Monday, May 16, 2005

Welcoming a torturer

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf will be visiting New Zealand next month. In case anyone has forgotten, he overthrew the elected government of Pakistan in 1999. While he has allowed legislative elections since then, he has shown no sign of relinquishing power. But the illegitimate nature of his regime isn't the only problem; according to the Human Rights Watch report Torture Worldwide,

[t]orture is routinely used in Pakistan by civilian law enforcement agencies, military personnel, and intelligence agencies. While acts of torture by the police are generally aimed at producing confessions during the course of criminal investigations, torture by military agencies primarily serves to frighten a victim into changing his political stance or loyalties or at the very least to stop him from being critical of the military authorities. Suspects are often whipped to the point of bleeding, severely beaten, and made to stay in painful stress positions. A July 2004 Human Rights Watch report focuses on abuses against farming families in the Punjab, including testimony about killings and torture by paramilitary forces.

The US State Department 2004 country report for Pakistan found "serious problems". Part of the summary reads

Local police used excessive force and committed or failed to prevent extrajudicial killings. Sectarian killings continued to be a problem. Police abused and raped citizens.

It backs these claims up with numerous examples. It also noted that while torture was banned by Pakistan's constitution,

Security force personnel continued to torture persons in custody throughout the country. Human rights organizations reported that methods used included beating; burning with cigarettes; whipping the soles of the feet; prolonged isolation; electric shock; denial of food or sleep; hanging upside down; and forced spreading of the legs with bar fetters. Officials from the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) estimated 5,000 cases of police torture annually; the Lawyers for Human Rights and Legal Aid Madadgaar Project recorded 1,101 cases of torture during the year. At times, torture resulted in death or serious injury.

President Musharraf leads and represents the regime responsible for all this. Is he really the sort of man we should be rolling out the red carpet for?

We should not be welcoming torturers in New Zealand. The government should stand up for democracy and human rights, and tell Musharraf that he is not welcome until Pakistan cleans up its act.