August 23, 2022
By Rehan Piracha
LAHORE: The Joint Action Committee for Peoples’ Rights has defended a report of the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) to the UN Human Rights Council, condemning a vilification campaign against civil society organisations.
In a statement, the JAC, which comprises over 30 civil society organisations, has categorically denied a news item appearing in Daily Jang on 21st August 2022 alleging that a report of the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) to the UN Human Rights Council may have been contrary to facts.
Defending the CSJ report, the JAC said the content of the mentioned report reflects verifiable ground situation vis-à-vis freedom of religion or belief. Further, the CSJ report is based on facts, which have been properly cited. “Besides, the issues covered in the report have been widely discussed, in the courts, parliamentary bodies and media in the country.”
The said joint civil society report also makes concrete and workable recommendations for the government with each issue explained, the JAC said. “The government should constructively consider these recommendations to help resolve the longstanding issues which are an actual source of embarrassment for the country.”
Furthermore, civil society organizations, including CSJ, have already taken part in the Universal Periodic Reviews (UPR) in 2008, 2012 and 2017, as it is mandatory in the United Nations’ procedures. “The government of Pakistan has pledged to be part of this review process since 2006 after the induction of the UN Human Rights Council.” It became mandatory for every member country of the UN to go through the periodic review after every four and a half year.
The JAC said the Fourth Review of Pakistan is due in January 2023, while the government is supposed to submit its report in October 2022. “In its report, the government can respond to the issues raised or even act to resolve the same and can seek credit during the session next year.” However, if the incidence of violence in the name of religion continues, the government will be held answerable at all competent forums, the JAC said in its statement.
As far as the Economic Affairs division is concerned, the Sindh High Court has already held in 2022 the INGOs/ NGOs policy to be without a legal basis and void, the JAC added.
“We also reiterate that vibrant participation of civil society organizations helps improve view about Pakistan and its engagement helps improve the conditions for its people. Whereas, living in a state of denial will impede the resolution of these long-standing issues,” Irfan Mufti, Convener of JAC, said in the statement.
‘Govt never showed interest in joint reports’
Speaking to Voicepk.net, Mohammed Tahseen, executive director SAP Pakistan, said the CSJ’s report to the UN Human Rights Council was not contrary to facts as claimed and properly cited. The vilification campaign was launched to discredit and mount pressure on civil society organisations keeping track of violations of human rights across the country, he said.
Tahseen said government officials had shown no interest in submitting joint reports with civil society organisations on issues of human rights to international forums.
Tahseen said government officials often decline invitations from civil society organisations for jointly submitting reports on issues of human rights to international forums. “The government is already cornering civil society organisations through legislation like the Charity Act and Economic Affairs Division rules,” he pointed out.
‘Vilification an attempt to muzzle civil society’
Nida Aly, executive director of Asma Jahangir Legal Aid Cell, said the vilification campaign was an attempt to muzzle the civil society movement in Pakistan. “A new tactic is to individually target individual civil society organisations,” she said.
Aly said incidents of forced conversions and marriages of minorities as well as abuse of blasphemy laws were being reported from across the country but the government had done nothing to stem such abuses. She said government attempts to muzzle civil society movement could lead to Pakistan losing its GSP Plus trade status with the European Union.