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Combating mob violence is impossible without human rights education

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Source: The Nation

By Eraas Haider

‘Mob justice’ is when a group of people take law in their hands and punish an alleged criminal themselves rather than getting the authorities involved and following proper prosecution. Incidents of mob violence are a clear reflection of a society that has lost all morals to be humane. They are a warning for an internally building unrest in the stratum of society.  Practices of ‘mob justice’ are common in many parts of the world and yet in 21st century, mob violence results in assault of suspected criminals and most of the times death at the hand of a group of people comprising of co-operators and spectators. It mostly happens in poor and underdeveloped settlements at the hands of local denizens. These days people would incite the onslaught, make videos on their mobile phones and howl in excitement. It has also been, sadly, observed that many of the incidents take place amid the presence of security personnel who act as onlookers, forgetting their moral and constitutional duty.

There are a number of reasons that can turn otherwise non-violent individuals into a fierce mob; a mob that would take away the life of suspected individuals without a second thought. Criminology tells us the basic reason behind such incidents is the gap between the rich and the poor. Lack of faith in local law enforcement agencies, distrust in judicial system, lack of education and potentially violent mindset further reinforce the urge to take law in hands.

Mob justice is by all means a violation of basic human rights. It is a violation of a person’s right to a fair trial and the basic notion of being innocent until proven guilty. It is an evidence of failure of law enforcement agencies in curbing crime, maintaining peace in society and ensuring the safety of its citizens, even if they are suspected of involvement in a crime.

Incidents of mob justice are not uncommon in Pakistan. A recent episode was circulated on social media captured with mobile phones. An alleged offender was beaten half-dead by handful of murderous citizens of Karachi. The crowd can be heard abusing and inviting others to beat his stripped-naked body. Referring to him as a street-criminal, mob justified his beating. This did not end here. His unconscious body was later lifted up and thrown into an open sewer. Not a single voice can be heard against what was happening, not a single hand lifted against the brutality that was being committed. Anyone who would dare to do so would himself/herself be regarded as an accomplice and would meet the same fate. Therefore, people refrain from protesting and prefer to act as bystanders, however, not realizing that they are equal collaborators in this crime. After throwing the body in the sewage, the smile and joy on the faces of those who accomplished this ordeal was ‘spectacular’. Some members of the group were heard affirming the victim’s death to others, as he would not be able to struggle his way out of the black pool he was thrown into.

The alleged would possibly have been a street criminal and would have himself looted or shot peaceful non-violent citizens of Karachi for the sake of trivial cash or mobile phone set. However, taking the lives of culprits like this is not a solution. Committing a violent act in the name of justice is no justice. Such events only increase the circle of violence, create more fear and makes citizens prone to cruelty. Any crime must be dealt in prescribed ways without violating human rights.

Combating ‘mob justice’ is not an easy task owning to the multitude of factors that lead to it. However, the following can be a starting point to make sure that no such incidents happen in future in Pakistan. First and foremost, the local policing system and judicial systems need to be improved. That not only involves punishment against those who commit a crime but also those who resort to mob violence falsely supposing it to be the only way of justice and assuming it to be their responsibility to do so. Only then we can expect a shift in the trends prevalent in our society. Secondly, it is very important to educate people with basic human rights. It is a way of empowering the individuals and making them realise that if today they violate someone else’s rights, tomorrow their rights might be violated too. There has never been such an urgency of teaching our children the lessons of non-violence. Violence is no remedy. The least we can be trained is to not become a part of such violence. Creating a social sense of refraining from violence would ultimately lead to a peaceful, tolerant society we all strive for.

Originally published at The Nation on July 29, 2016.

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