IT is ironic that Pakistan takes benefits from tax leeway given by the European Union for being signatory to human rights treaties, the Supreme Court judgements are replete with precedents from international human rights case laws, the politicians and media constantly talk about the significance of human rights and the fact that the Constitution has guaranteed such rights to one and all without any discrimination.

Yet, the citizens have nothing but rhetoric and promises in the name of human rights.

Islamabad’s compliance with human rights laws is meant only to benefit economically and for a positive image in the international community; not to give any remedy to its citizens.

Although the Constitution provides fundamental rights and there are human rights commissions for enforce-ment, all are subject to exception clauses, giving the state the liberty to violate them at will.

Hence, neither the domestic law nor the international law on human rights has succeeded in charting out any real path forward to the question of human rights in the country.

Pakistan is signatory to nine of the core human rights treaties existing in the international human rights law, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural and Rights (ICESCR), the Convention on Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), and others.

However, the mere act of signing or ratification does not enforce these rights in the local context.

The country registers its reservations to the clauses that supposedly challenge the authority of the state. If not, then it does not sign the additional protocols that make the state accountable towards the relevant committees on the various treaties. If nothing works, Pakistan subjects the treaties to the Constitution, which is itself subject to Shariah, which, in turn, is subject to interpretation.

In all this manoeuvring, the crux and purpose of the human rights law is lost. What remains is some well-written legal jargon that helps the country to enjoy its Generalised Scheme of Preferences Plus (GSP+) status.

Apart from the international law, the country’s Constitution also guarantees fundamental rights to its citizens. However, the state uses certain constitutional stipulations, like, say, Article 233(1) dealing with national interest, to have its way regardless of the spirit of the Constitution.

There are many reasons why the human rights law has not been put into practice the way it deserves. First, most of the world views the existing international human rights law as a product of peculiar socioeconomic and historical development of Western society which the West tries to enforce on the rest of the world, disregarding the specific cultural values of each country.

This debate is called universalism versus cultural relativism. In Pakistan, people see human rights law with scepticism and paranoia, considering it a Western propaganda against their religious and cultural values. Politicians do manipulate this narrative rather skilfully to win support from the masses even when they are in violation of the international treaties signed by the state. Any positive development in this cause is, therefore, unjustly turned into some sort of controversy.

Other factors for the law not being successfully implemented happen to be economic. The fact that justice is expensive makes it out of the reach of the layperson. The victims of human rights violations are often the downtrodden who do not have the resources to challenge powerful individuals or the state itself.

Another reason for its failure in Pakistan is human rights commissions; federal or provincial. They are not independent of state influence. Hence, they serve the state, and not the people.

For the human rights law to be a reality, Pakistan will have to make it a priority. The lacunae in the domestic law and the Constitution providing space for violations should be eliminated.

The state should cease taking any unjust reservation from the clauses of international human rights conventions. The idea should be to benefit the layperson.

Besides, all human rights commissions should be made independent. They need to be able to provide active support to the victims fighting for their rights. Furthermore, people should be educated about their rights and the mechanism to claim remedies, if and when required.

Lastly, every human rights law should not be made controversial for the benefit of the media, the politicians or the clerics. The wellbeing of the citizens is the foremost duty of the state. Everything else must be considered secondary.

Muhammad Sharif Otho
Sobhodero

Published in Dawn, March 14th, 2023

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