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Civil society welcomes extension of GSP-Plus status for Pakistan

By Our Correspondent
March 10, 2018

Welcoming the extension of the Generalised System of Preference (GSP) – Plus facility to Pakistan for the next two years, civil society and rights activists have demanded the government to take serious measures to implement the recommendations provided by the European Union (EU) to implement the 27 international conventions required to be compliant under the scheme.

Addressing a joint press conference on Friday at the Karachi Press Club on the launch of Second Media Bulletin on GSP-Plus, prepared by Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research (PILER), activists expressed hope that the GSP-Plus status would benefit local industries.

PILER Executive Director Karamat Ali, Sindh Labour Solidarity Committee’s Habibuddin Junaidi, Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum’s Saeed Baloch, Urban Resource Center’s Zahid Farooq and Sindh Human Rights Defenders Network’s Seema Maheshwari were present on the occasion.

“The government should realise the fact that we are not compliant with most of international conventions and this extension of GSP-Plus facility has provided us an opportunity to make serious efforts to improve the human rights and labour rights situation,” said Karamat Ali.

Pakistan has already ratified 27 international conventions regarding human rights, labour rights, environmental protection and good governance, but no concrete measures have been taken to implement these conventions. It is our duty to make laws and institutions to do so, he said. Quoting the EU’s second report on a two-year review of Pakistan presented in the EU Parliament on January 19, 2018 which led to GSP-Plus extension, Ali said EU has acknowledged some positive developments in Pakistan in making laws, but has also pointed out the lack of implementation of such laws.

He said the EU has expressed serious concerns over the deteriorating situation of compliance with human rights and International Labour Organisation (ILO) conventions, including the increased incidents of enforced disappearance, attacks on minorities, misuse of blasphemy laws, curbs on free use of right to association and freedom of expression, lack of social security, occupational health and safety, and fair trial in the judicial system.

In its concluding section, the EU report has pointed out that the government has not taken effective actions to address the widespread use of torture.

The application of death penalty and executions remain a grave concern, while a review of the crimes carrying death penalty would be a welcome first step in the right direction. The report added that while some actions have been taken regarding the freedom of religion or belief, such as against hate speech, the misuse of blasphemy laws and related campaigns in social media, discrimination against religious and ethnic minorities continues to be a concern.

Lauding the Sindh government for taking measures to ensure labour rights, the PILER executive director said that for the first time, the provincial government organised a tripartite labour conference, which is mandatory under ILO conventions, while it had also recently released the first ever Labour Policy after the devolution of powers under the 18th Amendment.

He urged the other provinces to take similar measures and industrialists to cooperate with their employees and not create hindrances in the working of trade unions. Habibuddin Junaidi of Sindh Labour Solidarity Committee said that after the tripartite labour conference, the Sindh government has constituted a Labour Standing Committee with equal representation from industries and labour. He added that in its first meeting, the standing committee expressed concern on the minimum wage being low and in many industries, not even implemented. “How can a family survive with a meagre amount of Rs 15,000 per month fixed for unskilled workers,” he asked.

Seema Maheshwari said enforced disappearances are a major concern for human rights defenders. She said the government must ensure the right to fair trial and due process of law. “In case there are any cases against anyone, they can be arrested and should be tried in a court,” she said.