ON Monday, the UN Human Rights Council adopted the outcome of Pakistan’s third Universal Periodic Review (UPR).
Regrettably, the government failed to support a number of key recommendations for the improvement of Pakistan’s human rights situation, once again indicating its lack of serious commitment towards international cooperation on human rights at the UN.
The UPR is a mechanism of the UN Human Rights Council aimed at improving the human rights situation of each of the 193 UN member states through assessment of the fulfilment of their human rights obligations and commitments. Under this mechanism, the human rights record of all UN member states is peer-reviewed every four to five years by the UPR Working Group, consisting of the 47 UN member states of the Human Rights Council. However, any UN member state can take part in the discussions during the UPR of the reviewed states. They then make recommendations to the country under review.
Human rights have not improved.
Pakistan had its third UPR on Nov 16, 2017, when it received a total of 289 recommendations — a substantial increase from its previous UPR in 2012, when it received 167 recommendations. As many as 111 state delegations took the floor to make statements, and 14 states submitted their questions in advance — once again a marked increase from the previous UPR, when 85 delegations had made statements and 11 states had submitted questions in advance — indicating the growing interest of the international community in Pakistan’s human rights situation.
Key recommendations received by Pakistan included: reinstating a moratorium on executions with the view to abolishing the death penalty; repealing or amending ‘blasphemy laws’ to bring them in line with international human rights law; ensuring effective protection of the rights of religious minorities, human rights defenders, journalists and other vulnerable groups; strengthening the National Commission for Human Rights; and ensuring prompt, impartial and effective investigations of human rights violations and bringing perpetrators to justice.
Last Monday, at the adoption of the UPR, Pakistan ‘accepted’ 168 recommendations, ‘noted’ 117 recommendations, and ‘rejected’ four for being ‘politically motivated’ (all made by India).
The number of recommendations accepted only gives half the picture. A large majority of recommendations that Pakistan accepted refer to vague commitments that lack a sense of urgency, and are not necessarily action-based. These recommendations, for example, urge Pakistan to “continue its efforts” to protect women and children; combat social inequality, poverty, and terrorism; and strengthen human rights institutions. In sharp contrast, more concrete and robust recommendations, for example relating to ratifying UN human rights treaties; amending its blasphemy laws; ensuring military courts’ proceedings meet fair trial standards, did not enjoy the support of the government.
A number of recommendations Pakistan accepted during the third UPR cycle repeat the concerns made during the previous cycles. Take enforced disappearances. As in 2012, Pakistan once again accepted recommendations to make enforced disappearance a distinct criminal offence and to ensure that all allegations of enforced disappearance are thoroughly investigated and those responsible are brought to justice. The government never explained, however, why the previous recommendations were not implemented.
Instead, in its national report, the government misleadingly claimed it “pursues action against perpetrators who have been involved in enforced disappearances” and that the Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances is an “effective mechanism” to respond to cases of disappearances.
It failed to note, however, that the commission has completely failed in holding perpetrators accountable even though its mandate includes “fixing responsibility” on those responsible and registering FIRs against those involved either directly or indirectly in enforced disappearances.
In fact, enforced disappearance is still not recognised as a distinct crime in Pakistan and not a single person has ever been convicted for any act amounting to an enforced disappearance. Impunity for human rights violations has become institutionalised and systemised. It is also essential in understanding why the practice of enforced disappearances has persisted and is spreading.
A similar pattern of non-implementation of accepted recommendations that are repeated and once again accepted in subsequent UPRs can be seen on many other issues including preventing the abuse of blasphemy laws; guaranteeing the rights of freedom of religion or belief and freedom of expression; and ensuring the rights of human rights defenders, women and children.
Pakistan must do a better job at implementing the already diluted human rights commitments to avoid being seen as a state that just goes through pantomime motions at the UN every four years for the UPR.
The writer is a legal adviser for the International Commission of Jurists.
Published in Dawn, March 25th, 2018