Pakistan: UPR of Pakistan, Ongoing Concerns Include Violence Against Women and Blasphemy Laws.
Pakistan’s second review under the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) took place on the 30 October 2012, and was attended by a large delegation led by Ms Hina Rabbani Khar, Minister for Foreign Affairs, and including the Advisor on Human Rights and the Advisor on Minorities.
Ms Rabbani Khar opened the session with a positive report on the progress made in Pakistan since 2008, while outlining the obstacles to human rights protection the country has faced and continues to face, such as terrorism and extremism, drone strikes, the economic crisis, and natural disasters. She described the steps taken to transform the constitution; as part of an effort to 'engender long-term democratic values' in Pakistan, the historic amendments have curbed the executive power of the President, instead creating a balance betwen the President and Prime Minister.
Other changes to the 18th amendment in particular were mentioned, including the legal recognition of the right to education and the right to information, as well as giving autonomy to smaller provinces. The Federally Administered Tribal Area (FATA) has come under greater government control, and security forces in the area have had arbitrary arrest powers curtailed. Many of the recommendations from 2008 addressed Pakistan’s failure to ratify important core human rights treaties; the delegation was pleased to announce that the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the Convention against Torture (CAT) were ratified on 2010, while the Optional Protocol to theConvention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) was signed in 2011.
In line with other recommendations made in 2008, special measures have been established on the promotion of women’s roles in decision-making arenas, as well as allocating seats in national and provincial assemblies for minorities. Ms Rabbani Khar posited that the most profound example of Pakistan’s commitment to human rights, however, was the nationwide condemnation of the Taliban’s attempted murder of the 14-year old Malala Yousafzai. Appreciation for Pakistan’s outrage at the crime was echoed in many States interventions. Despite positive steps, however, many of the recommendations have not yet been adequately implemented. As highlighted by the attack on Malala, cultural opposition to the education and empowerment of women and girls remains entrenched; violence against women also remains widespread, including the alarming rise in acid attacks on women, as pointed out by Chad and Sweden.
Violence towards human rights defenders and minority groups such as Christians, Sikhs, and Muslim communities also remains a problem. There was also concern that recommendations to combat impunity in the case of such attacks had not been implemented; Denmark, Austria and Switzerland urged Pakistan to take further steps to prosecute instigators of religious or gender-based violence. A number of States – including France, Hungary, Norway and Belgium – were concerned about Pakistan’s blasphemy laws. Under these laws, a mentally underdeveloped Christian girl was recently detained after purportedly burning a Koran; repealing, amending or abolishing these laws was a key recommendation made during Pakistan’s first review. In 2008, many States suggested that the death penalty be abolished; the issue was raised frequently in the second review, with the UK, Belgium and France noting that ade facto moratorium has been in place since 2008. Other concerns included the continuation of child and forced marriages, the large number of refugees in the country, reports of propagation of hate material in schools, and poverty. Recurrent recommendations thus included:
- Set aside adequate resources to help the newly established National Human Rights Commission and other commissions, including on women, children and enforced disappearances to carry out their mandates
- Repealing or abolition of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws to prevent interpretation that could be used to silence freedom of expression
- Abolition of the death penalty
- More effective implementation of special measures for women and minority groups, as well as greater legislative protection for their rights in the case of violation
- Implementation of the laws against forced and child marriages, and bonded and child labour
- Greater transparency in school curricula to identify and prevent the spreading of material considered to proliferate religious hatred and intolerance, as well as the implementation of mechanisms to prevent religious intolerance
- More effective implementation of poverty reduction strategies
While the delegation had admitted at the outset that Pakistan continues to face many challenges, Ms Rabbani Khar was terse in her final response to the assembly. On the issue of child marriages, the Minister emphasised that it was a cultural practice, within which elements of domestic law protects girls. She did not explain further.
Overall, however, the review was positive, with States showing much appreciation for the stability brought to the region by Pakistan’s cooperation with the international community.
During the interactive dialogue, a total of 166 recommendations were made to Pakistan from 85 States. Pakistan left its response on all recommendations but one pending until the 22nd session of the Human Rights Council in March 2013. The one rejection recommended was a call from the United States to halt the 'silencing of dissent' in Balochistan and to ensure laws to investigate and prosecute those accused of torture and enforced disappearances are enforced. The delegation stated that this recommendation did not enjoy Pakistan’s support because it is based on a 'value-judgement' without any reliable evidence and constitutes 'interference' in the country’s internal affairs.
Pakistan also stated that it wanted the UPR to remain 'untainted and unbiased'. It expressed dissatisfaction with the report compiled by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) for the review of Pakistan. This report includes submissions from bodies including the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the United Nations Country Team, which had been developed specifically for the UPR. Pakistan expressed its firm opinion that the compilation report from OHCHR should be based solely on information in the reports coming from treaty bodies, special procedures, and other relevant UN bodies, as part of their standard reporting process, and not on standalone submissions. Pakistan added that it was not happy with the response from the Secretariat on this point, though it did not specify what that response was, and that it would continue to pursue the matter.