Impunity and justice

Editorial Board
Friday, Jan 14, 2022

The horrifying impunity with which Usman Mirza assaulted a couple in Islamabad last year had left saner people in the country reeling. And there was a collective sigh of relief when the man and his accomplices were arrested. But evidently his open impunity came with a sense of confidence that he would be able to get away with it. The fears seemed to be coming true when the female victim of Usman Mirza’s assault case withdrew her statement. Thankfully, the government has said that it would pursue the case regardless. The retraction of the victim’s statement and refusal to recognise highlights the vulnerability of victims of such crime in Pakistan.

The judicial-legal system in the country is notoriously apathetic to the high level of vulnerability of victims and their families. Either victims feel so insecure that they prefer not to testify against the culprits, or their families face intimidation and come under tremendous pressure while pursuing such cases. It can never be overemphasised that the culprits involved in these cases must face the law. And the state is responsible for offering complete protection to victims, their families and all witnesses. It would not be out of place to recall the murder case of journalist Wali Khan Babar who was assassinated in Karachi and then nearly all the witnesses were eliminated one by one. In that case the state failed to provide security to the witnesses, showing a lack of responsibility or willingness to protect them.

Without testimony from the victim – or by the witnesses – it becomes hard to build a solid prosecution and the case loses its strength. In the Usman-Mirza case there is clear video evidence of the crime. This culture of impunity must come to an end now and all criminals must face the full force of the law. Victim retraction does become a challenge for the police, but we cannot blame the victims since they are usually in mortal fear for theirs and their families’ lives. There have been multiple cases in the past in which threats have materialized. With so many similar cases, the entire justice system appears to be on trial. The courts and the prosecution both have a duty that they must fulfil. Men like Usman Mirza thinking they can get away with what they did is an indictment of the whole system.