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KARACHI: A rights body on Wednesday appealed to the caretaker government and state institutions to release victims of “enforced disappearance” and “missing” persons on the occasion of Eid.

“With Eid just round the corner I appeal to the caretaker government to please look into the biggest violation of human rights going on here of enforced disappearances and missing persons. We ask the state institutions, federal and Sindh government to release all these people in their custody. Their families await their return. They miss them badly,” Zulfiqar Shah, joint director of the Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research (Piler), told a press conference here.

The presser was called by human rights activists at the Karachi Press Club on Wednesday.

“If they have done anything which goes against the establishment please have them tried in a court of law. Article 10-A of the Constitution provides every citizen the right to fair trial and due process,” he reminded, adding that according to the data on the Sindh police’s website there are over 600 people missing from Sindh of whom 154 have disappeared since August 2017.

Of the 600 people missing from Sindh, 154 have disappeared since August 2017

Mr Shah said that Piler had organised a two-day National Conference on Human Rights and Labour Rights in which leading human rights and labour rights activists had expressed serious concerns over the deteriorating condition of human rights and labour rights in Pakistan.

They had called upon the federal and provincial governments to take practical measures to ensure the provision and protection of fundamental rights of people as enshrined in the Constitution and committed to by the state under various international conventions, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and Conventions of International Labour Organisation (ILO).

Sharing more about the conference, he said that among the things discussed there included the recent aggressive approach of the government towards non-governmental organisations, which was “laced with prejudice and distrust resulting in harassment of their staff, malignant propaganda against them and the use of non-state actors to intimidate them which has resulted in the abrupt closure of many NGO operations.

“This is totally against the right to association enshrined in the Constitution, not to mention International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and other international obligations that Pakistan is a signatory to,” he added.

Talking about another matter taken up at the conference — freedom of expression — he said that the freedom of expression was a fundamental human right enshrined in Article 19 of the Constitution. “Unfortunately, this right is in regress in Pakistan, reflected in increased censorship, harassment of media persons and outlets, and aggressive laws directed at the media, including internet and cyberspace,” he said.

He also said that the participants of the conference noted that the European Union (EU) had offered Pakistan a trade incentive scheme — General Scheme of Preferences (GSP)-Plus — which is a window of opportunity for stronger mechanisms and systems realising rights.

The 27 conventions in the scheme holistically covered major sections of rights, including human rights, labour rights, rights for women, environment and ecology, and governance, he added.

Pakistan has recently been reviewed for a second time for the status by the EU. The EU review report released early this year (January 2018) notes gaps in effective implementation of conventions related to GSP-Plus.

He said the report had particularly noted with concern the continuation of the policy of capital punishment against the backdrop of a weak justice system, enforced disappearances and custodial torture, in addition to the blasphemy laws, compromise access to justice for the accused.

Contract labour

Senior labour leader Liaquat Sahi, who is central leader of the State Bank of Pakistan’s Democratic Workers Union, said that the Supreme Court of Pakistan had recently declared contract labour as illegal and unconstitutional and ordered to provide regular employment to all employees. “There is child labour, modern slavery, deficits in operational health and safety, absence of labour laws in the agriculture sector, and poor access to social security for workers,” he said.

“The social security coverage must be expanded by focusing on implementing appointment letter provision under standing orders and enhancing outreach to the so-called informal workforce. Minimum wages need to be consistent with the concept of living wages, which is equivalent to Rs25,000, in accordance with the cost of living and inflation in 2018,” Mr Sahi said.

Senior trade union leader Habibuddin Junaidi underlined the need for serious efforts to remove obstacles in the way of unionisation in the country that stands at only one per cent of the total labour force.

“These obstacles include exclusionary laws, poorly performing institutions, including National Industrial Relations Commission, labour judiciary and a non-serious attitude of the state towards the issue, not to mention employers’ reluctance to support unionisation,” he said.

Mahnaz Rahman, resident director of Aurat Foundation, said that in all the things mentioned by the others already women had double problems as they are also homemakers. “Then when we talk about missing, it is the wives of the missing people who are left to worry about how to make ends meet in their absence. There are also several laws here in support of women but there has been no implementation on them,” she said.

Published in Dawn, June 14th, 2018