LAHORE: Participants at a consultation showed concerns on Thursday over the deteriorating human rights situation and shrinking civic spaces in the country and demanded that enforced disappearance of rights activists and repression of minorities be ended.

The consultation on ‘Human Rights Treaties and Core labour Rights’ was held at a local hotel by the Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research (PILER) and the South Asia Partnership Pakistan (SAP-Pak). Trade union leaders, human and labour rights activists, lawyers, industrialists and government officials were present.

Pakistan has ratified all important conventions related to human rights for women, children and religious minorities, labour rights but is not keen on implementing these international commitments. Pakistan has committed to enforcing 27 conventions and covenants in order to avail the Generalised System of Preferences (GSP) plus status but showed a little progress on implementation of human and labour rights.

Rights activist IA Rehman said the GSP plus agreement was quite different from other international agreements. It carries no benefits for the European Union that has granted Pakistan the status.

He said the entire benefit of GSP-Plus was for Pakistan (whether in the form of the accompanying conventions or in the form of non tariff exports). The international community has been raising concerns over the withdrawal of moratorium on capital punishment in Pakistan but the government dismissed it.

He said the Pakistani government had also been presented unauthentic facts about human rights at the United Nations forum in the past. For example, he went on, Pakistan claimed that it had ended the separate electoral system, but the fact was that the system stayed in place till 2002.

PILER Director Karamat Ali said the withdrawal of moratorium on execution and carrying out repressive actions against minorities were the main cause of concern for Europeans, which may jeopardise GSP-Plus status. He said the withdrawal of GSP-Plus would also hit workers, adding that the government was also restricting operations of rights based organisations in the country.

He said the interior ministry had written letters to international non-government organisations to wind up their operations in 60 days and it was completely unconstitutional and violated the right to freedom of association.

SAP Deputy Director Irfan Mufti said Pakistan always kept demanding sovereignty at all international forums but it was denying sovereignty and fundamental freedom to its citizens.

Lawyer Asad Jamal said the media was facing restrictions and journalists were being arrested, attacked, kidnapped and killed. Several attacks were made on media houses in 2016 and the situation had not improved in 2017, he said.

Mr Jamal said the electoral reforms process must be expedited and the Election Commission of Pakistan and other relevant bodies should get enough time to implement it.

He said peace activist Raza Mahmood Khan had been picked up from Lahore but no state agency was taking responsibility despite the passage of three week.

All Pakistan Textile Mills Association Secretary Abdul Waheed said the association has taken measures, including the establishment of a sustainable production centre with the support from GIZ. Under the corporate social responsibility initiatives, many social welfare activities have been initiated. The association contributes Rs 600 million every year on account of Cotton Cess.

Published in Dawn, December 22nd, 2017

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