October 14th, 2020 

Bureau report


Pakistan’s re-election into the United Nations Human Rights Council on Tuesday has put the country’s commitment to promoting and protecting human rights under the spotlight for the next three years.

Justice Project Pakistan (JPP), the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), Digital Rights Foundation (DRF), and Group Development Pakistan (GDP) congratulate Pakistan for winning a seat with an overwhelming majority, securing 163 votes in the 193-member UN General Assembly. This is an opportunity for the country to reflect on its human rights record, protect the rights of women, children, religious minorities, and other vulnerable and excluded groups, and to introduce much-needed policy and legal reforms in line with international treaty obligations.

In particular, we welcome the government’s pledge to arrange visits of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the United Nations Special Rapporteurs to Pakistan and look forward to the Special Rapporteurs’ outstanding visit requests being granted by the Government. Requests for visits from a number of special rapporteurs remain pending since as far back as 2000.

Moreover, the government has stated in its pledge that the Torture, Custodial Death, and Custodial Rape (Prevention and Punishment) Bill 2018 has reached the National Assembly/Senate. While promises about a bill to criminalize torture have been reiterated since 2016, we hope the law is passed before the end of this year. Prime Minister Imran Khan and Minister for Human Rights Shireen Mazari both reaffirmed their commitment to protecting citizens from torture in September and June this year, respectively.

Pakistan passed the Juvenile Justice System Act that safeguards the rights of children in 2018 and we hope the rules will soon be drafted for its effective implementation. Several juveniles remain on death row as their cases continue to pend. The precedent set by the Lahore High Court in February this year by commuting the sentence of Muhammad Iqbal should motivate the government to grant relief to other juvenile offenders on death row.

As mentioned in its voluntary pledge, the government of Pakistan has also made notable advancements with regards to relief for persons with disabilities. However, numerous mentally ill prisoners continue to languish on death row because of inadequate legal safeguards, including a lack of implementation of the Mental Health Ordinance 2001 and ineffective protection of offenders with psychosocial disabilities.

Pakistan has claimed in its pledge to have taken several steps to mitigate the health, social, and economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. We hope this will also lead to greater transparency in the sharing of data pertaining to Coronavirus cases in prisons, particularly in relation to the number of prisoners tested, the number of positive cases, and steps taken by the authorities for their treatment.

The government has established an autonomous National Commission for Human Rights, but the fate of the commission remains in limbo as new commissioners have not been appointed despite the tenure of the previous ones having expired in June 2019.

Sarah Belal, Executive Director of JPP, adds: Pakistan’s re-election in the United Nations Human Rights Council is a great achievement. We must now use the platform to not only voice human rights abuses in Kashmir and the rest of the world but also rectify violations within our own borders. We also call on the government to sign the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families and look forward to the integration of all international treaties to which Pakistan is a signatory into the domestic legal framework.

Harris Khalique, Secretary-General of HRCP, adds: We welcome the re-election. It is imperative for Pakistan to work closely with the Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances and to demonstrate its commitment to human rights by protecting the right to freedom of expression and assembly, both of which have been constricted.

Nighat Dad, Executive Director of DRF, adds: We are encouraged by the pledge to “preserve, promote and strengthen freedoms of the press, communication, assembly, expression of opinion, religion or belief, consistent with our national and international obligations” at a time when the right to freedom of expression in the country is at a crucial juncture. Media and online freedoms are under pressure from laws such as the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act that have eroded online freedoms and have led to judicial harassment of activists, journalists, and women.

Valerie Khan, Executive Director of GDP, adds: Pakistan’s re-election in the esteemed United Nations Human Rights Council makes us proud and shows that some of the country’s recent efforts in the realm of child rights have not gone unnoticed. We must now upscale our work to improve Child Justice in alignment with General Comment 24 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). Additionally, we must enforce child protection laws which will help strengthen Pakistan’s voice in international human rights fora.

Issued on behalf of Dr. Mehdi Hasan, Chairperson, Human Rights Commission of Pakistan; Justice Project Pakistan; Digital Rights Foundation; and Group Development Pakistan.