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Implementing the treaty

Opinion

January 1, 2016

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Saad-ur-Rehman Khan and Imaan Zainab Hazir Mazari

With an increasing number of international legal instruments being ratified by Pakistan, the state is under an obligation to ensure domestic compliance with the content of these treaties.

Through constructive engagement with various ministries and government officials, it is clear that the will to comply exists – this is a positive affirmation in and of itself. In fact, following the enactment of the 18th Amendment in 2010, the centre, through the Ministry of Law and Justice, established Treaty Implementation Cells (TICs) in the provinces for the sole purpose of ensuring Pakistan’s obligations under international law are fully realised.

Although the establishment of TICs is a positive step – much like the government’s efforts to engage private sector specialists – there remains much work to be done in the area of capacity-building. The will to comply with international legal obligations, while laudable, is not sufficient. There is a lack of understanding, post-18th Amendment, on compliance with international legal instruments, particularly those pertaining to human rights which have specific reporting procedures.

The TICs are to inform provincial governments’ relevant departments of international treaty opportunities and challenges. Unfortunately, the provinces are unaware of how significant their specific, and often detailed, input to the centre is in the process of preparing compliance reports to the human rights treaty bodies. Consequently, when the centre is mid-process, compiling data and information from the provinces, it is often given insufficient information; thereby highlighting, yet again, the urgent need to enhance capacity-building efforts at the provincial level.

Pakistan has a reputation for non-seriousness in the international community due to its inability to submit comprehensive periodic reports to the human rights treaty bodies in a timely manner. Recently, much work has been done by the government has and we have finally submitted compliance reports under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR).

While Pakistan ratified the ICCPR in 2010 and the ICESCR in 2008, it only managed to submit initial reports in 2015 to the Human Rights Committee and the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR). This is not to say that Pakistan has not submitted compliance reports under the other core human rights conventions it has ratified. The fact, however, is that there is little understanding among those involved in drafting compliance reports that there are certain guidelines to be observed while preparing state party reports to the treaty bodies.

The UN secretary general issued in June 2009 a ‘Compilation of Guidelines on the Form and Content of Reports to be submitted by States Parties to the International Human Rights Treaties’. This report identifies specific information that is to be included in initial and periodic reports submitted by states. For instance, it highlights the type of data that is to be included in the reports as well as categories under which this data is to be disaggregated. Like the federation, the provinces lack their own data collection mechanisms due to which we consistently fall short of what is expected of us by the treaty bodies.

Significantly, this lack in capacity culminates in Pakistan’s international treaty obligations not being fulfilled. Not only is this detrimental to the country’s reputation in the international community, it also prevents development opportunities domestically. Moreover, when the federal government requests the provinces for information that they are required to include in compliance reports, the latter is often unable to provide the requisite information thereby resulting in an inadequate, and usually delayed, report being submitted by the state of Pakistan.

Additionally, there is insufficient awareness among the general public regarding the existence, composition and purposes of TICs. This, too, falls within the scope of responsibility of the provinces to disseminate such information – in addition to the actual texts of international conventions that Pakistan has ratified.

In this regard, one of Pakistan’s obligations under the human rights conventions it has ratified is the dissemination of these texts amongst the general public so as to embed within society a culture of human rights. For instance, General Comment No 3, issued by the CESCR, identifies that “administrative, financial, educational and social measures” are included within the ambit of all “appropriate” measures taken by states parties to ensure the realisation of rights enlisted within the ICESCR. Though General Comments are not legally binding, they hold authoritative value in the interpretation of treaty provisions.

An immediate area of focus, with regard to capacity-building, is the involvement of all relevant stakeholders, including TICs and provincial departments, in any and all efforts being made to develop a national understanding of human rights obligations undertaken by Pakistan. Specialised trainings provided to government officials and departments directly address issues pertaining to capacity.

While Pakistan has ratified international human rights conventions, there is a general lack of understanding among relevant stakeholders of what obligations have been created as a result of ratification. Specialised trainings facilitate relevant stakeholders in the field of international law and domestic compliance with treaty obligations. Through engagement with not one but several ministries, it is clear that the federation understands the importance of developing said capacity, particularly in light of the GSP+ Status offered to Pakistan by the European Union.

The GSP+ Status was offered to Pakistan with the aim of bolstering our economy, particularly with regard to our exports. This provided Pakistan the opportunity to not only improve its balance of trade, but also to review its existing laws on good governance, labour, human rights and the environment.

If Pakistan does not ensure compliance with the 27 conventions on the aforementioned issues, we may lose out on the benefit of sustainable development and good governance. In fact, as the GSP+ Status is intended to inculcate sustainable development practices and good governance in developing countries, if Pakistan fails to comply with the requirements of the scheme, it may be withdrawn by the EU.

Consistency is key in developing and embedding a culture of human rights domestically. While one-off trainings cater to developing institutional understanding of international legal obligations, a more long-term mechanism must also be developed to strengthen institutions that are responsible for implementing Pakistan’s treaty obligations domestically.

The writers are lawyers at the Research Society of International Law.

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