Islamabad : Despite lack of awareness among public and enormous enforcement challenges in the implementation of human rights guaranteed by the constitution, Federal Minister for Human Rights Shireen Mazari appears determined to streamline rights-related matters through all possible and available means.
The ministry is due to launch the Child Labor Survey and establish Management Information System (MIS) for data collection on human rights with the support of UNDP.
It is also set to initiate an awareness campaign on human rights with the European Union funding.
In legislation, there are four laws submitted to the Ministry of Law for further process and two draft legislation - Law on Corporal Punishment and Zainab Alert –have been approved by the Cabinet.
In an exclusive interview with ‘The News’, the minister talked about her time in office since September 2018, and the way she had brought energy to this ministry which was ignored by previous governments.
The most obvious change is the ministry’s stance on human rights violations at the international level and the way the federal minister has presented Pakistan’s position on issues such as Kashmir and Islamophobia.
“We admit that Pakistan is facing many challenges with regards to human rights violations, but the encouraging aspect is that we are moving forward in rights protection,” she said.
“On the other hand, many developed countries are not even ready to admit that they have human rights issues. There are countries that are closing mosques; some don’t even allow mosques, like in Switzerland. There are countries that don’t allow Muslims to dress as demanded by their social norms.”
The minister said that in Europe, they say they are secular, but they are not. “In Britain, the Queen is the head of the Church of England while she is also head of the state. In Germany, if you contribute to your church, you get tax exemption, but if you contribute to your mosque, you don’t get tax exemption. The laws related to marriage and divorces are the same for everybody,” she said citing a few examples.
Shireen said that Pakistan is one of the few countries where minorities have their laws. “We have already passed the Hindu Marriage Act, and Christian Marriage and Divorce Bill is now with the Ministry of Law for further process. We should take pride in the fact that we allowed our non-Muslim community to live their personal lives according to the laws dictated by their religion and we should also take pride in the fact that we are one of the few countries that have a very progressive law on the transgender community.”
About the rights of disabled persons, she said that the proposed legislation had been referred to the National Assembly Committee. Besides that, the Cabinet Committee on Legislation has approved two more bills - Corporal Punishment Bill and Zainab Alert Bill - which will soon be tabled in the Assembly.”
She identified over-legislation and weak implementation as two of the big problems faced by Pakistan. “Enforcement is the problem partly because there is no awareness of the rights. So one of the issues we are focusing on very actively is the awareness programmes.”
She shared that the ministry has already launched awareness programmes on the inheritance rights of women and child abuse. “In this campaign, I went to schools and addressed children on the issue. Also, we prepared some videos that were aired on PTV to make students, teachers, and parents aware of child abuse- related issues.”
Talking about the ministry’s helpline, she said that the facility had been made active as part of these campaigns. “We have made our helpline very active as part of these campaigns. We have also prepared a list of lawyers in different districts who will provide free legal aid to those contacting the ministry through the helpline.”
The minister added that the ministry had submitted a draft of Legal Aid Framework to the Ministry of Law. “The government wants to formalize the process of providing legal aid through this framework. For this mechanism, the ministry has taken some pointers from the British Legal Aid System.”
About corporal punishment, Shireen said her ministry had suggested to the Ministry of Law improve and shorten the mercy petition process. “It is unfortunate that due to the lengthy bureaucratic procedure, the mercy petitions sometimes don’t even reach the president.”
About enforced disappearances, she said that the ministry had drafted the legislation and it was with the Law Ministry. “We have to iron out some of the problems in the bill.”
She also talked about Pakistani prisoners abroad. “Prime Minister Imran Khan has taken a very strong position on our prisoners abroad. He has now asked the Foreign Office and the Interior Ministry to see if we can use two extradition treaties - one with Saudi Arabia and the other with UAE to get some of our prisoners back.”
She said that the Ministry of Human Rights had suggested to the prime minister to revive the bilateral Joint Judicial Committee of India and Pakistan formed in 2007. The committee has four retired judges from both sides. India nominated four judges in October 2018, and now Pakistan’s Foreign Office has to move on that. “The prime minister feels it could be quite helpful for Pakistani prisoners in India.”
Regarding financial constraints faced by the ministry, she said that all ministries were facing the same economic issues. “It is like that because the previous government just left the country bankrupt.”
“The main objective was to take the prime minister in the loop. We don’t want to sleepwalk into a situation regarding GSP plus as previous governments did with FATF. Also, we were left to deal with the situation created by the previous government.”
She said that they had also alerted the prime minister that some of the demands the EU was making were not part of the GSP plus, and the government should take a strong position where required.
She said that in the crisis centres, the ministry was trying to train the survivors on up to date skill sets so that they can sustain after shelter. “We are trying to engage a donor for computerization of the crisis centres.”