ISLAMABAD: The UN Human Rights Committee on Thursday called on Pakistan to repeal or amend all blasphemy laws, abolish the death penalty, and criminalise enforced disappearances to end the practice of secret detention.
The recommendations came after the conclusion of the review of Pakistan’s commitments under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which was held in Geneva earlier this month.
In a 51-point report, the UN panel observed that Pakistan “should adopt all... measures necessary to ensure that the National Commission for Human Rights (NCHR) is able to carry out its mandate fully and in an effective and independent manner”.
It also called for strengthening the commission to ensure that it was able to investigate all allegations of rights violations committed by any official entity.
Geneva-based review seeks end to blasphemy law, death penalty and enforced disappearances
The UN body encouraged Islamabad to expedite the adoption of laws relating to violence against women that were under consideration at the federal and provincial levels and called for effective enforcement of anti-honour killing and anti-rape laws, as well as those criminalising domestic violence.
It also stressed that the government should enforce the prohibition of “the application of qisas and diyat laws to so-called honour-related crimes and continue to regulate and supervise jirgas”.
With regards to capital punishment, the UN panel wanted Pakistan to “reinstate the moratorium and consider abolishing the death penalty”.
In case the death penalty was retained, the panel warned that “No person who was below 18 years of age at the time of the commission of an offence [should be] subjected to the death penalty” and cautioned against awarding the sentence to those with serious psychosocial or intellectual disabilities.
On enforced disappearances, the panel noted that the government should ensure that all allegations of enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings are promptly and thoroughly investigated and urged the state to provide protection to the families of disappeared persons, their lawyers and witnesses. Empowering the Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances was also stressed.
The report also asks the government to “review the Anti-Terrorism Act with a view to aligning the definition of terrorism... in accordance with international standards” and remove the jurisdiction of the anti-terrorism courts over juvenile offenders. It also asks Pakistan to review the legislation regarding military courts for terrorism suspects.
With regards to religious freedoms, the panel urged the government to ensure that all those who incite or engage in violence against others based on allegations of blasphemy, and those who falsely accuse others of blasphemy, are brought to justice. It also asks the country to fully implement the judgement of its Supreme Court, handed down on June 19 2014 in the Peshawar church attack case, which held that “each citizen of Pakistan is free to exercise the right to profess, practise or propagate his or her religious views, even against the prevailing or dominant views of his or her own religious denomination or sect”.
The UN panel also called on Islamabad to expedite the adoption of a national refugee law, in compliance with international standards and said the state should investigate all allegations of abuse against refugees by police and security forces.
Special emphasis, however, has been placed on three subject areas and Pakistan has been asked to provide information on the implementation of recommendations made on the death penalty, enforced disappearance and freedom of religion.
Human Rights Watch representative Saroop Ijaz told Dawn that Pakistan’s review highlighted how untenable and indefensible the government’s position was on human rights.
“The government’s narrative that Pakistan is facing uniquely exceptional circumstances... has rightfully been rejected,” he said, adding that the government should take this as a warning to uphold international human rights law commitments, particularly because the grant of the GSP-plus status and the credibility of Pakistan’s positions on other international issues is contingent upon implementing the basic standards of international human rights.
Reema Omer of the International Commission of Jurists told Dawn that all recommendations and observations of the UN Human Rights Committee were “highly authoritative” and “must be implemented by the state concerned”.
“In Pakistan’s case, the committee has identified three key areas that require urgent action. Pakistan is now required to report to the committee on steps taken to implement these recommendations within one year, in what is called its ‘follow-up procedure’.”
For the remaining observations and recommendations, she said, Pakistan had to respond to the committee by July 2020.
Published in Dawn, July 28th, 2017