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Model Town Massacre: An International Human Rights Perspective

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According to the political philosophy of the renowned 18th century thinker Rousseau,(1) individual sovereignty as to certain rights and freedoms is transferred from each individual to the state. In return, the state ensures the granting, protecting and preserving of certain rights that are given to each individual of the state. Thus, individuals become citizens.(2) This concept is known as 'The Social Contract' and plays a pivotal role in the modern nation-state theory.(3) Based on this mutually understood premise, it is a legal and constitutional responsibility of the state to uphold and protect the respective rights to the citizens of the state.

However, on the contrary, there are instances where the government of a particular state may illegally confiscate the most basic of human rights that are granted to each individual by international obligations from its citizens. Thus a mockery is made out of the universal concepts of humanity and morality. One such phenomenon is that of 'state terrorism', an example which was witnessed by the world on 17th June 2014. Although a year has passed this the tragedy, doubtless to say, writers will continue to analyse the events of the 17th June 2014 in various lights and aspects. This article intends to shed light on the Model Town Massacre and provide an insight into the events of 17th June 2014 with an international human rights perspective.

State Terrorism

In regards to state terrorism, the renowned American justice scholar Gus Martin asserts that political violence by the state is the most organised and potentially the most far-reaching application of terrorist violence.(4) He does not stand alone. Other thinkers such as Blakely(5) and Mitchell (6) agree with the notion advocated by Martin. Prior to discussing the events of the Model Town Massacre which took place in the historical city of Lahore, it is necessary to briefly elaborate upon the concept of state terrorism in a technical manner.

Fundamentally, the definition of state terrorism is of a broad nature with over a hundred definitions being suggested by Schmid and Jongman (7) alone who go further to state that authors have spilled almost as much ink (trying to define the concept) as the actors of state terrorism have spilled blood through brutality.(8) Although the concept of the state terrorism is contested as to academic definitions, Mitchell has suggested a commendable definition who states that state terrorism involves deliberate coercion and violence (or the threat thereof) directed at the same victim with the intention of inducing extreme fear in same target observers who perceive themselves as potential future victims.(9)

The question of objectives and the idea of altering the behaviour of others run parallel to one another. Hoffman (10) writes that state terrorism is inevitably political in aims and motives. Thinkers and experts in the field such as Crenshaw, Crozier and Jenkins (11) agree. Furthermore, Wilkinson (12) writes that state terrorism is used to try and influence political behaviour in some way. For example, state terrorism may be used to influence political behaviour in some way, force opponents to concede all or some demands, to provoke a certain reaction or to publicise a political cause. Also, Blakely regards state terrorism as an organised act that is designed to spread terror amongst a wider audience to ensure subordination as a political objective.(13)

Guatemala in the 1970s and 1980s stands as an example in history whereby the link between political objectives and the aim of modifying the behaviour of citizens is demonstrated.(14) In this example, the immediate aim of the government was to modify the behaviour of the rural populace of Guatemala in regards to their support for anti-state guerrilla movements, spreading terror and ultimately quashing its primary support base.(15) Parallels can be drawn from this example and the Model Town Massacre where the government attempted to malign any attempts of agitation or mass uprising against the incompetent government.

To achieve its aims, the government in Guatemala paraded tortured and dying victims in front of their families and releasing images of torture and mutilation in state newspapers. In Model Town, the government used the state institution of the police to provoke fear in the masses through torture, violence and the spilling of blood which was eventually broadcast on state media so that opposition policy and behaviour towards the government could be changed or altered through violent provocation. What is similar between the two occurrences in the over-arching political objective behind the acts of the governments is that the purpose in both cases was to remove opposition and strengthen or consolidate the regime.

International Human Rights and State Terrorism

In the modern world, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (16) is the core legal document outlining the basic rights of every individual irrespective of race, religion, sex and nationality throughout the globe. Under Article 3 every person has the right to life, liberty and security of person. Furthermore, article 5 guarantees that an individual shall not be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment.

Despite the granting of these rights under the International Convention of Human Rights, the PML-N government failed to protect an infringement of these rights, rather, the government intentionally deprived 15 individuals of a right to life, liberty and security when they were brutally killed in broad daylight by a state institution and more than 90 individuals were robbed of the right to being protected from torture, cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment. Many of these individuals were females or elderly citizens of Pakistan. Thus, by the means of state terrorism, the government has defied not only carefully construed provisions of international human rights law but all limits and barriers of morality, ethics and humanity. Needless to say, such a barbaric government is clearly unconstitutional and illegal by all standards of law and ethics.

The concept of human rights is closely allied with ethics and morality The natural rights approach which received prominence in Europe during the 17th century, primarily associated with the philosopher John Locke,(17) emphasised on the inalienable rights such as freedom of life, liberty and property upon a social contract marking the end of the difficult conditions of the state of nature thus supporting a higher law which could restrain arbitrary power.

However, as Pakistan is an Islamic Republic, it is of crucial importance to emphasise the rights of citizens that were given by the Qur'an, Ahadith of the Prophet (Peace be upon Him) and other precedents set by the Muslims of the past in this context. The principles given by Islamic law and the contradictory and hypocritical mentality of the current rulers of Pakistan is self-explanatory. Only a few examples will be given due to the obvious limits of such a discussion:

"..It would be as if he killed all the people (of society); and whoever (saved him from unjust murder and) made him survive, it would be as if he saved the lives of all the people (of society, i.e., he rescued the collective system of human life.." (18)

"People before you were destroyed because they punished the weak and acquitted the strong. By the Lord! In whose hands is my life, even if Fātimah [my daughter] had committed this crime, I would have cut her hand off." (19)

"Even if a dog dies hungry on the banks of the River Euphrates, Umar will be responsible for dereliction of duty." (20)

This immense contribution of Islam is demonstrated in modern human rights law whereby certain rights may not be violated or derogated even in times of war such as the right to life (unless lawful) and torture, as affirmed by the European Convention on Human Rights. Article 4 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political rights the rights to life, freedom of though and conscience, liberty and freedom from torture are protected and are non-suspendable. All of these rights were breached by a government who is politically instated to provide, protect and safeguard the rights of the citizens of the State, not to stand as a detrimental factor in the withholding of such universal rights in the most brutal of manners.

Conclusion

Though much remains to be said on the Model Town Massacre, the events of which will forever be written in history, it would be fair to assert to conclude that the actions of Punjab Police on the orders of the Provincial Government of Punjab doubtlessly amount to a grave breach of international human rights law by all standards. Not only were citizens of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan deprived from rights which have an international consensus, all limits of morality and ethics were shattered by a brutal and terrorist government.

The events of the 17th June 2014 in Lahore clearly breached the rights of hundreds of individuals to life, liberty, protection from torture, assembly and association. It would be fair to say that the method, approach and policy adopted by the current government of Pakistan and in particular Punjab is far from the norms of International law and Human rights law, let alone their criminal and barbaric acts.

Moreover, the constitution of Pakistan, such acts are clearly beyond the ambits of the prescribed boundaries and thus as a consequence such a government is evidently unconstitutional with no legitimacy to rule over a people that it has ordered to be fired upon and showered bullets upon, baton charged, illegally held in detention and brutalised for a number of hours for no apparent motive bar that of state terrorism and to instil fear within the masses to prevent any form of opposition against the government, which, though of topic, is an affirmed right of every citizen of every state. It is only hoped that the families of those killed receive justice, the people of Pakistan receives justice, the state of Pakistan receives justice and humanity prevails. It must be remembered: justice delayed is surely justice denied.

Muhammad Umair - 18th June 2015 / 1st Ramadan 1436 A.H

 

References:

1. J-J Rousseau (1712-1778): A philosopher from Geneva who is renowned for his political philosophy of 'The Social Contract'.

2. J-J Rousseau, The Social Contract (Maurice Cranston tr, first published 1968, Penguin 1971) 33

3. Jochen von Bernstorff, The Public International Law Theory of Hans Kelsen: Believing in Universal Law (CUP, 2010) 58

4. Gus Martin, Understanding Terrorism, 93

5. Ruth Blakeley, "State Terrorism in the Social Sciences Theories, Methods and Concepts", in Richard Jackson, Eamon Murphy & Scott Poynting (eds.), Contemporary State Terrorism (Routledge, 2010) 13

6. Christopher Mitchell et al, "State Terrorism: Issue of Concept and Measurement", in Michael Stohl & George A. Lopez (eds.) Government Violence and Repression: An Agenda for Research (Greenwood Press, 1986) 5

7. Alex Schmid & Albert Jongman, Political Terrorism: A New Guide to Actors, Authors, Concepts, Data Bases,Theories, & Literature (Transaction Books, 1988) 2

8. Ibid.

9. Christopher Mitchell et al, "State Terrorism: Issue of Concept and Measurement", in Michael Stohl & George A. Lopez (eds.) Government Violence and Repression: An Agenda for Research (Greenwood Press, 1986) 5

10. Ibid.

11. Paul Wilkinson, "International Terrorism", in J. Baylis & N. Rengger, Dilemmas of World Politics (OUP 1992) 229

12. Ibid.

13.Ruth Blakeley, "State Terrorism in the Social Sciences Theories, Methods and Concepts", in Richard Jackson, Eamon Murphy & Scott Poynting (eds.), Contemporary State Terrorism (Routledge, 2010) 13

14. Ibid.

15. Ibid.

16. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was signed in 1948 in the aftermath of the Second World War.

17. John Locke (1632-1704): A renowned English philosopher.

18. Holy Qur'an, 5:32

19. Sahih al Bukhari, Kitaab ul Hudood

20. A famous saying of Sayyidina Umar ibn al Khattab (RA).