As part of it continuing effort for the return of foreign fishermen on the humanitarian ground, the National Commission for Human Rights (NCHR) has launched a campaign demanding the repatriation of such prisoners currently being held in prisons of India and Pakistan.
Under this campaign, the Commission aims to highlight the ordeal of those held in prison for accidentally crossing the maritime borders and national and international agreements applied on such prisoners, besides urging the governments of Pakistan and India to schedule talks to ensure the return of the detained fishermen.
According to data collected by the Commission, there are an estimated 1,155 foreign prisoners in Pakistan, with a significant proportion being foreign fishermen who are arrested after trespassing into Pakistan’s territorial waters. The vast majority of fishermen are from India and from Gujrat.
NCHR’s campaign started with visits to Malir Prison, Karachi to oversee the situation of the foreign prisoners which included foreign Indian fishermen incarcerated in the facility. NCHR’s campaign is in cooperation with the Legal Aid Society which has been working to ensure the release of foreign fishermen who had completed their sentences.
Under this initiative, the NCHR lobbied with the Ministry of Interior and Ministry of Foreign Affairs to expedite the release of prisoners and both ministries agreed to utilize their resources to allow for a quick repatriation of the fishermen.
In addition to that, Chairperson NCHR held a meeting with the Director of the India Desk and Assistant Director at the India Desk to verify details regarding Pakistani nationals being detained in India and to update the India Mission on NCHR’s campaign to release Indian fishermen who are being detained under the Foreigners Act and have completed their sentences. The meeting also discussed steps taken to ensure that consular access is given to all incarcerated foreign prisons.
The Commission has also developed a policy brief covering the background and details around the issues and recommending urgent policy and procedural measures to ensure the repatriation of foreign fishermen to their country of origin on humanitarian grounds and for easing the strain on prison resources. The policy paper urges a long-term solution to the issue and urges the Pakistani government to appoint members for its vacant seats in the Joint Judicial Commission with India.
These arbitrary arrests of fishermen on both sides indicate the rise of a potential humanitarian crisis in the making — with more than 650 Indian fishermen currently in Pakistani jails and another 100+ Pakistani fishermen residing in Indian jails. “These are the poorest and most vulnerable communities; they are not criminals. It is the job of the government to return them home as soon as possible. The stories at the jail are beyond sad and heart-wrenching” said Chairperson NCHR Rabiya Javeri Agha.
Chairperson informed that the Commission has already written to the Chairperson of NHRC India to help facilitate the return of Pakistanis fishermen from Indian jails. “It is hoped that both countries work together to alleviate the terrible tragedy of fishermen away from home for years on end,” she said.