Pakistan and its citizens are lucky. There’s an international treaty in place that is supposed to look after its basic civil and political rights – including the right to life, freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly and the rights to due process and a fair trial. We received this gift in 2010 when we ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). After ratifying this treaty, Pakistan, like 168 other countries, is now legally bound to uphold these rights.
But Pakistan was apparently already doing so, with an explicit statement in the preamble to the constitution: “Therein shall be guaranteed fundamental rights, including equality of status, of opportunity and before law, social, economic and political justice, and freedom of thought, expression, belief, faith, worship and association, subject to law and public morality”.
But like most things in Pakistan, there is a vast difference between what we are expected to do and what we actually manage to do. Ratification alone cannot serve the purpose of the treaty – as it has been repeatedly proven during the previous year. Execution warrants for mentally ill prisoners have been repeatedly issued. Paraplegic death row inmates, who have been made immobile by a negligent jail system, are still at risk of execution. The president has not accepted a single mercy petition. This has led to the blatant violation of Article 6.
Pakistan must take steps to ensure that it is meeting its constitutional and international commitments. While Pakistan has expressed its commitment to human rights by ratifying the ICCPR, it has fallen short of that commitment in terms of both policy and practice.
This year, Pakistan’s obligations regarding the ICCPR are under review. In July, the Human Rights Committee – comprising independent experts in the human rights field – will monitor the implementation of obligations under the ICCPR by the various signatories. Countries that have ratified the ICCPR are bound to report to the committee after every four years. Every five years, countries undergo an ICCPR review for which they present reports on local human rights issues. The committee examine the reports submitted by the state party and other independent sources, such as various NGOs and INGOs. After taking these reports into consideration, they make recommendations to the country in their concluding observations.
Pursuant to Article 40 of the ICCPR, Pakistan has submitted its report to the Committee on the measures it has taken to give effect to the rights recognised under the agreement. In its report, Pakistan has featured the progress made in promoting fundamental human rights. It has emphasised the creation of the Human Rights Cell of the Supreme Court, which deals with complaints involving rights violations in the country. However, superior courts have consistently refused to apply international conventions in the absence of corresponding domestic legislation.
Pakistan also mentioned its decision to establish of various commissions, such as the National Commission of Human Rights and the provincial and national commissions to assess the status of women. It has also highlighted different awareness-raising initiatives and capacity-building programmes as well as the other legislative steps taken by the federal and provincial governments to ensure the rights of women and children. There is no doubt that Pakistan has made progress in this regard. However, the reports submitted to the committee by various NGOs and INGOs have shed light on some of the state’s shortcomings. When Pakistan appears before the committee on July 9 and July 10 in Geneva, it will surely be questioned about those deficiencies.
These ‘shadow reports’ by a large number of NGOs and INGOs have mentioned extreme human rights violations with regards to juvenile justice, wrongful executions, women’s rights, child rights and anti-terrorism laws. The findings of these reports have confirmed that Pakistan has a long way to go in fulfilling its human rights commitments – especially under its international obligations.
International organisations and human rights groups have urged Pakistan to address the loopholes in their judicial system; implement juvenile justice with age-determination protocols; put an end to secret, extra-judicial detentions and torture and other ill-treatment; repeal laws that allow cruel, inhuman or degrading punishments; declare a moratorium on death sentences, especially for juveniles and the mentally ill persons; and commute the death sentences of those people sentenced for charges other than terrorism.
If Pakistan continues to deliberately violate international treaties that it is a part of, it could be reprimanded by the rest of the world. In the past, the international community had to isolate South Africa in order for the country to undo decades of racial segregation. South Africa was the target of condemnation in the UN and subjected to intense scrutiny from the international community.
Instead of gaining more enemies, Pakistan should voluntarily meet its international obligations and avoid becoming the subject of humiliation and ridicule. It is time to send a signal to the world that we take our word seriously.
The writer is a child rights activist and lawyer in Lahore.