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October 18, 2019

PA human rights committee discusses UN conventions’ implementation

Karachi

October 18, 2019

The Sindh Assembly’s Standing Committee on Human Rights has proposed the establishment of a multi-stakeholder platform to ensure provincial-level compliance with international commitments under a trade incentive scheme of General System of Preference Plus (GSP+) by the European Union.

This proposal emerged at a meeting of the Standing Committee on Human Rights presided over by Chairperson MPA Pir Mujeeb Ul Haq on Thursday at the Committee Room of the Sindh Assembly. The meeting was also attended by Veerjee Kohli, special assistant to the Sindh chief minister on human rights, the secretary of the Department of Human Rights and officials of various departments of the provincial government.

The meeting was convened to host a briefing on the implementation of the 27 UN conventions/covenants, which are part of the conditionalities under the EU’s trade incentive scheme GSP+.

Zulfiqar Shah, joint director of the Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research (Piler), gave a detailed briefing to the provincial assembly members.

During the meeting, MPA Muhammad Qasim Soomro said that compliance with human rights treaties and labour rights conventions of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) was a big task and needed coordinating efforts.

He suggested that a multi-stakeholders committee composed of MPAs, members from civil society and human rights organisations could play a role in monitoring the implementation of the Conventions under the GSP+ Scheme.

While endorsing the proposal, MPA Haq said the Sindh Assembly had passed adequate numbers of laws on human rights, rights for labours, women and child rights. However, he said, their implementation was not up to the mark.

Members of the Standing Committee on Human Rights said the committees had been empowered along the lines of NA standing committees, and that gave them the authority for oversight of the executive’s functions, and also track expenditures. This offers immense scope to MPAs to work for the realisation of rights enabled by way of international treaties and assembly legislation.

They also shared that the parliamentary committees conduct public hearings on issues and invite experts and civil society’s input for a more informed policymaking and the legislation development process.

A multi-stakeholders forum to monitor compliance with rights’ treaties can result in a participatory, collaborative, transparent and accountable system. This can ensure Pakistan’s international obligations lead to empowered citizenship through stronger legislation and institutional reforms.

Khohli said that his department was focusing on the establishment of a mechanism for the redress of human rights issues in Sindh. In this regard, district vigilance committees (DVCs) for monitoring of the law on bonded labour need to be made functional in all the 29 districts of Sindh. So far, only seven districts in Sindh have notified their respective DVCs.

Kohli stated that the human rights department was currently mapping prisons in Sindh to ascertain details of those prisoners whose release had been withheld because of their inability to pay a fine and the qisaas penalty. He assured the meeting that the Human Rights Department would make all-out efforts to ensure that the Sindh government led in fulfilling the requirements under the implementation of the UN conventions.

Earlier, in a presentation, Piler’s joint director Shah said that the GSP+ scheme had resulted in economic benefits for Pakistan with an estimated annual benefit of one billion euros in terms of tax concessions in European countries.

The major beneficiary of GSP+ is the textile sector, which employees over 40 percent of the labour force in the manufacturing sector. A large number of these workers are women.

He said the continuation of GSP+ is important for Pakistan not only for economic benefits but also because it facilitates improved compliance with international treaties on human rights and labour rights, translating into social benefits for the citizens.

However, he explained that parliamentarians, particularly the members of the standing committees on human rights and Labour, could play a critical role in ensuring that relevant departments take required measures to comply with human rights and labour rights requirements under the GSP+ conditionalities.

He said that the provincial and federal governments had established Treaty Implementation Cells (TIC), which were tasked with ensuring compliance with 27 Conventions GSP+.

He said civil society had concerns about human rights abuses, particularly honour killings in Sindh, as over 78 women had been reportedly killed in the name of honour in the province during the last six months.

The issue of the right to a fair trial was a challenge in the province with a rise in cases of enforced disappearances, he added.

Many cases are under hearing at the Sindh High Court and the Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances. Similarly, the right to association, under Article 17 of the Constitution, stands compromised as hardly one percent of the labour force is organised, while student unions remain suspended.

The human rights secretary said the Treaty Implementation Cell was working in Sindh under the Human Rights Department, but it needed better human resource capacity as currently only two staff members were working in the cell.

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