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February 12, 2020

EU concerned over state of civil society, media in Pakistan

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February 12, 2020

ISLAMABAD: The European Commission, the European Union’s executive branch in its Generalised Scheme of Preferences (GSP) in a mixed report, while recognising Pakistan’s commitment to maintaining and meeting the obligations it has signed under the UN treaties, noted with concern, among others, the shrinking space for civil society, freedom of expression and media as well as impunity on enforced disappearances.

Androulla Kaminara, Ambassador of the European Union to Pakistan, said, “Pakistan has greatly benefitted from the GSP+ status. But there is potential for much more, if the export base is diversified and broadened.”

In the report, the regional organisation termed the institutional and capacity development of the Ministry of Human Rights, the Treaty Implementation Cells (TICs), and Human Rights provincial departments, as well as the cooperation with stakeholders “a positive development for the country.”

The organisation also acknowledged the ministry’s efforts to lead a national awareness campaign on women's and children's rights with the EU’s help.

The report took into account the government’s successful fight against drugs and pointed out that Pakistan leads a UN initiative on education in this regard. It also recognised Pakistan’s removal from the list of cannabis resin production countries.

However, EU has also expressed “serious concern” regarding the “broad and vague grounds” for the cancellation of the registration of the International Non-Governmental Organisations (INGOs) operating in the country.

Another concern expressed by the 27-member body is the delays in the appointment of a commissioner for the National Commission for Human Rights. It noted that the delay was “hampering the operation of the institution”.

“Other challenges to the implementation and enforcement of the UN Treaty Body Obligations include: (i) the devolved provincial powers (18th Amendment to the Constitution of Pakistan); (ii) limited institutional coordination and lack of institutional capacity, scarce human and financial resources; and (iii) overriding army and security (counter-terrorism) concerns,” said the report.

The regional body also expressed concern over the delay in the passing of Anti-Torture Bill after it was submitted in the Parliament.

In the report, the EU has also expressed concern regarding the space being given to the civil society and the suppression of dissenting voices. It labelled the trend as “negative” in these matters and noted that a high level of impunity was being followed for perpetrators of crimes against journalists.

The report stated that the incumbent government’s “drive against corruption is high on the agenda” but noted that the National Accountability Bureau was being widely criticised by the opposition for initiating cases against their leaders.

The report will be debated and subject to a dedicated resolution by the European Parliament later this month, says the European Commission in a statement.

The report shared the new government of Prime Minister Imran Khan has “shown a keen interest in maintaining GSP+ for its economic and trade benefits”.

The EU recognised that Pakistan’s launch of a national Child Labour Survey was an important step and also lauded the government for initiating the implementation of the National Action Plan on Human Rights. The report also recognised Pakistan’s “high-level political commitment” in June 2018 to implement the Action Plan given by the Financial Action Task Force. But stated that its outcomes are which are yet to be determined.