About Rafia Zakaria

Rafia Zakaria is a member of the Board of Directors and Country Specialist for Amnesty International USA. Zakaria is the first Pakistani American woman to serve as a Board Director for Amnesty International USA. She is a lawyer and the Director of the Muslim Women's Legal Defense Fund for the Muslim Alliance of Indiana/The Julian Center Shelter representing victims of domestic violence. She is a Ph.D. candidate in Political Science at Indiana University, currently working on her dissertation entitled "Negotiating Identity: Sharia, multiculturalism and Muslim women." She was the John Edwards Fellow at Indiana University for 2007-2008 which is the highest academic honor that can be achieved by a graduate student at Indiana University. Rafia writes a weekly column for the Daily Times in Pakistan and her work has appeared in the New York Times, Arts and Letters Daily, the Nation and the American Prospect. She is the only Pakistani American woman recognized by a joint resolution of the Indiana House and Senate for her work on women's rights.
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Secret US Drone Program Still Getting Away With Killing Children

drone victims pakistan

Pakistani tribesmen protest against US drone attacks in the Pakistani tribal region. © AFP/Getty Images

At tonight’s debate President Obama and Governor Romney will face questions for the last time before the Presidential Elections. Even as they speak and try to sell themselves to the American public, scores of unmanned aerial vehicles will be flying over the skies of northwestern Pakistan, their remote control operators sitting thousands of miles away, and the hundreds of thousands of villagers under their shadow cowering in fear for when they will spit out a missile and wreak destruction over the land that has been their home for centuries.

In the words of the recent report compiled by NYU and Stanford University:

“Drones hover twenty four hours a day over communities in northwest Pakistan striking homes, vehicles and public spaces their presence terrorizes men, women and children giving rise to anxiety and psychological trauma among civilian communities”

Even as the Presidential candidates sparred on October 11, 2012, President Obama had already authorized his 297th drone strike since taking office, it was the deadliest one in 2012, killing 17 people, the second strike in less than twenty four hours in the area. In the aftermath of the strike the Foreign Ministry of Pakistan said the strike was a “clear violation of international law and of Pakistani sovereignty”. As has been the case, for the hundreds of other strikes the objections made by Pakistan, a country against which the United States has not declared war, they were ignored.


The Girl On The Schoolbus

Malala Yousafzai

Pakistanis protest against the assassination attempt on Malala Yousafzai in Islamabad on October 11, 2012.© AFP/GettyImages

Malala Yousufzai got on the bus on Tuesday morning to go to school. With her, were two of her school friends, also bound for Mingora, the largest town in Pakistan’s Swat District, where their school is located. It was an ill-fated journey. Before the girls could get to school that morning, Tehreek-e-Taliban gunmen accosted the bus.

One of the girls, Shazia Razaman confirmed that they were specifically looking for Malala. She was easy to find, and when they did find her, they shot her in the head. Hours, later as Pakistanis and the world, watched, aghast and stunned at yet another act of inhumane violence, the spokesperson for the Tehreek-e-Taliban, specifically took responsibility for the attack saying:

“She is a Western-minded girl. She always speaks against us. We will target anyone who speaks against the Taliban.”


Under Siege of Terror: The Shia Hazara of Pakistan

Pakistani Shiite Muslims Hazara protest

Pakistani Shiite Muslims protest after the sectarian killings in Quetta on April 14, 2012. Eight people, including seven Hazara, were gunned down in separate sectarian targeted incidents. (Photo: BANARAS KHAN/AFP/Getty Images)

Sectarian violence promoted by religious extremists  is not new to Pakistan, but the latest series of brutal attacks on the otherwise peaceful Hazara people has reached a breaking point in recent weeks.  Despite the fact that nearly 30 people have died in the past two weeks,  the Government of  Pakistan seems incapable – if not unwilling – to step in to stop this siege of terror.

The situation in the Balochistan province, located  in south-west Pakistan  has always been complex with a number of different ethnic groups, a seccesionist movement and various Taliban leaders all vying for power. Things have become even worse  in the last few years with escalating tensions between the United States and Pakistan over the NATO supply route leading to even more unrest in Quetta, Balochistan’s capital city and bringing an onslaught of tragedy to the Hazara who live there.


The Vote After The Revolt

An Egyptian youth waves the national flag

© Khaled Desouki/AFP/Getty Images

Egyptians headed to the polls again this week, even as the brutal crackdown by the ruling military regime continues.  Just last week, authorities raided the offices of 17 NGOs, disrupting the work of human rights groups and foreign election monitors.

While the polling seems to have taken place without violent incidents, Egyptians are still reeling from last week’s raids and the deadly security force attacks on peaceful protesters.  The continued abuses by the military regime point to a tumultuous transition in the months ahead regardless of the election outcomes.

Particularly troubling are statements by Egyptian military leaders that have insisted that they do not intend to cede much power to the newly elected civilian leaders, retaining for instance the power to fire an elected Prime Minister at any time.


Beyond the Wall in Yemen

yemen woman protester

A Yemeni women protesting the death of a woman and wounding of six others at the hands of Yemeni forces. © AFP/Getty Images

In late October of this year, hundreds of Yemeni women marched into a main street in Sanaa, the country’s capital.  In the middle of streets they laid a black cloth. Then in the middle of the cloth they threw their veils, piles of them, black fabric that had used to cover themselves.

Then they did something unprecedented in public: they set fire to them, marking an end to their seclusion and to their silence.

The night before, on October 25, 2011 twenty people had died protesting in Sanaa and nearby Taiz and the women wanted the world to know that they, like everyone else who had endured President Abdullah Saleh’s 33 year old regime, had had enough.


The Silencing of an Egyptian Revolutionary

Maikel Nabil

Egyptian blogger Maikel Nabil Sanad is on hunger strike in prison © Private

October 1, 2011 was Maikel Nabil Sanad’s birthday and he spent it like he has spent most of the past month, on hunger strike against his imprisonment for speaking out against the Government.

An Egyptian blogger who has been working to expose the abuses of power of the Mubarak regime, Sanad was convicted on charges of publicly insulting the army on Facebook and via his blog.  In his post, Sanad called for an end to military conscription which he said should be voluntary instead of mandatory. He also drew attention to the continuing abuses by the military regime highlighting case after case in which protestors were arrested, beaten as military thugs and even tortured.


Millions of Slum Dwellers in Cairo Still at Risk after Mubarak

The euphoria of the revolutionary moment is wondrous — drawing out from despondency and delivering from despair, young and old, city dweller and peasant, all uniting in a collective that suddenly realizes its power.

In January, the world watched the Egyptian masses stare down the Mubarak regime, millions of ordinary Egyptians transformed into the extraordinary by their numbers and their valiant spirit. In these last days of August, the world is witnessing another valiant rout, as Libyan rebel fighters’ inch closer and closer to deposing a despot who has ruled them for decades.

In the magic of momentous change, it is difficult to spare a moment for the mundane miseries that persist after the crowds have left the squares, and the slogans hang silent. It is the plight of these people that is highlighted in “We are not dirt”, Amnesty International’s report focusing on slum dwellers in Cairo, the pulsing city that is at the heart of the Arab spring.


War Zone in Karachi, Pakistan

Pakistani children mourn during a funeral procession of a man shot and killed by unidentified armed men in Karachi. © ASIF HASSAN/AFP/Getty Images

Violence in Karachi, Pakistan’s largest city continued on Friday as the death toll in the embattled city rose to over 88 in the past four days. A protest call by the Mottahida Qaumi Movement, the political party that represents much of the city’s Urdu speaking population, paralyzed the city of eighteen million.

Busy streets usually teeming with crowds remained eerily deserted and all petrol pumps were closed preventing city residents from leaving their homes.  Pakistani television reported that many with small children or elderly relatives are suffering owing to the inability to obtain food and supplies.

Uncertainty and tensions in the city have been exacerbated by the “shoot on sight” orders given to security personnel patrolling city streets.  The order leaves Karachi’s citizens vulnerable not only to the ethnic violence ravaging the city but also to excesses by security forces posted around the city who can now kill with impunity.


No Justice For Gang Rape Survivor Mukhtar Mai

Mukhtar Mai © Aamir Qureshi/AFP/Getty Images

On Thursday April 21, 2011 the Supreme Court of Pakistan issued a decision in the case of gang rape survivor Mukhtar Mai.  Mukhtar Mai was gang raped on the orders of a village council in June 2002 when her brother was wrongly accused of having an affair with a woman from a rival gang.

Following the incident, an Anti-Terrorism Court had sentenced six of the accused men to death. This sentence was overturned by the Lahore High Court which acquitted five of the accused and commuted the sentence of the sixth to life imprisonment.

Now the Supreme Court Pakistan’s highest legal authority has affirmed the judgment of the Lahore High Court and acquitted all but one of the accused. In an astounding decision, the Court argues that the accused enjoy a triple presumption of innocence without ever defining the term or explaining the burden of proof it entails.


Assault on Protesters, Migrants Workers Continues in Bahrain

Bahraini anti-government look at spent gas canisters, stun grenades, rubber bullets all piled up in Pearl Square, the epicentre of the anti government movement, in Manama on March 14, 2011 (JAMES LAWLER DUGGAN/AFP/Getty Images)


As protests in Bahrain continue, we’re seeing increased brutality against protesters. Amnesty International has documented several cases of police brutality in which protesters were fired upon or beaten up and medical personnel prevented from providing aid.

A new Amnesty International report Bahrain: bloodied but unbowed: Unwarranted state violence against Bahraini protestors documents the deaths of seven protesters and beatings of hundreds of others.

Recent reports have also emerged of brutal attacks on Asian migrant workers wrongly believed to be members of security forces. According to reports from the Bahraini Human Rights Watch Society and Migrant Workers Protection Society more than forty workers have been attacked by protesters.  The newspaper Gulf News reported the deaths of four migrant workers since the protests began on February 14, 2011.

The increase in violence reveals how sectarian tensions in Bahrain are being exploited by the ruling family to refuse rights to both migrant workers and protesters.  The use of migrant workers from Sunni countries to brutalize protesters is designed to deflect attention away from real political grievances by the largely Shia protesters.  It also takes attention away from the dismal condition of most Bahraini migrant workers that work long hours and have few or no rights to organize or demand fair employment or housing practices.

Bahraini authorities are pitting one group of victims against another while the real culprits remain untouched and continue to wield power.