ISLAMABAD: The primary responsibility for the protection of human rights defenders rests with the state, which must respect, protect and enforce human rights and constitutionally guaranteed fundamental rights, said National Commission for Human Rights (NCHR) Chairman retired Ali Nawaz Chowhan on Monday.

Mr Chowhan was speaking at an event organised by NCHR and the Pakistan Human Rights Defenders Network (PHRDN) in connection with International Human Rights Day.

A Policy Guideline for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders and a report titled Pakistan Human Rights Review were also launched at the event.

Mr Chowhan said the state has an international obligation to refrain from any act that violates the rights of human rights defenders because of their work, protect human rights defenders from abuse by third parties on account of their work and take proactive steps to promote the full realisation of the rights of human rights defenders, including their right to defend human rights.

The guideline says the commission will support human rights defenders individually and in groups to engage and network with other human rights groups nationally, regionally and at the international level. The commission recognises the right of human rights defenders, individually and in groups, to approach and work with other human rights groups, UN agencies and human rights treaty enforcement bodies.

“The purpose of the guidelines is to ensure the safety of human rights defenders and enabling them to carry on their activities in a conducive environment which is crucial for the protection and enforcement of human rights in the country. I am glad that these guidelines are being launched on the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the 20th anniversary of the UN Declaration for Human Rights Defenders,” he said.

He added that Pakistan had participated in preparing the draft for the UN Human Rights Declaration.

Begum Shaista Ikramullah, the first Muslim woman to earn a PhD from the University of London, participated in drafting the declaration, he said, and that Ra’ana Liaquat Ali Khan won the first international human rights award for Pakistan.

EU Ambassador Jean-François Cautain said human rights are not a western agenda and are included in the Constitution of Pakistan.

“We raise rights because we believe that human rights are necessary for a stable society. We need human rights all over the world. We are not perfect even in the EU but the situation is different in other countries and Pakistan needs to take serious steps to ensure human rights to its citizens,” he said.

MNA and Parliamentary Secretary for Ministry of Human Rights Lal Malhi said the PTI government was committed to safeguard human rights and would support the work done by human rights defenders.

Senator Sana Jamali stressed that there was need to give awareness about human rights to the society.

PHRDN National Coordinator Tanveer Jehan said human rights work was important but not complete without defenders.

“Pakistan, in the recent years, has itself lost three brave human rights defenders– Advocate Rashid Rehman, Parveen Rehman and Sabin Mahmood. Human rights defenders need protection,” she said.

The event was attended by civil society representatives from across the country, parliamentarians, diplomats, human rights activists and media persons.

Published in Dawn, December 11th, 2018

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