DROI urge Pakistan to initiate reforms and legislative changes to address human rights issues
The Members of the European Parliament’s Subcommittee on Human Rights (DROI) recently urged Pakistan to undertake timely reforms and legislative changes on human rights issues including the “misuse of blasphemy laws”.
A press release issued by the EU mission in Islamabad stated, “They called for determined and structured action, including the swift adoption of laws against torture and enforced disappearances, steps to substantially reduce the number of crimes carrying the death penalty and to apply the new procedures for mercy petitions.”
A delegation of the DROI visited Pakistan during the period September 19 to September 21 to review the human rights situation in the country, the press release added.
The inspection tour in the backdrop of the final round of the European Union’s (EU) monitoring of Pakistan’s preferential trade access to the EU market under the “GSP+” scheme for 2014-2033 and its preparations for an application to the next GSP system to be determined in 2024.
The European Union is Pakistan’s most important export market and, as a key “GSP+” country, is committed to ratifying and respecting 27 international conventions on human rights, labor rights, sustainable development and good governance.
According to the EU statement, its members had discussed a wide range of human rights topics during their meetings with the speaker and members of the National Assembly, as well as with the chairman and members of the Senate.
The EU team had also held meetings with the Minister of Human Rights, the Minister of Law and Justice, and the Chairperson of the National Commission on Human Rights.
In addition, the delegation had also met with civil society organizations, female human rights activists and media. The discussions focused on the criminal justice system, torture and the death penalty, economic and social rights, prevention of domestic violence, and the freedoms of religion and belief and the freedom of expression both online and offline.
During the meeting, the members had also called for adoption of laws protecting journalists, eliminating obstacles hampering the work of civil society organizations and media, and the rights to collective bargaining and unionization.
The delegation also highlighted the need to prevent the misuse of blasphemy laws, by applying safeguards against false accusations.
The EU members also called for decisive actions to prevent domestic violence, child labour and child marriage, according to the statement.
The chairperson of the delegation, Maria Arena, said that the visit allowed the committee to get an overall picture of the challenges faced by Pakistan when it came to human rights.
“Significant progress and renewed commitment to genuinely change the situation on the ground are essential for Pakistan to succeed in its application process for post-2023 GSP +,” she highlighted.
Arena said that the European Parliament was working hard to adapt the scheme’s human rights requirements and how beneficiary countries and the EU cooperate.
Con current to the meetings, the delegation also visited an Afghan refugee community in the Kheshgi area of the Nowshera district, which was affected by the flooding, and talked to residents about their livelihood and challenges.
Furthermore, the members expressed their condolences for flood victims and their families, assuring their solidarity was with the people of Pakistan.
They underlined that the international community must increase its efforts to reduce global carbon emissions and help the countries suffering the most from climate change.
Meanwhile, enforced disappearances remain a persistent human rights issue in Pakistan. It has been reported that there have been more than 7,000 cases of enforced disappearances in the country since 2011 (Shah, 2021).
As for the definition of the term, Article 2 of the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (ICPPED) that became effective in 2010 describes it as:
“Arrest, detention, abduction or any other form of deprivation of liberty by agents of the State or by persons or groups of persons acting with the authorization, support or acquiescence of the State, followed by a refusal to acknowledge the deprivation of liberty or by concealment of the fate or whereabouts of the disappeared person, which places such a person outside the protection of the law”.
While reports suggest that the practice of enforced disappearance in Pakistan dates back to the mid-1980s it had increased significantly during the military rule of Pervez Musharraf, who ordered the persecution of many individuals in the country in the name of the “war on terror” following 9/11.
One of the cases that has caused outrage among locals and the international community in the country is the disappearance of Idris Khattak, a human rights activist and a former Pakistani consultant for Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch (HRW).
In his reports, Idris had criticized Pakistani authorities over the arbitrary detentions and enforced disappearances. This led to his abduction in 2019 while he was on his way from Islamabad to his home town Nowshera. The Pakistani military later admitted that they had taken Khattak (Gwakh, 2021). A military court charged Khattak with treason and espionage, sentencing him to 14 years imprisonment.
Later Idris was charged by a military court for treason and espionage, sentencing him to 14 years imprisonment. Idris’s family submitted a petition to the Peshawar High Court to find information on his whereabouts, but their effort was obstructed by Pakistani authorities.
The number of cases of enforced disappearances in Pakistan has seen a sharp rise in the southwestern province, Balochistan, which is the least developed and poorest region in the country. There are findings that there were 541 people that possibly disappeared during the year of 2018 in the province (Dunya News, 2018). Enforced disappearance is particularly common in Balochistan because the authorities are trying to fight the nationalist independence movement in the province (Baloch, 2022). Pakistani secret services have been utilizing enforced disappearances as a tool to suppress the movement and the voice of those advocating the independence of the province (Baloch, 2022). Thus, thousands of Balochs have been abducted, tortured, and killed by Pakistani intelligence agents over the past few years (Asian News International, 2021).
Students, journalists, human rights defenders and political activists in Balochistan are the active groups in the independence movement in the province and have thus been targeted by secret services.
However, the international community has not been silent on human rights violations, including enforced disappearances, in Pakistan. Numerous civil society organizations, such as the International Commission of Jurists, have condemned the absence of a law that criminalizes enforced disappearances in Pakistan.
Taking into consideration the recent developments, it can be expected that enforced disappearances will remain a pressing human rights issue in Pakistan. However, some effort has been take at State level, such as the establishment of the Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances in 2011, and the passing of the bill that criminalizes these acts in 2021, yet the overall response by the State has been inadequate. The State has not investigated any case and has not charged anyone involved in any enforced disappearance cases.
There are also allegations levelled at the international community that they have not done enough to address these issues in Pakistan.
Yet, the international community has not done enough to address the issue in Pakistan. Although human rights activists and civil society actors have been quite active in drawing attention to the issue, more steps are needed to be taken by intergovernmental organizations and the UN, besides statements, reports, and speeches, that could help tackle the issue in Pakistan. In addition, human rights organizations and States have to come together at the intergovernmental level and vigorously push Pakistani authorities to alleviate the issue, and sign and ratify the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance.