June 18, 2022
LAHORE: District judges and lawyers on Saturday participated in a consultation on Pakistan’s obligations to enforce international human rights laws, organized by the AGHS Legal Aid Cell, with the support of the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), the Justice Project Pakistan (JPP) and the Kingdom of the Netherlands.
The event was inaugurated by AGHS Legal Aid Cell Executive Director Nida Aly, who briefed the participants on the disconnect between Pakistan’s international commitments and domestic laws.
“Our successive governments always show enthusiasm in ratifying international covenants, but that same enthusiasm is lost when ensuring that our domestic laws reflect these commitments and are wholly implemented,” she said, adding that it is therefore up to the judiciary and the legal fraternity to play their part in adherence to the country’s various human rights obligations.
OHCHR South Asia Team Leader Christine Chung explained the structure, roles and interests of the United Nations (UN) and its Human Rights Council, of which Pakistan is a member state. She informed the participants that the UN has mechanisms in place to hold signatory governments accountable in case of the non-implementation of its obligations.
“The Government of Pakistan has been welcoming to the OHCHR, and has been cooperative in improving reporting to treaty bodies on its international human rights commitments,” she told Voicepk.net. “Pakistan was particularly incentivised to uphold its human rights obligations with the General Scheme of Preferences Plus (GSP Plus). However, there are still considerable challenges to the complete implementation of its treaties.”
While addressing the participants, Sarah Belal, Founder and Executive Director of the Justice Project Pakistan called the judiciary the “first line of defense” against violations of Pakistan’s international obligations and urged the judiciary to consider international laws when hearing cases that involve the abuse of human rights.
“Our hands are not tied by our domestic laws. Lawyers and judges have a duty to uphold international laws and obligations where applicable,” she said during an extended Q and A session with concerned district judges.
She pointed out that the superior judiciary of Pakistan has recently begun to utilize International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) provisions where the Constitution and domestic laws are silent in order to extend rights to individuals or groups, citing, in particular, the Safia Bano Case judgment.
Belal also further stated that Parliament has otherwise lacked political motivation to pass laws aligned with Pakistan’s international obligations, and therefore the judiciary – one of the three pillars of a state – should exercise its duty in at least ensuring the country’s commitments to the preservation of human rights