ISLAMABAD: The European Union says that despite some institutional and legal measures taken by the government of Pakistan in 2016, wide-ranging and serious human rights concerns persist in the country, and that they are exacerbated by a weak criminal justice system, religious extremism and militancy.
“Security challenges have continued to slow progress on access to justice and the rule of law,” says the EU annual report on ‘human rights and democracy in the world in 2016’ approved by the EU Council on Monday.
“The rule of law remains uncertain on much of the country’s territory, and access to justice remains limited. Pakistan continued to execute a high number of convicts during 2016, however far fewer than in the previous year,” the report says.
In Pakistan, there are persistently huge differences in the situation of upper and lower class citizens, and of women living in cities or the countryside. Pakistan remained one of the most difficult places to be a child due to lack of education, child marriages and child labour. Religious minorities still live in fear of persecution and violence. Discrimination and violence against women continued to be widespread.
European Union report says country’s security challenges continue to slow progress on access to justice
The report says that “self-censorship and intimidation are widespread in Pakistan, whereas the country is considered one of the world’s most dangerous places to be a journalist”. Criticism of armed forces and the security establishment is severely restricted, it says.
Human rights defenders, lawyers and health workers involved in polio vaccination also continued to be targets of violent attacks. A new restrictive Cybercrime Act was adopted and NGOs and INGOs are under heavy pressure, including with regard to registration.
The report says that Pakistan has made serious efforts to participate in the ‘GSP Plus’ process through a better focus on trying to show effective implementation of the 27 conventions and addressing shortcomings.
However, considerable implementation challenges clearly remains, due in part to the devolution of many areas of competence to the provinces. More progress is needed on the ground, through the effective implementation across all the provinces and territory of Pakistan.
The human rights institutions need to become autonomous and fully operational. The role played by civil society, including NGOs and INGOs, in development and humanitarian assistance in a democratic society needs to be further enhanced, it says.
The EU raised its concerns consistently in its human rights dialogues with the government of Pakistan and urged it to take concrete action. ‘GSP Plus’ had some impact in terms of enhancing the reform process. Pakistan also became more open to Universal Periodic Review (UPR) reporting.
The EU used its development portfolio to support democratic institutions, the rule of law, women’s and children’s rights and freedom of religion or belief. The EU is a major donor and international stakeholder in this field.
Published in Dawn, October 18th, 2017