If 2017 was Pakistan’s year of accountability on human rights, 2018 was the year of implementation and getting to work.
Last year, Pakistan underwent a series of human rights reviews by the international community: in April, by the UN Committee on Torture (CAT), in June by the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR), in July by the UN Human Rights Committee on its compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), and in November, the Universal Periodic Review by the UN Human Rights Committee.
In a nutshell, each committee gave its recommendations to the government.
In order to avoid violations of international law, and to implement fundamental human rights, it was imperative for the government to abide by the recommendations.
For example, after the ICCPR review, the Human Rights Committee issued 22 recommendations, which included that Pakistan take steps to ensure that the rights in the covenant are in full effect; review and repeal certain sections of the Anti-Terrorism Act, 1997; limit the scope of the death penalty; and ensure that no person under 18 years of age when an offence occurred, or with any disability, is subjected to the death penalty.
The CAT recommended that the government define and criminalise torture, as well as take adequate action to investigate complaints of the same.
Now, Article 14(2) of the Constitution does prohibit torture for the purpose of extracting information, while provisions of the Pakistan Penal Code punish infliction of “hurt” and the Police Order 2002 punishes torture by police officers in Punjab, Sindh and Balochistan. In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the Police Ordinance 2017 prohibits police officials from torturing.
But Pakistan’s legislation falls short of a specifically defining torture and fails to explicitly criminalise it as required under the convention. Because Pakistan is a dualist state, international law is incorporated through legislative action into national law.
All treaty bodies request states parties to provide, in their periodic reports, information on the implementation of recommendations made in previous concluding observations.
A year after the reviews, Pakistan has, unfortunately, missed two of the three deadlines for follow up reports.
For example, the Torture, Custodial Death and Custodial Rape (Prevention and Punishment) Bill, 2014 was passed by the National Assembly Committee on Interior and Narcotics Control and by the Senate, but never reached the floor of the National Assembly.
Should the new government implement a governance through ordinance policy, one can’t be sure when this (and other) important bills might be passed through the National Assembly.
In September 2017, the Ministry of Human Rights was asked by the Prime Minister’s Special Assistant on Law to prepare a proposal on reforming the process for seeking clemency.
In October 2017, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs moved a summary to the prime minister in which it supported a review and reduction of the scope of the death penalty.
The Ministry of Human Rights also proposed to review the imposition of the death penalty on drug crimes.
Additionally, this year in May, parliament passed the Juvenile Justice Systems Act, 2018 (JJSA) which not only prohibits the execution of juveniles but also has an age determination protocol and an overriding effect.
In the same month, the National Commission for Human Rights, on a complaint submitted by Justice Project Pakistan initiated an inquiry under the National Commission for Human Rights Act, 2012 on allegations of widespread police torture in the district of Faisalabad.
The new government which came into power in August 2018 has also expressed its commitment to effectively implement laws and conventions in pursuance of the Constitution and international commitments.
The Ministry of Human Rights has publicly stated its efforts to work on the Anti-Torture and Custodial Death Bill.
These good initiatives are welcome steps in the right direction, but concrete policies and tangible results are yet to be seen. The reality is that there has been no reduction in the scope of the death penalty.
Equally troubling is the presence of mentally ill and physically disabled on death row.
The proper implementation and use of the JJSA is also extremely important due to the fact that while its predecessor, the JJSO, prohibited the execution of minors, Pakistan has hanged prisoners who were juveniles at the time of committing the crime and even now has others on death row.
When the government does not comply with its constitution, domestic laws and international obligations, it is not just the government that suffers.
The potential removal of incentives and trade schemes, such as the GSP+, could affect the economy too.
Most importantly, failure to install safeguards for its citizens ends in tragedy for the most vulnerable members of society.
In a system where illegal detentions, inhuman torture, lengthy incarcerations and wrongful convictions are the norm, compliance with international human rights treaties is not an option, it is a necessity.
It would also serve us well to remember that whenever incoming governments have discontinued policies initiated by their predecessors, as has been the case in Pakistan, it has only served to set the country back.
December 10 marked the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. On this day, we need to reaffirm our commitment to making our country a safer place for its citizens.
That cannot be done without an honest reassessment of how far we have come, and how far we have yet to go.
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