Lahore : Following the recent adoption by the United Nations Human Rights Committee of a document raising a multiplicity of concerns about Pakistan’s human rights record, the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) and Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) have today urged the Pakistani authorities to fully engage with the UN human rights body by answering its questions comprehensively.
“It is encouraging to see Pakistan’s increased engagement with United Nations human rights mechanisms in recent years”, said Sam Zarifi, ICJ’s Asia Director. “But it is important that the Government does not stop here and now takes the additional constructive step of answering all the Committee’s questions truthfully and honestly.”
In November 2016, during its 118th session, the Human Rights Committee adopted a document known as a “List of issues” in relation to Pakistan’s compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), in which the Committee asked multiple questions about the country’s human rights record, including:
- Fair trial concerns as a result of the expanded jurisdiction of military courts following the introduction/adoption of the 21st Amendment to the Constitution, including the criteria for and the process of selecting cases to be tried by military courts, the qualifications of judges presiding over those courts and their proceedings;
- Reintroduction of the death penalty and the wide scope of its application, including the mandatory death sentence for “blasphemy”;
- Broad and vaguely defined “blasphemy offences”, their disproportionate use against individuals belonging to religious minorities; the large number of “blasphemy” cases instituted on the basis of false accusations; and the lack of mechanisms to protect judges who hear “blasphemy” cases and those accused of blasphemy from intimidation and threats;
- Rights of Ahmadis, including their “right to profess, practice and propagate” their religion without interference;
- Repatriation of Afghan refugees, including information on the adoption of a draft national refugee law and a comprehensive policy on the voluntary repatriation and management of Afghan nationals;
- Rights of women, including steps taken by the Government to prevent and punish persistent violence (sexual and otherwise) against women, including so-called honour killings;
- Torture and other ill-treatment, extrajudicial killings, and enforced disappearances, including steps taken by the Government to implement the Supreme Court’s judgment in the Muhabbat Shah case, which held military authorities responsible for the enforced disappearance of at least 28 people from a Malakand internment centre.
This is the first time Pakistan’s human rights record is being reviewed by the Human Rights Committee, the treaty body that monitors implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights by its State parties, since Pakistan ratified the Covenant in 2010.
The next step in the review process is for Pakistan to respond to the questions framed in the List of Issues. The Human Rights Committee will undertake a comprehensive review of Pakistan’s compliance with and implementation of the ICCPR and adopt concluding observations in July 2017.
“It is of the utmost importance to Pakistan to derive greater benefit from its engagement with the UN human rights mechanisms by making a sincere effort to answer the concerns of the Committee,” said I. A. Rehman, Secretary General of HRCP.