NCHR asks EU to continue GSP+ facility for Pakistan

ISLAMABAD: National Commission for Human Rights (NCHR) has urged the European Union (EU) to continue Pakistan’s GSP+ status after first reviews in January 2016 as the scheme has been significantly contributing in country’s economy as well as serving as an international instrument for improvement in human rights situation in the country.

This demand has been made by Justice Ali Nawaz Chowhan, Chairman of NCHR in a statement released from his office here on Monday after his return from a weeklong visit to Germany.

Justice Chowhan who visited Germany for a week along with Zulfiqar Shah, Team Leader, Democracy Reporting International on an official visit to Germany said that during his visit to the Europe’s important country, Germany he met with high officials of both EU and government of Germany and called upon them for continuation of the GSP Plus scheme, which is of great benefit to Pakistan. In January 2014, the European Union granted Pakistan the status of Generalized System of Preference Plus (GSP +) status for duty-free access to Pakistani products in European markets. GSP + scheme, currently granted to 13 developing countries, is a trade preference scheme described as ‘Special Incentive Arrangement for Sustainable Development and Good Governance.’ The economic benefits of GSP + are highly significant as Pakistan’s exports to EU rose by 21 % in the first year of the scheme alone.

The GSP Plus mechanism is, however, an incentive mechanism for Pakistan to further democratic and human rights reforms. The preferential access to EU market is hence conditional to Pakistan. maintaining ratification and effective implementation of the key international conventions concerning human rights, including civil and political rights, labour rights or environmental protection.

Justice Chowhan said that the main purpose of his visit to Germany was to introduce the newly established commission to counterparts in Germany and learn from German experience of achieving high degree of human rights, he sought support for continuation of GSP+ in key meetings. The Pakistani delegation members had over a dozen meetings during their weeklong stay in Berlin that included meetings with German Commissioner for Human Rights, Incharge for Pakistan affairs at Federal Foreign Office, Representative of European Commission in Germany, German Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development, German Ministry of Justice, Director German Institute of Human Rights, German Federal Bar, Members of German Parliament and civil society representatives.

“German government is very sympathetic towards Pakistan and wants to see Pakistan build strong human rights protection mechanism,” said Justice Chowhan. “Establishment of NCHR was well received at all the meetings that we attended during our stay in Berlin” added the statement. The statement says that the daylong exposure visit and interaction with founders and current senior staff of German Institute of Human Rights (GIHR) was quite a learning experience. “Though NCHR mandate is broader than GIHR, we urgently need both financial and human resources to meet domestic and international expectations attached to this institution,” said the statement.

German High Commissioner and Members of parliament raised concerns regarding lifting ban on moratorium and restarting of executions and establishment of military courts. However, Justice Chowhan explained them that these are temporary measures to deal with extra ordinary terrorism threats that Pakistan faced for last the last few years. “As soon as situation is normal, we will revert to normal procedures,” he informed the German officials.

Representative of European Commission in Germany told the visiting Pakistani delegation that the EU considers Pakistan an important partner and grant of GSP+ was reflection of the EU’s commitment to help Pakistan’s economy and democratic stability. Pakistan’s first GSP+ review report is ready and will be tabled in the European Parliament early next month. Establishment of NCHR has already been acknowledged as an encouraging development; however, there are certain areas where the country needs to make significant improvements.

Justice Chowhan and Mr. Shah explained to the German officials that compliance to 27 conventions attached to GSP+ conditionality is a huge task and the Pakistan government has already started putting in place institutional mechanisms so it is important that more time is given for real change to happen. “There is a strong political will to improve human rights situation in the country and comply on the international obligations.”

German Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) informed the visiting Pakistani delegation that Human Rights is a central point in German development cooperation. Germany is contributing Euros 50 million annually in development aid to Pakistan in the key priority areas of governance, devolution social economic and youth development.

GIHR and NCHR have agreed on regular cooperation and collaboration in the field of human rights. GIHR has also been elected chair of International Coordination Committee (ICC) of National Human Rights Institutions and would assist Pakistan in getting international affiliation.

While briefing the German counterparts Justice Chowhan informed them that NCHR has been in place only for six months and is at the stage of formation. “We are a new body and with very limited resources but we have made significant progress and are constantly monitoring human rights situation in the country.”

They were also informed that the Commission will play its due role in assisting the government of Pakistan to fulfil its international obligations particularly in reporting to treaty bodies more accurately and regularly. The statement concludes with hope that the German government will support Pakistan in first review of GSP+ and other initiatives. Chairman also expressed his gratitude to the German warm hospitality shown during his visit.

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