Wednesday March 29, 2023

4th national Universal Periodic Review: Human rights progress on an upward trajectory, Khar

February 01, 2023

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan has presented its 4th national Universal Periodic Review (UPR) report in Geneva, which was prepared through an inclusive, consultative process involving all the national stakeholders, including efforts by past governments.

Pakistan’s team, led by Minister of State Ms Hina Rabbani Khar, went through the review of the country’s human rights records, which is obligatory for all UN member states.

As expected, there was criticism by an Indian delegate but Ms Khar, in her remarks while not shying away from the challenges that Pakistan faces, said, “Each country has unique challenges and environment that it must deal with while pursuing the cause of human rights. Therefore, the human rights record of any State must be considered by understanding the broader social, economic and regional context, not in isolation.”

Pakistan’s report she pointed out was an outcome of its extensive efforts during the last five years to implement the recommendations emanating from its 2017 UPR.

“To implement these recommendations, the federal government closely consulted with all provincial stakeholders, civil society, and academia. We also benefited from international best practices in certain areas,” she said. “Today, I am pleased to report that my country’s human rights progress is overall on an upward trajectory.

“While mindful that while Pakistan has made progress, there is room for further improvement,” said Ms Khar, adding the government is fully resolved to advance the human rights agenda, a vibrant democratic polity, and a peaceful and inclusive society.

“Our parliament also enacted the Anti-Rape Act 2021 and the Enforcement of Women’s Property Rights Act 2020 to build legal deterrence against the menace of rape and deprivation of women of their property rights. Our parliament enacted one of the most progressive laws on transgender rights in 2018 to protect their fundamental rights like inheritance, education, decent work, property ownership, and participation in public affairs,” she pointed out.

While reported misuse of blasphemy laws are prevalent in the country, Ms Khar said that it was a matter of public record that more Muslims have been charged under blasphemy law than non-Muslims.

“To curb the misuse of blasphemy laws, the government has instituted several administrative safeguards. For example, Section 211 of the Pakistan Penal Code stipulates punishments against anyone who intentionally initiates false charges,” she said.

Also to curb torture and protect fair trial and due process rights, Pakistan has enacted the Torture and Custodial Death Act in 2022. In compliance with the UN Convention against Torture provisions, of which Pakistan is a State Party, the Act elaborates a comprehensive definition of torture; criminalizes torture, death, and rape in custody; and reinforces the right of the victims to legal remedy, as guaranteed in our Constitution. On enforced disappearances that is specifically prevalent in Balochistan, Ms Khar said that pursuant to the recommendation accepted during the last UPR, a draft bill that criminalises enforced disappearances as a separate offence is undergoing parliamentary procedures.

“We have a clear policy of zero tolerance against this heinous crime. The Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances expeditiously examines and addresses alleged cases of missing persons. The commission continues to provide a free-of-cost legal remedial platform to affected families at the grass-root level. The commission’s overall disposal rate of cases is more than 70 percent, which is very encouraging,” she claimed.

As Pakistan reeled under another bloody terrorist attack in Peshawar, Ms Khar said that Pakistan continues to face security threats due to a very challenging regional environment. She attempted to in this regard justify the death penalty which has been criticised by the European Union and United States amongst other Western countries.

“A direct consequence of protecting our citizens against this scourge is the imposition of death penalty. Pakistan had imposed a moratorium on the death penalty for several years. However, the moratorium was lifted after the horrendous terrorist attack on Army Public School (Peshawar) in 2014. I want to highlight that the death penalty is only applied in the most serious crimes in full compliance with due process of law, under a final judgment rendered by a competent court, and with the right to seek pardon or appeal for commutation,” she explained. There have been no executions in Pakistan since December 2019, and between 2010 and 2018, the Supreme Court overturned death sentences in 78% of cases. In 2021, the Supreme Court of Pakistan, in a landmark ruling in Safia Bano v. Home Department, established critical safeguards and protections for defendants with psycho-social disabilities. In line with the ICCPR, the court barred the execution of mentally challenged individuals.

As the independent media in Pakistan continues to condemn attempts to throttle it, Ms Khar said: “We attach high importance to the freedom of opinion and expression. To this end, the landmark Protection of Journalists and Media Professionals Act was enacted in 2021. In the follow-up to the Act, a commission is being constituted, which will serve as a grievance redressal platform for journalists in cases of harassment, intimidation, and physical attack.” Pakistan says it fully subscribes to the view that States are primarily responsible for promoting and protecting human rights. “We also understand that advancing human rights is not a one-time exercise but a long-term commitment that entails sustained institution-building, legal reforms, and policy revamping,” said Ms Khar.