PAKISTAN has ratified seven out of the nine core UN human rights (HR) treaties. All these instruments require state parties to submit initial and subsequently periodic reports to treaty committees to determine their compliance with and implementation of HR commitments. In total, Pakistan has signed 27 HR treaties in order to maintain its GSP Plus status with the European Union. An alternate process is the Universal Periodic Review (UPR), under which the UN quadrennially evaluates the human rights performance of individual states — Pakistan’s next UPR is in 2017.
Despite ratifying these human rights treaties however, it has frequently failed to file country reports required under these instruments. When reports have been submitted, they are often late by years. For instance, the treaty report for the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which Pakistan ratified in 2008, was submitted seven years late in October 2015.
Further, the reports submitted by Pakistan have never been up to the mark in their scope and coverage. Often contradictory and muddled, they lack credible, up-to-date information, are poorly drafted, and are often an amalgamation of laws produced verbatim. At times, laws are cited which no longer exist or which have been extensively amended. As required, information on complaints, reparations, and compensation is not sufficiently provided. Neither are changes in legislation or the development of new case law sufficiently examined. It is thus apparent to anyone who reads these reports that the required levels of fact-finding and analysis are not taking place.
At the same time, many national NGOs shame Pakistan when state reporting is under way at the UN Secretariat when they present what are called shadow reports, which are well–prepared and detailed accounts offering scathing criticism of the government’s HR record.
These reports outline the state’s failures and frequently insinuate its lack of intent to achieve HR targets and goals. Because they are often prepared with the involvement of international NGOs, the narrative is framed in a way that devalues sociocultural and economic rights, local sensitivities and non-Western cultural norms. This forces the Pakistani government to become defensive and retaliatory and often blankly deny domestic violations of human rights. As a result of this confrontational environment, Pakistan gives little consideration to UN mechanisms on the promotion of human rights in the country.
The responsibility to prepare UN country reports on human rights lies with the Ministry of Law, Justice and Human Rights (MoLJH). The ministry’s human rights wing is currently understaffed. Moreover, the staff often constitutes OMG, DMG, or police officers who have no real expertise in human rights legal frameworks. A lack of permanent staff also precludes the development of any expertise in the area.
The ministry contracts out the preparation of the reports to outside consultants whose selection process is not transparent, nor are they subjected to any level of quality control. Interestingly, many international NGOs criticising the government for non-compliance at the UN often fund and collaborate with local NGOs who are assisting the government in drafting country reports or collaborating with the consultant tasked with preparing these reports.
Drafted reports at the MoLJH then make their way to the other relevant ministries for review and comments. This process is superficial at best: these reports often land on the desk of junior bureaucrats who have little ability or capacity to provide substantive input. The report is finally forwarded by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to the permanent UN mission in Geneva for submission before the UN.
Capacity-building is thus the primary vehicle through which Pakistan can achieve meaningful progress vis-à-vis HR reporting. Informed and accurate reporting will greatly assist the state in orienting itself relative to where it stands when it comes to the progressive implementation of international HR standards.
It is, therefore, imperative that a separate HR research and reporting unit be established in the MoLJH as well as at the foreign affairs ministry. These units should, in turn, collaborate and engage with national experts of both international human rights and international humanitarian law, as well as with recognised research and policy centres and think tanks.
If paid consultants are absolutely required, their selection process should be advertised and transparent and their work reviewed and monitored. Lastly, it is essential that treaty implementation cells be functional and effective at the provincial level for the purposes of keeping an up-to-date district-wise HR record. This is critical as, following the 18th Amendment, the provincial governments exercise significant control over domestic implementation of human rights standards. In this way, with the active assistance of the local and provincial governments, the federal government will be able to categorise human rights records, which can easily be aggregated in whichever form is required for treaty reporting.
This article has been previously published in The Dawn.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of any organization with which he might be associated.