Thursday June 20, 2024

Efforts not in tune with GSP Plus human rights conventions

By Ebad Ahmed
May 13, 2016


Despite a 21 percent ($1.32 billion) increase in Pakistan's exports to European Union countries in 2014, the first year that Pakistan was awarded GSP Plus, efforts to better standards of human rights do not, however, correspond with human rights conventions which were supposed to be implemented as part of the scheme. 

The observations were made in a research carried out by the Democracy Reporting International (DRI) with assistance of the German Foreign Office, presented to human rights organisations at an event held on Thursday.

The Generalised Scheme of Preference (GSP) is a preferential tariff system which allows for developing countries to pay less or no duties on their exports to member countries of the European Union (EU).

A component of the GSP scheme, GSP Plus offers additional trade incentives to developing countries already benefitting from GSP, but on condition of implementation of core international human rights conventions.

“As part of the status, Pakistan is eligible to export around 78 percent of its products free of duty to EU member countries. This represents almost 20 percent of Pakistan’s exports globally,” the report maintained.

It further read that, “As a result of the zero percent preferential tariff rate it enjoys on more than 6,200 of the EU tariff lines, Pakistan reported a $1.08 billion increase in its export to the EU between January to October, 2014.”   

EU report 2016

DRI representative, Muhammad Rafique, while introducing the report observed that Pakistan’s efforts to establish a National Commission on Human Rights (NCHR) National Action Plan, submission of reports overdue to UN treaty bodies and pro-women and minority legislation showed that it was overtly complying with the conventions.

However, the fragile democratic system, terrorism, lack of devolution, poor and unequal rule of law, presence of prejudice and stereotype as the data and other capacity constraints suggested that the conventions were not completely being followed.

Restrictions on media, shrinking space for civil society, discrimination against women and minorities and torture were some other gaps identified in the report.

The report observed that Pakistan had certain reservations over the conventions, particularly the ones on human rights, to add to that the country also lagged in complying with both the contents as well as deadlines to submit reports to the UN body.  

Human Rights Reforms

Veteran women’s rights activist and member NCHR, Anees Haroon, in her concluding remarks urged state authorities to not interfere with the works of human rights bodies.

The bodies had the right to work in collaboration with the civil society, considering the government did not possess the kind of seriousness needed to strengthen or establish, for that matter, human rights institutions.  

Justice (retd) Majida Rizvi, chairperson of the Sindh Human Rights Commission, stressed for all national and sub-national human rights bodies to build a strong network, and urged stakeholders to come up with more ways to collaborate with each other to see through human rights reforms in Pakistan. Hassan Nasir, head of the team at DRI, commenting on the EU report stated that democracy in Pakistan was considered ‘fragile’ in EU countries.

The union also found civil, political as well as children’ and women’s rights severely compromised in Pakistan.

“In order for Pakistan to continue reaping benefits of the GSP Plus status, it needs to ensure it followed the conventions and other conditions that come with the trade incentive package.”     

Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research’ Zulfiqar Shah spoke on how majority of Pakistan’s labour force employed in the agriculture and informal industrial sector was not entitled to the right of unionisation and collective bargaining.

Shah added that Pakistan’s ranking on gender parity and modern slavery index was shameful and required immediate attention of the government. He called for drawing a comprehensive analysis of Pakistan’s human rights reform process before any actions were materialised.

Appreciating the government’s efforts on formulation of the National Action Plan, Aadam Malik, however, claimed that the plan was more an effort of individuals then of departments, so much so that the government’s relevant departments were not included in the process of formulation of the plan. Employers Federation of Pakistan’s secretary, Fasih ul Karim, stressed on effective collaboration between employers’ associations and trade unions to so that workers were provided with a better work environment which ensured the protection of the rights of the working classes as well as the employers.