EU flags no progress on enforced disappearances, anti-torture bill, media freedom and labor rights

KARACHI: The European Union’s Joint Staff Working Document on Pakistan has flagged no progress on salient draft legislation on enforced disappearances, Anti-Torture Bill, media freedom and labor rights, and suggested political will coupled with determined action for reform.

“Pakistan has made noticeable achievements since 2014 as a GSP+ beneficiary. Notwithstanding positive measures e.g. in women’s rights, children rights, and transgender persons’ rights, implementation remains generally slow with little impact,” the EU Special Incentive Arrangement for Sustainable Development and Good Governance (‘GSP+’) assessment of Pakistan covering the period 2018 – 2019 noted.

In February 2018, EU renewed Pakistan’s GSP+ status for two years. The Report on the Generalised Scheme of Preferences covering the period 2018-2019 to European Parliament and the Council will be followed by the decision regarding continuance or non-continuance of country’s GSP+ status.

EU’s GSP removes import duties from products coming into the EU market from vulnerable developing countries. This helps developing countries to alleviate poverty and create jobs based on international values and principles, including labour and human rights.

EU’s document expressed concerns over serious deterioration of media freedom in Pakistan, a trend that began in the lead up to the general election in 2018. It also highlights that national security is widely used as a pretext for cracking down on freedom of expression. “Materialisation of proposed media tribunals would be a worrisome development”.

The increasing pressure by security forces, with the tacit approval of the government, on those with dissenting views, including media representatives and human rights defenders, is worrying.

EU says critical opinions of the armed forces are especially taboo, as well as topics considered to be of high security and strategic interest, e.g. the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). Intimidation tactics are diverse, sometimes extending to family members and in the case of media often lead to self-censorship by journalists and publishers to be able to continue to function.

The regulatory framework for international non-governmental organizations (INGOs) registration continues to be broad and vague, with reasons for rejection of registration not clearly provided to the concerned INGOs and remains a matter of concern.

Proper investigation and prosecution of cases of intimidation, abduction, and killing of human rights defenders, lawyers, and journalists is necessary, EU noted.

The Federal and Provincial governments have taken actions to sensitise police and other law enforcement agencies to accord top priority to such cases but no details have been provided on actual cases of investigation or prosecution as of yet. In an attempt to address the issue of the misuse of

The definition of most serious crimes for which death sentences may be imposed is not aligned with international standards and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Pakistan has started examining the existing provisions of the Penal Code and the Criminal Procedural Code to determine if the scope of the death penalty can be narrowed down in line with the ICCPR.

Pakistan’s legislation falls short of a law specifically defining torture and fails to explicitly criminalise torture as required under the Convention Against Torture (CAT). A draft Torture and Custodial Death Bill (2019) has been presented to the Senate.

Promotion of human rights in Pakistan is the main European Union project supporting country’s efforts to improve its compliance with human rights commitments. The aim is to provide technical assistance and capacity development to key government ministries at federal and provincial level, with special focus on the criminal justice chain, to strengthen the capacity to implement Pakistan’s own human rights agenda, and to raise public awareness, knowledge, and understanding of rights and how to protect them.

The project also supports Pakistan to comply with its obligations under GSP+. It started in early 2019 for duration of 36 months and with a budget of € 9.6 million.

EU report points Pakistan has a very weak labour inspectorate system and systematic disregard exists of freedom of association and collective bargaining. All provinces and federal capital have initiated Child Labour Surveys and a national report is expected. In addition, provincial governments have enforced different laws to ensure proper investigations and prosecutions of child and forced labour incidences.

Another priority area is the adoption and implementation of the Occupational Safety and Health Risk (OSH) legislation. Federal and provincial governments are working on Bills on OSH to improve the legislation, without concrete outcomes. New model OSH legislation, developed by the federal government, is still not adopted in all provinces.

The International Labour Organization (ILO) supervisory bodies have repeatedly requested Pakistan to align labour legislation with the fundamental Convention 87 on freedom of association and to extend its applicability to Export Processing Zones (EPZs) and Special Economic Zones (SEZs).

In addition, Pakistan needs to bring its legislation in line with the Convention 98 to ensure, among others, that all categories of workers enjoy the rights under the Convention.

Pakistan’s efforts to implement the environmental conventions have improved. Climate change is a priority for the Government. With legislative measures largely in place, Pakistan now looks towards strengthening institutions to achieve a sustained level of implementation of the conventions.

There is a growing awareness with regard to the effective implementation of these conventions among civil society organisations. The Ministry of Climate Change and other departments including Forest departments, as well as Pakistan Customs, have improved their vigilance to combat illegal trafficking of wildlife.

EU report notes in the area of drug control, Pakistan continues to face a multitude of challenges. Pakistan’s Anti-Narcotics Force has taken stricter measures to apprehend drug traffickers, especially around education institutions, and making significant seizures. Further efforts are needed to seal the routes for smuggling and enhance cooperation within the region.

As for the Accountability drive, the government must give more confidence and autonomy to the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), which should follow ‘accountability for all’ in its actions. “At present, it is widely being criticised for partiality by mostly taking up cases against the opposition parties”.

EU has also identified several strategic deficiencies in the regime for the prevention of money laundering and terrorist financing, leading to Pakistan’s inclusion on the grey list of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) in 2018 and consequently on the EU list of high risk third countries.

Pakistan has made a high-level political commitment in June 2018 to address these deficiencies by the implementation of an FATF Action Plan. The FATF plenary in October 2019 granted an extension period for the implementation of outstanding FATF commitments of Pakistan until February 2020.

EU notes despite the fact that the Constitution and laws of Pakistan do not provide a unified definition of racial discrimination, but only cover a narrow definition of religious minorities, the Penal Code provides sufficient guarantees for the protection of citizens. “Due to a heavy backlog and other structural issues in the judicial system, justice delivery remains slow”.

During the reporting period, the right to freedom of expression continued to be restricted despite the commitment of Pakistan in its statement on the outcome report of the Universal Periodic Review to review and align the legislation with freedom of religion and belief and freedom of expression, as stipulated in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

EU acknowledges the government continued to give high priority to the situation for women and girls. This has resulted in new legislation and policies to tackle persistent problems and in some instances seems to have resulted in improvements on the ground.

Violence against children saw no respite in 2018 and 2019, encompassing a broad spectrum of physically and sexually exploitative acts. Although each province has dedicated child protection legislations, very few victims received protection, counselling, and legal services.

According to the World Bank, Pakistan’s economic growth is expected to decelerate in 2019 and 2020, with a projected annual growth of around 3 percent.

From 2008 to 2018, EU imports from Pakistan almost doubled from € 3.6 to € 6.8 billion. The growth of imports was particularly fast following the award of GSP+ to Pakistan in January 2014, with a 30 percent increase of between 2014 and 2016.

The growth of Pakistan exports to the EU have since slowed down, but the country continues to enjoy a trade surplus with the EU (€1.2 billion in 2018). The EU is Pakistan’s first export destination absorbing over a third (34 percent) of Pakistan’s total exports to the world in 2018, followed by the USA (16 percent), China (8 percent) and Afghanistan (5 percent). The EU is Pakistan’s third largest source of imports, after China (23 percent) and the UAE (14 percent), accounting for around 9 percent of the total in 2018.

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