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Khar defends UN team’s visit

September 12, 2012

ISLAMABAD, Sept 12: As Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar took pains to explain to the National Assembly on Wednesday that there was a lot good in the current visit to Pakistan by a UN rights team at the government invitation, but some lawmakers remained sceptical, indicating a disconnect within the treasury benches.

And when the house celebrated the return of Speaker Fehmida Mirza to her chair after a long absence due to unexplained illness in the latter part of the day, a junior minister belonging to an allied party of the PPP-led coalition seemed little impressed by the foreign minister’s policy speech to help dispel “all speculation and misunderstanding” and pressed for a debate on the UN team’s visit for which he said he had brought an adjournment motion.

Ms Khar, making a prepared speech in the earlier part of the day, said the two-member delegation of the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, which she met in Islamabad on Tuesday, was “neither a fact-finding nor an investigative mission”, as reported in the media, but part of “a special procedure of the UN Human Rights Council with a purely humanitarian mandate”.

Recalling that Pakistan played an active role in the establishment of the UN Human Rights Council in 2006 to replace the UN Human Rights Commission and presented its first report under the council’s “universal periodic review mechanism” in May 2008, she said the present team’s observation of the mechanisms in place in Pakistan to protect human rights “will help us” when a follow-up second report is presented later this year.

The minister explained that the two-member group, accompanied by some support staff, had undertaken the 10-day visit from Sunday at the Pakistan government’s invitation as part of Pakistan’s ongoing cooperation with the UN human rights machinery, which included earlier visits to Pakistan by a Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Lawyers and Judges in May and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay in June.

She described the group now visiting Pakistan as the second special procedure of the UN Human Rights Council in tandem with the global practice and norms for the promotion of human rights and told the house it was the same working group former Supreme Court judge Javed Iqbal met in Geneva in March as chairman of the Commission of Inquiry on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances.

In recent past, she said, the group had visited many countries, including Argentina, Chile, Mexico, Morocco, Nepal and Sri Lanka while, as of June 2012, 91 countries had extended standing invitation to what she called UN thematic procedures for country visits.