NEW YORK - September 20 - U.S. President George W. Bush should urge Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf to keep his promise to step down as army chief by the end of the year and fully restore civilian rule in Pakistan, Human Rights Watch said today. The two leaders are scheduled to meet Wednesday on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly.
At the same time, Musharraf should call on Bush to support an independent commission, modeled on the 9/11 Commission, to investigate torture and other ill-treatment at U.S. military detention facilities, Human Rights Watch said. He should also urge the United States to permit visits to these facilities by U.N. human rights monitors
Since taking power in a 1999 coup, General Musharraf has unilaterally imposed amendments to the Pakistani constitution that dramatically strengthen the power of the presidency, formalize the role of the army in governance, and diminish the authority of elected representatives. Musharraf prevailed upon his Islamist allies in parliament to validate these measures in exchange for a promise that he would relinquish the post of army chief and become a civilian president by December 31. The Pakistani constitution prohibits the chief of the army to hold a political office. However, recent public statements by Musharraf and other Pakistani government officials indicate that he will not step down as promised.
"It's time for the Bush administration to recognize how its support for military rule in Pakistan flies in the face of its pledge to foster democracy in the Muslim world," said Brad Adams, Asia division director of Human Rights Watch. "Bush should impress upon Musharraf that claims of a return to democracy are hollow if he tries to cling to the presidency without stepping down from his army post as promised."
Human Rights Watch pointed out that the military is one of the main human rights abusers in the country. Under Musharraf, the military enjoys almost complete impunity for abuses, including well-documented cases of extrajudicial killings, torture and arbitrary arrests. Since Musharraf came to power, the military has gained a toehold in virtually every state institution, blocking the possibility of significant reforms.
"The military is one of the prime abusers of human rights in Pakistan," said Adams. "Even the police are afraid of investigating abuses committed by the military. Only a genuinely civilian government will be able to protect the human rights of Pakistani citizens."
Human Rights Watch urged the Bush administration to insist that the Pakistani government take concrete measures to end its practice of using torture, coercion and imprisonment to stifle criticism and silence political opponents. Opposition legislators have been tortured, harassed and persecuted for voicing their disagreement with Musharraf's changes to the Pakistani constitution. In April the president of an opposition party, Makhdoom Javed Hashmi of the Alliance for the Restoration of Democracy, was sentenced to 23 years in prison for reading out an anti- Musharraf letter to assembled journalists.
"Perpetrators of torture should be removed from Pakistan's security forces and prosecuted," said Adams.
Human Rights Watch also urged General Musharraf to tell President Bush that it is time for the United States to seriously investigate torture, murder and other abuses at Abu Ghraib prison and other U.S. military detention facilities. Human Rights Watch said that only an independent 9/11-style commission would be able to shed full light on U.S. treatment of detainees in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay.
Such a commission would hold hearings, have full subpoena power, and be empowered to recommend the creation of a special prosecutor to investigate possible criminal offenses. The commission would examine, among other things, the link between the Bush administration's policy discussions and memos, and the U.S. government's actual practices in Afghanistan, Iraq and Guantanamo Bay.
"The United States has still not authorized an independent investigation into either the abuses at Abu Ghraib or the many alleged cases of death or torture in U.S. custody in Afghanistan," said Adams. "Musharraf should impress upon Bush the deep-seated anger that this has caused in the Muslim world and the need for the United States to take credible steps to address it."
Musharraf should also complain to Bush about the widespread practice by U.S. forces and the Central Intelligence Agency of arbitrarily arresting people in Afghanistan and then detaining them indefinitely, often at Bagram airbase outside Kabul or a CIA facility. These detainees have routinely been held without any rights to a hearing before a judge, the right to counsel or even family visits, and without receiving a trial meeting international fair trial standards. Many of those detained have been Pakistani nationals.
"The United States acts with complete disregard for international law in Afghanistan by continuously arresting people, often on flimsy grounds, then holding them indefinitely without respect for due process of law," said Adams. "Musharraf should tell Bush that it is unacceptable for individuals to disappear into a legal black hole. The United States has an obligation to treat all detainees in accordance with international law."
President Bush has repeatedly said that the "war against terrorism" is a war of values, but has consistently been unwilling to speak out in favor of those values with close anti-terrorism allies such as General Musharraf.
"By flouting the clear mandates of international law, the United States encourages other countries like Pakistan to do the same," said Adams.