights, ie both to protect the rights of the citizens of Western nations as well as citizens of those nations which are being bombed? Why is it that the ‘war on terror’, which is really about inflicting violence (ie war) in order to prevent violence (ie terrorism), is also primarily fought in the name of human rights? Is this mere Western hypocrisy, or is there a connection between human rights and violence?
The history of the spread of rights is also the history of Empire and colonialism.
The history of the spread of rights through law and limited self-government in the 18th, 19th and early half of the 20th century is also the history of Empire and colonialism. For example, the spread of rights through law and a limited form of constitutional self-government in British India went hand in hand with the colonial rape of India. In the post-1945 period, the spread of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and democracy went hand in hand with the Cold War in which the Americans used the language of human rights and democracy for their imperialist policies of violence — as in Vietnam.
But on the other hand, the anti-colonial movements against the British and the French, the anti-imperialist movements against the Americans and USSR, and insurgencies within states (eg Bangladesh) were also fought in the name of the human right of self-determination and freedom and were often fought using violent means. Therefore, the history of the spread, misuse and enforcement of human rights, is a violent one.
Necessary evils: The spread and enforcement of human rights is also the history of constitutionalism and the rule of law because the language of human rights is the language of constitutional rights and law. Moreover, the enactment and enforcement of constitutionalism and law takes place through the state. Therefore, human rights, law and an efficient state are brothers in arms.
But this dependency of the enactment of human rights law and its enforcement through the state leads to a connection between human rights and violence in Pakistan in three distinct ways. Firstly, the state both enacts and enforces human rights but is the greatest violator of the same, eg police violence, violence through militarisation and corrupt state practices leading to gross violations. Thus, this contradiction leads to society and the judiciary condoning certain forms of state violence.
Secondly, the Pakistani state has lost its monopoly over violence. The operations against militants in Karachi and Fata are a classic example of nation-state consolidation by trying to regain this monopoly and also to increase its administrative reach in society in order to infiltrate the latter and implement its orders. This nation-state consolidation is an extremely violent process but unless the Pakistani state consolidates itself, human rights enforcement is not possible.
Thirdly, in view of the weakness of the civilian and political arms as compared to the power of the military arm, this fight for the Pakistani state’s consolidation goes hand in hand with the militarisation of the state. Therefore, the aforementioned three trends point towards the connection between human rights enforcement and a violent consolidation of the Pakistani state through the vehicle of militarisation. Consequently, in view of the peculiar historical circumstances in Pakistan, human rights enactment and enforcement presupposes and requires state violence as a necessary evil.
Unexpected companions: The above may explain why there appears to be little incompatibility between the spread of human rights through constitutional democracy (eg the 18th Amendment, seven years of uninterrupted democracy) plus an independent judiciary and ever-increasing state violence through militarisation (ie unprecedented extrajudicial killings and death penalty executions, draconian terror laws, military courts, army operations in Fata).
Interestingly, even the military has accepted the inevitability of the human rights discourse and as a consequence developed its own politics of human rights in which extremely violent repression is justified in the language of human rights — ie to save citizens from terrorism (eg the use of women and children in ISPR songs) and to safeguard the independence of the state (eg allegations against RAW and CIA), independence from foreign subjugation being a foundational pillar of all fundamental rights.
The paradoxical love-and-hate relationship between human rights and state violence and militarisation in Pakistan is based on contradictory desires. These are impossible desires to fulfil but contradictions with which both parties (ie human rights and state violence) can live with, as long as enough space is provided to the other to persist (eg the military can have its military courts but the superior courts will have supervisory jurisdiction over these).
Also, interestingly, any poll will show that the people of Pakistan accept that in contemporary Pakistan, the use of massive state violence is seen as inevitable to restore order. Nevertheless, they seek the enforcement of human rights as a necessary public good. Thus, this forbidden love story between human rights and violence appears to be a reflection of a national consensus.
Faisal Siddiqi is a Visiting Fellow at the London School of Economics and Political Science.
Published in Dawn, October 27th, 2015