Iftikhar Lund as a human rights advisor is like a wolf drafting a charter on the rights of sheep

Published: July 21, 2019
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Considering the allegations against hiim, Iftikhar Lund’s appointment as focal person for human rights in Sindh sends a number of worrying messages. PHOTO: FACEBOOK/@MirIftikharAKL

From the ashes of World War II rose the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). This international instrument granted a special place to the concept of human dignity. Article 1 of the UDHR states:

“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

Today, more than a hundred constitutions across the world make some reference to human dignity, either as a right or as a value that the state is to aspire towards. Although there is a wide disagreement about the meaning of human dignity, certain aspects are now almost unanimously considered to be a part of it. The freedom from exploitative and degrading treatment is one of them.

Had the Pakistan government considered this important concept and its centrality to the existence of human rights, it would never have appointed Iftikhar Ahmed Lund as a focal person for human rights in Sindh.

It might be tough to peg down a single unifying definition of what the term ‘human dignity’ means, but it can be said with a degree of certainty that beating a man and then sexually assaulting him with an iron rod probably violates every known definition of ‘human dignity’ that anyone serious about human rights has been able to come up with.

It is hard to feel optimistic about human rights in Pakistan when a person alleged to have violated another human being’s dignity with reckless abandon is anointed to safeguard those rights. It is like asking wolves to draft a charter on the rights of sheep.

The full details of Lund’s alleged crime are too grisly to describe here. Yet, there are important aspects of his crime that need to be highlighted, because they are relevant to dissect what his appointment as focal person for human rights entails.

Lund allegedly sexually assaulted one of his employees, who is said to be one of his drivers. It is safe to say that victim and assailant did not come from the same socio-economic background. The viral video of the victim, the FIR registered against Lund, and eyewitness accounts, substantiate that the story has some merit.

Considering this, Lund’s appointment as focal person for human rights in Sindh sends a number of worrying messages.

Firstly, for people like the victim, those who do not enjoy a privileged background like Lund, the message is clear: lose all hope. Those who exploit your lot in life, those who do not value your dignity, shall be rewarded by the state. These people will lose trust in the state and lose hope in the social contract that ties the people to the government. Trust by the people in the state’s ability to grant them justice lies at the very core of the fabric of the rule of law. When this falls apart, two very dangerous things can occur: either the people will take the law into their own hands and seek justice, or turn towards something else – militancy is just one possibility. Neither outcome is good for a country where people already despair at a crippled justice system.

Secondly, Lund’s appointment lays bare our nation’s gossamer-thin commitment to human rights. The very office of the Human Rights Ministry is degraded by the fact that such people are a part of its team. Even if we leave Lund’s alleged crime aside, what qualifications does he have to be appointed as the focal person for human rights? None seem to be forthcoming.

This leaves us to the conclusion that this position, like many others in Pakistan, was doled out as a political reward to a loyal party worker – despite his propensity for sexual assault. Lund seems to have no credentials that show any strong commitment to human rights. It is a strange place, Pakistan, where those who have struggled their entire lives for human rights are labelled traitors, while those who are accused of assaulting another’s dignity and rights are rewarded by the state.

Lund’s appointment also reinforces a prominent thought in the minds of the people of Pakistan – especially those who do not come from a position of privilege: there is one law for the powerful and another entirely for everyone else. Lund says he was acquitted of the allegations against him, but according to rights activist Shuja Qureshi, Lund pressurised the victim into settling the matter out of court. So, the cycle continues. The powerful can get away with any crime as long as they are willing to cough up the right price. How many other powerful people will be enabled by Lund’s lack of punishment?

All the money in the world cannot buy a man back his dignity. The victim of Lund’s assault has been robbed of his dignity and his right to attain justice in Pakistan. Today, he sees his assailant standing proudly along with the federal minister for human rights as he accepts his appointment. How can we expect people like the victim to have any faith in human rights in this country? Our own Constitution guarantees that the dignity of man is a fundamental right, but many will come to see such guarantees as paper promises, which is available only to those who come from a particular class.

By appointing Lund, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) has taken its claims of ‘justice for all’– that was preached before elections – and dismantled it with disdain. It has manifested itself as a party that sees the rights of people like Lund’s victim as low on its list of priorities. It seems, all are not equal in Naya Pakistan. As a nation, we have grown accustomed to ignoring serious violations of human rights. We should not bring ourselves to ignore this. We must demand that Lund should be removed from his post and made to stand trial for his crimes. The belief of the people of this country in our judicial system depends on it.

Hassan Niazi

Hassan Niazi

The writer is a lawyer based in Lahore and also teaches at the Lahore University of Management Sciences. He holds an LLM from New York University where he was a Hauser Global Scholar. He tweets @HNiaziii (twitter.com/HNiaziii)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.