Civil society calls for implementation of human rights treaties

Quetta: Civil Society in Baluchistan has underlined the need for full respect to human rights, particularly civil and political rights and called upon the federal and provincial governments to find a political solution to the ongoing conflict in the province, take effective measures to stop killings of innocent citizens, particularly those of Hazara community, and pay serious heed towards the development work in the province. It also declared to regularly monitor the implementation of core human and labour rights treaties committed under GSP+ status through a constructive engagement with government institutions.

Such a call and declaration was made at a Roundtable jointly organized by Democracy Reporting International (DRI),All Pakistan Labour Federation (APLF) and Strengthening Participatory Organization (SPO) on civil society’s role in GSP+ monitoring compliance at a local hotel on Tuesday.

The roundtable, third in a series of consultations to be held across the country, was attended by over 50 representatives of the civil society including NGOs, bar councils, media and trade unions. Main objective of the roundtable was to bring together a broader group of the civil society actors to identify, debate and evolve consensus on the role of civil society in advocating for and monitoring human rights standards in the province, especially in the backdrop of the granting of the GSP+to Pakistan.

Zulfiqar Shah, Team Leader of DRI, in his presentation, shared the details of the GSP+, the compliance requirements and the reporting mechanisms. He emphasized that the status needsstrong monitoring of treatycomplianceand mentioned that the European Unionwill now considerto includecivil society in its monitoring procedure. “The GSP+ is a strong opportunity for the civil society to pursue rights implementation in the country.”

He informed the audience that economic benefits of GSP+ are already showing progress as there was over 20% increase in Pakistan’s export to EU earning over $ 1.15 billion during the first year (Jan-Dec 2014) of GSP+ status.

The GSP + has been granted to Pakistan for 10 years, which has a potential of huge economic benefits for the country provided it fulfills conditionality requirements.

Mr. Shah said that the facility brings a win-win situation for businesses, government and common citizens. “Business and government can benefit in terms of enhanced trade, general public also expect improvement in general situation of human rights and labour rights,” he added.

He said that civil society has a greater role to play in engaging with government to improve human rights situation in the country and also play an active role in monitoring the compliance. “It is important that the government implements key reforms before first review scheduled in January 2016 takes place,” he suggested.

Mukhtiar Chalgri, Regional Head at SPO, while highlighting the importance of the role NGOs can play in ensuring compliance on core human rights conventions agreed upon under the GSP+ conditionality, said that a number of NGOs have been working for the improvement of human rights in the country for many years now and it is now time to work together for better results. “GSP+ provides an opportunity to double our efforts with a hope that the government may listen this time.”

Ali underscored the need for strong linkages and cooperation between government established mechanisms and the civil society. Sultan Khan, Chairman All Pakistan Labour Federation, said that thestatus of implementation on core labourstandards is not impressive and if government really wants to meet the GSP+ requirements, it should demonstrate seriousness in addressing workers’ issues. He said that only 2 to 3 per cent workforce is unionized which shows that the right to organize and collectively bargain is highly compromised. “Similar is the situation if you evaluate status of other rights using data,” he added.

First time in Pakistantrade has been linked with improvement in labour rights and we should maximize our efforts to take maximum benefit of this moment. He emphasized that the export revenue earned as a result of the GSP+ status needs to be translated in benefits for the workers particularly those of residing in backward areas such as Balochistan. Khan suggested a thorough review of labour laws as a lot of confusion has been created after 18th amendment.

Advocate Sohail Ansari, while talking on the role of the legal fraternity,said that compliance on 27 conventions attached to GSP+ conditionality will require a huge legal exercise as the government would be required to make changes in many laws and policies to bring them in conformity with international standards. “Lawyers groups can play important role in providing their input for positive changes in laws and policies through bar associations,” he suggested.

Human Rights Activist and HRCP representative Shamsul Malik, while giving a presentation on status of implementation on ICCPR, said that Baluchistan is a classic example of rights violations, especially the set of rights granted under ICCPR.

In his views, compliance and implementation on human rights treaties would mean improved situation in the country as whole not in a corner or one part. “If improvement is not noticed in Balocistan, you cannot claim improvement in the country,” he added. In his opinion, certain parts of the country are not par with other parts of the country in realization of human rights.

Advocate Jalila Haider, while highlighting the issues concerning women rights and Hazara community, said that women fall worst victims of violation of human rights. She said that 1825 people of Hazara community have been killed in Balochistan during last few years and now women of these victim families are undergoing psychological trauma and economic stress.

Social indicators, said Ms Haider, depicting a dismal situation of women rights in the province. “Maternal mortality rate in Balochsiatn is 781 per 100,000 births, two times higher than Karachi,” she added.

She was of the view that latest legislation such as Pakistan Protection Ordinance (PPO) has further comprised human rights as such laws are in violation to internationally accepted human rights and even in contradiction to fundamental rights provided in Pakistani constitution.

She said it is time to collectively raise voice against killing and enforced disappearances instead of keeping quite. The event ended with adoption of a joint resolution calling for serious attention to the rights’ situation in Balochsiatn and with an agreement to engage with government and other stakeholders for improved coordination and collaboration so that conditionality set under GSP + arrangement is met. Roundtable participants also formed a provincial group of activists to disseminate information, regularly engage and monitor the situation of human rights in the province. It will also establish links with similar groups formed in other province.

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