Amnesty International called on Pakistan Thursday to investigate a wave of attacks and threats against politicians and election workers that have marred the run-up to key polls next month.
At least 26 people have been killed by bombers and gunmen since April 11, including 16 mown down by a suicide bomber at a rally by the Awami National Party (ANP) in the northwestern city of Peshawar, according to an AFP tally.
The Taliban have directly threatened the three main parties in the outgoing government, the Pakistan People's Party (PPP), the ANP and the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), which are often described as secular.
The May 11 polls are due to mark the first democratic transition of power after a civilian government has served a full, five-year term in a country that has been ruled by generals for half its life.
"This has been a particularly deadly election period marked by an alarming surge in attacks and intimidation of political activists and election officials," said Mustafa Qadri, Amnesty's Pakistan researcher, in an open letter.
Amnesty said at least 37 people had been killed and 183 injured in attacks on election officials and party representatives and supporters countrywide.
As a result of the threats, there have been few large-scale political rallies leading to a lacklustre campaign for the May 11 polls.
"With these deliberate attacks, the Taliban and other armed groups have shown flagrant disregard for human rights, including the rights to life, freedom of expression and freedom of peaceful assembly," Qadri said.
Amnesty said the authorities must ensure adequate protection and protect freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association and the right to life.
"Candidates themselves also have a responsibility not to incite violence against rivals or segments of society such as religious minorities," Qadri said.
Amnesty also urged parties and candidates to make human rights a priority in their election pledges and policies.
It said some advances had been made in passing legislation by the outgoing parliament, but said rights abuses by state and non-state actors have in some respects worsened over the last five years.