Pakistan faced worst economic crisis in 2023, says Human Rights Watch

Published January 20, 2024
A street vendor sells sweet potatoes at Landa Bazaar market in Lahore. — AFP
A street vendor sells sweet potatoes at Landa Bazaar market in Lahore. — AFP

ISLAMABAD: Pakis­tan faced one of the worst economic crises in its history in 2023 with poverty, inflation and unemployment soaring, jeopardising millions of people’s rights to health, food and an adequate standard of living, according to a report by the Human Rights Watch.

In its 740-page ‘World Report 2024’, made available on Friday, the HRW reviewed human rights practices in more than 100 countries, and observed that the insistence of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on austerity and the removal of subsidies without adequate compensatory measures resulted in additional hardship for low-income groups in Pakistan.

The country remained exceedingly vulnerable to climate change and faced rates of warming considerably above the global average, making extreme climate events more frequent and intense, according to the report.

Increasing repression by governments in Asia is negatively affecting human rights locally and internationally, the HRW said. Asia, unlike Europe, Africa and the Americas, lacks a meaningful human rights charter or regional institution to safeguard human rights standards, it adds.

IMF insistence on removal of subsidies sans compensatory measures adds to hardship for low-income groups

The report says government threats and attacks on the media created a climate of fear among journalists and civil society groups, with many resorting to self-censorship. Authorities pressured or threatened media outlets not to criticise state institutions or the judiciary.

NGOs reported intimidation, harassment, and surveillance of various groups by government authorities. The government used its regulation of INGOs in Pakistan policy to impede the registration and functioning of international humanitarian and human rights groups.

The report says violence against women and girls — including rape, murder, acid attacks, domestic violence, denial of education, sexual harassment at work, and child and forced marriage — is a serious problem throughout Pakistan. Human rights defenders estimate that roughly 1,000 women are murdered in so-called “honour killings” every year.

In Punjab, 10,365 cases of violence aga­inst women were reported to the police in the first four months of 2023, according to a local NGO. The actual number of incidents is likely to be much higher given barriers to reporting, harmful social nor­ms, and ineffective and harmful responses by the police. Pakistan’s conviction rate for rape is less than three per cent.

Over six million primary school-age children and 13m secondary school-age children in Pakistan were out of school, most of them girls. The HRW found that girls miss school for reasons including lack of schools, costs associated with studying, child marriage, harmful child labour, and gender discrimination.

A lack of awareness about mental health in Pakistani society contributes to the abuse of those with psychosocial disabilities and mental health conditions.

Prisoners who ask for mental health support are often mocked and denied services. The prison system lacks mental health professionals, and prison authorities tend to view any report of a mental health condition with suspicion. Trans­gender women, particularly in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, remained under attack.

Nearly 37pc of Pakistan’s 230 million people faced food insecurity as of 2018, yet only 8.9m families received assistance to mitigate the impact of rampant inflation.

In July, the European Union proposed extending Pakistan’s Generalised Scheme of Preferences Plus (GSP+) status by an­other four years, enabl­ing Pakistan to enjoy trade preferences and access to the European market.

Pakistan and China deepened their extensive economic and political ties in 2023, and work continued on the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, a project consisting of the construction of roads, railways, and energy pipelines.

“The threats abusive governments in Asia pose to human rights domestically and internationally demand bold new appro­aches from rights-respecting governments and democratic institutions,” said Elaine Pearson, Asia director at HRW.

Published in Dawn, January 20th, 2024

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