Civil society shocked over state of human rights in Punjab

LAHORE: In compliance to GSP Plus status, the Punjab government should establish the independent and empowered provincial human rights institutions, e.g. Punjab Commission for Human Rights, Child Rights and Minority Rights Commissions according to the Paris Principles. The existing institutions such as the Punjab Commission on the Status of Women and Child Protection Directorate should be empowered and provided adequate resources to dispense their responsibilities according to their mandates. The government should also take steps to withdraw reservations on compliance with international conventions including the ICCPR, ICESCR, CEDAW and UNCAT and strengthen institutions to facilitate access to implementation of labour right, women, religious minorities and environmental protection.

These views were expressed by the members of the Civil Society Working Group (Punjab) on GSP Plus at a press conference, held here Thursday at Lahore Press club to present key concerns of civil society regarding human rights compliance by the Government of Punjab.

The speakers noted with concern that the Cabinet Committee on GSP+ has failed to come up with proposal for holistic enforcement of human rights. Moreover, the provincial Treaty Implementation Cell continues to struggle with constraints regarding staff and financial resource two years after the explicit commitments made by the federal and the provincial governments.

Bushra Khaliq Executive Director WISE and convener of the Civil Society Working Group on GSP+ while appreciating the grant of the GSP+ status to Pakistan by the European Union, said the scheme, by way of tariff free exports, offers immense potential for economic benefits and employment creation. She said Punjab Province having 48,000 industrial units predominantly the textile and the leather goods sector, could be a key beneficiary of this scheme immensely. Therefore, it is the obligation of the provincial government to take steps towards the effective compliance of the human rights conventions in order to sustain the GSP Plus status.

Expressing her regarding violation of human rights she said Police brutality, torture and custodial death are remained prevalent in Pakistan and the Punjab, that is a clear demonstration of primitive criminal justice system. Earlier, a 2013 Survey revealed that nearly 55pc accused, nabbed by the police in different cases, complained of torture in police custody. Pakistan has ratified the United Nations Convention against Torture in 2010 but no law has been devised for the implementation of the Convention. Instead, torture by the law enforcement agencies has become a common tool to extract confession and bribe from the detainees. The victims have no recourse to legal remedy.

Mumtaz Mughal Resident Director Aurat Foundation said although women’s rights saw improvements in legislative measures. In the last two years, the provincial assembly passed “The Punjab Fair Representation of Women Bill 2014” and “The Punjab Commission on the Status of Women Bill 2013”. However, domestic Violence Bill is pending before the House has become a victim of political manoeuvring. The administrative constraints and socio-cultural impediments continue to hamper women in full actualization as citizens.

Peter Jacob, of Centre for Social Justice, said as advocates of human rights, we appreciate the qualification of compliance of human rights commitments attached to the scheme, and the fact that the status is conditional to the compliance with the 27 international treaties on labour, human and women’s rights, environment, and control of narcotics and corruption. The government of Punjab, together with federal government, should seriously look into the non-implementation of orders of the Supreme Court and respective High Courts concerning human rights e.g. the Supreme Court judgment in S.M.C No. 1 2014, he demanded.

Irfan Mufti, Secretary South Asia Partnership Pakistan said honouring its responsibilities under Article 8 of the constitution of Pakistan; the government should develop a human rights policy, defining the role of different ministries, departments and human rights institutions. He urged the govt. to take maximum benefit of the GSP Plus status and ensure safety and security of human rights defenders, including lawyers, journalists, health workers, activists and civil society members against vilification and threatening against open incitement to violence under different pretexts.

Khalid Mahmood, Labour Education Foundation talking about the labour rights situation demanded of the government to ensure labour rights, including eradication of child labour and bonded labour, enforcement of minimum wages in formal and informal sectors (agriculture, home based workers, brick kilns, manufacturing), right to association (trade unions) through enabling implementation mechanisms, procedural legislation and institutional reforms.

Munazza Hashmi of Encourage the Human Development said situation of Human rights in South Punjab is very dismal. She demanded of the government control crimes against women, including acid violence by taking dedicated measures to ensure women’s protection and enforcement to fundamental rights.

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