Roundtable calls for monitoring HR standards amid GSP Plus status

Lahore: Democracy Reporting International (DRI) and the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) jointly organized a roundtable on civil society’s role in GSP Plus monitoring compliance. Over 60 representatives of the civil society, including NGOs, bar councils, media and trade unions from different cities of Punjab attended the consultation.

The roundtable is the part of a series of five consultations to be held across the country aiming at bringing together a broader group of civil society actors including rights groups, NGOs, lawyers community, academia, and the media to identify, debate and evolve consensus on the role of civil society in advocating for and monitoring human rights standards in the country, especially in the backdrop of the granting of the GSP Plus to Pakistan in 2014.

Participants of the consultation welcomed the GSP Plus Status calling it a positive step towards economic development of Pakistan. They expressed the hope that the trickledown effect of this trade facility would be helpful in creating jobs and incomes, and contributing to poverty reduction in the country. Furthermore, the compliance obligation to 27 international conventions is an opportunity to improve human rights situation in Pakistan.

Zulfiqar Shah, Team Leader of DRI, in his presentation, shared the details of the GSP Plus, the compliance requirements and the reporting mechanisms. He emphasized that the status necessitates strong monitoring of human rights condition in the grantee countries by the European block and they give significant importance to the voice of the civil society. “The GSP Plus is a strong opportunity for the civil society to pursue rights implementation in the country.”

Peter Jacob, a representative of the Center for Social Justice in his speech said that an additional international human rights oversight mechanism has been made available under this trade facility. It was now up to the civil society of Pakistan to use this opportunity to promote human rights in the country.

He said that keeping in view the lack of commitment on the part of the state to address rights violations in the country, civil society will have to strategize its role in terms of monitoring and engaging the national and provincial rights institutions.

Usama Tariq, General Secretary of All Pakistan Workers Confederation, was of opinion that this trade facility is a golden opportunity for the working class. They should raise their demands and pressurize the government to comply with all the ILO conventions related to workers right of association, collective bargaining, occupational safety and health, equal and minimum wage standards, social security etc.

He stressed that the government should ensure establishment of bipartite and tripartite mechanisms, enabling workers better negotiate their rights.

Advocate Munaza Hashmi, while talking on the role of the bar councils, suggested that lawyers had strong network and coordination mechanisms ranging from local to national levels. This strong coordination significantly contributed in the lawyers movement. “This network can be engaged to strengthen advocacy and pressure building for human rights in the country.” She further added that there was a need to activate free legal aid committees and legal empowerment committees, especially at the district level, to legally pursue human rights violations at the grassroots.

Aamir Sohail, General Secretary of the Punjab Union of Journalists, pointed out that civil society is currently working in isolation. NGOs, media, bar councils, trade unions and other sections of the society needed to enter into collaboration for the promotion of rights in country.

Renowned Human Rights Activist IA Rehman said that Pakistan was granted the status of GSP Plus despite much reservations from the rights bodies in Europe that objected over Pakistan’s human rights track record. However, months after being granted the status, Pakistan resumed death penalty in the country violating an important convention related to GSP Plus.

He emphasized that the potential of raise in export revenue associated with the GSP Plus status needs to be translated in benefits for the workers associated with the production of goods exported under the regime. He noted that the textile sector may have been made a significant contribution to the economy; however, it is the agriculture sector that absorbs the highest proportion of the country’s labour force.

Rehman criticized the non-serious approach of the state in acknowledging the gaps in human rights in the country which is also evident when the state authorities are reporting on rights implementation to international bodies. “They are in complete denial of successive violation of human rights as can be in rampant racism, atrocities against non Muslims, child labour as well as absence of access to schooling to children, unequal status of women, crushing of workers and disregard for the environment.”

He also addressed the civil society sector saying that rights advocates need to look at human rights as a broader, collective agenda rather than dividing and working on them into sections. “GSP Plus has brought all important rights under one umbrella, which is very encouraging.”

A resolution was also passed following the discussion on the floor. The participants agreed to form a committee to pursue the monitoring and advocacy of the rights enshrined in the GSP Plus conventions. They agreed that the civil society has an opportunity to participate in the monitoring of the implementation of the covenants, conventions and treaties associated with the GSP Plus and they can also act as pressure groups to engage the state, the business community and international bodies to contribute to better the human rights situation in the country.

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