Legal and institutional reforms needed to improve Pakistan’s human rights record
Parliamentarians, civil society, including lawyers, trade unions, and business community demanded that federal and provincial governments improve the human rights situation in the country. The participants of a DRI stakeholder forum in Quetta on 6 April 2016 agreed that Pakistan needs to reform laws and institutions for better protection of human and labour rights, in line with the commitments it undertook when ratifying numerous international treaties and the scheme for preferential trade access to the EU (GSP+).
William John Barkat, Chairperson of the Standing Committee on Human Rights in the Provincial Assembly of Balochistan, stressed the importance of reviving the work of standing committees in the legislative process to allow legislatures to engage in-depth on human rights issues. Nasarullah Khan, Member of the Provincial Assembly of Balochistan, focused on the need to strengthen democratic values for human rights promotion and protection.
Lala Sultan Muhammad, President of All Pakistan Labour Federation (APLF), said that despite GSP+, respect of labour rights remains problematic. The percentage of organised workers in Pakistan is merely 2%, trade unions in Balochistan have declined from over 300 to 200 in recent years, effecting the protection of worker rights. Advocate Tahir Hussain of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, Jalala Haider, a rights activist, and Sohail Ansari, a lawyer, representing civil society’s perspective, expressed their concerns about continued human rights violations, challenges to human rights defenders, weak law enforcement mechanisms and ineffective human rights bodies. They stressed that Pakistan has consistently failed in complying with the recommendations outlined in Pakistan’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR).
Putting forth views of the business community Niaz Khan, representative of the Quetta Chamber of Commerce and Industry (QCCI) said that Balochistan has remained unable to reap benefits of GSP+ trade benefits due to lack of initiative taken by the provincial government to enhance Balochistan’s trade base.
The European Union (EU) has granted Pakistan the status of Generalized Scheme of Preferences (GSP) in 2014. GSP allows developing countries to pay less or no duties on their exports to the EU. GSP+, a component of GSP, offers additional trade incentives to developing countries already benefiting from GSP – but in return for the implementation of 27 international covenants, treaties and conventions Pakistan has already committed to.
The stakeholder forum was the first of a series of events planned in Pakistan’s provinces to generate discussion and recommendations for Pakistan’s actions and priorities to comply with its international human rights and labour commitments, and to help sustain its GSP+ status. The activities are part of the program Supporting Advocacy for Human Rights in Pakistan funded by the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs implemented by DRI since February 2014.