PAKISTAN: UPR report lacks objective realism and denies the reality concerning human rights

For the United Nations Universal Periodic Review (UPR) on Pakistan, the country presented a four-year working report of how the government improved the state of human rights in Pakistan. Ms. Hina Rabbani Khar, the foreign minister leading the Pakistan delegation, presented the report to the UN.

The UPR is a process in which the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) reviews a country on the basis of that country’s voluntary pledge, made to the HRC. Pakistan in 2008, when it was first elected to the HRC, had pledged that it would follow its commitments under international human rights law. Pakistan was elected from 13 nominations from Asia. The pledge and the treaty obligations, by international law, estops Pakistan from failing to fulfil the promises that it has made to the HRC as well as to the international community, and above all to the people of Pakistan.

The Pakistan delegation covered the 12 areas where it claimed that the government had achieved progress during the four years which is summarised by the UN OHCHR in its website, as follows:

  • Pakistan had taken several steps to restore the democratic nature of state institutions, including but not limited to the release of political prisoners and the lifting of media restrictions;
  • The period between 2008 and 2012 had proved challenging for Pakistan given, among other things, terrorism and natural calamities; despite these challenges, Pakistan remained steadfast in its commitment to promote and protect human rights;
  • A number of laws were passed by the Parliament to strengthen human rights, including legislation to create a National Commission for Human Rights in May 2012 in compliance with the Paris Principles, and the promulgation of more than half a dozen laws for the promotion and protection of women’s rights and to prevent violence against women;
  • Pakistan ratified the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT) in June 2010 and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the Optional Protocol of the Child Rights Convention (CRC) concerning the sale of children in August 2011;
  • The High Commissioner for Human Rights visited Pakistan in June 2012 that provided an opportunity for the High Commissioner to observe first-hand wide-ranging measures taken by Pakistan in the promotion and protection of human rights;
  • That the country has made extraordinary efforts and sacrifices to eradicate the scourge of terrorism and to build a peaceful and stable region; and highlighting the reaction the world witnessed to the heinous attack on young Ms. Malala Yousafzai cited as an example;
  • Concerning minorities, seats have been reserved for minorities in the National Assembly, the Senate and the Provincial Assemblies;
  • In 2008, the Right to Information was guaranteed by the Constitution as a fundamental right;
  • Pakistan is host to one of the world’s largest refugee populations, with more than three million refugees for more than 30 years; the massive floods and rains of 2010 and 2011 caused dislocation of 2.6 million people; the authorities have fully integrated human rights and gender sensitive training in their activities;
  • The special attention given by the government to the political, social and economic emancipation of women and protection of the rights of other vulnerable groups including children and minorities; and the laws passed in that regard;
  • In response to questions posed by states, the delegation noted that Pakistan has been undertaking numerous measures to promote inter-faith harmony; and, in terms of blasphemy, between 2007 and 2010, 253 individuals were convicted under the Blasphemy Law of which 244 were Muslim, which dispelled the notion that the law was designed to target non-Muslims;
  • Responding to other questions, Ms. Rabbani Khar said that there is a national commission on enforced disappearances, legislation to protect women, children and minorities, including legislation on combating attacks against women, and a constitutional right allowing for free, universal and primary education.

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) welcomes the summary by the UN Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights (OHCHR). However the AHRC has serious concerns about the speech made by Ms. Rabbani Khar, who failed to state, when the government will recalibrate domestic laws to meet international human rights standards, as required by the treaty obligations binding Pakistan.

The AHRC is of the opinion that the government’s presentation was a poor attempt to disguise the actual situation of human rights in the country. The issues related to wide spread corruption; the impunity given to the supra constitutional forces; the absence of the rule of law; killings of the persons from different Muslim minorities sects; the continuous persecution of the Ahmadis; increasing incidents of forced conversion to Islam and forced marriages – particularly sponsored by the members of the parliament belonging to ruling party; the reasons for the exodus of the Hindus to neighbouring India and the lack of government protection for the members of these communities; persecution of religious minorities; holding of Jirgas (an illegal practice of arbitrary dispute settlement by the powerful groups); honour killings; trafficking of women and children; widespread torture in custody; disappearances after arrests; extrajudicial executions by the police and by the armed forces; the ongoing assassinations and harassment of journalists; conversion of Sindhis – the indigenous people of Sindh province into an ethnic minority; unequal water distribution among the different provinces; poor industrial working conditions including minimal health guarantees; inadequate housing and educational facilities; and bad governance and corruption in the judicial system were intentionally left out by Ms. Rabbani Khar in her report as if the minister does not believe that these are rights violations.

The minister tried hiding behind terrorism, posing it as an excuse to the government’s failures and instead highlighted the controversial and inexcusable drone attacks and religious extremism. In fact, what Pakistan faces today in the form of religious extremism and other forms of uncontrolled violence committed against the people of Pakistan, is the result of a failed justice framework in that country. Contrary to the minister’s speech, seeking and highlighting excuses for the government’s failures, it is the failure of the government for the past six decades in establishing and nurturing a stable rule of law framework is what that has mould Pakistan into what it is today. Unless drastic and time bound efforts are not taken, the country will continue its rapid downward spiral into destruction.

The minister said “… Pakistan has now ratified seven out of nine core international human rights treaties. Joining these international human rights instruments demonstrates Pakistan’s commitment to international human rights standards. We are now focused on implementing these instruments at the national level. An inter-ministerial process has been set up to coordinate implementation and to prepare reports for the treaty bodies.”

While the government has passed legislation on the women’s issues and for their protection, it has miserably failed to enforce any of these legislations. Cases reported by the AHRC globally from Pakistan illustrate that women and children continue to be treated as beasts of burden.

The government has ratified the ICCPR, CAT, ICESCR, Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and the CRC. However, the country is yet to have legislations that would let these international human rights commitments, as justiciable rights with remedies in Pakistan.

Due to the absence of a functioning criminal justice framework and weak prosecution, torture in custody and extrajudicial executions have increased rapidly in comparison with previous years. Every police station has its own private torture centres besides their lock ups. Every cantonment area of the armed forces runs at least one torture centre and the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) offices have their ‘safe houses’. The Air Force and Navy also operates their torture cells. The AHRC has documented numerous cases in which these centres are positively identified, and the information sent to the authorities. But no actions followed to end these illegal and inhuman torture cells.

The government has failed to make torture a criminal offence though it has ratified the CAT in June. The delay in legislation shows the lack of honesty on the part of the government to deal with such a serious issue. The AHRC has submitted a Draft Bill on the Criminalisation of Torture and Custodial Death after undertaking consultations with the government, parliamentarians and the civil society. The government has shown no willingness to adopt the legislation.

The government has also failed to legislate to make enforced disappearances a crime. The police and armed forces use enforced disappearance as an instrument of terror. Due to this failure of the government, extrajudicial executions and enforced disappearances have increased throughout the four-year period under the UPR.

The minister further said that, “… in May 2012, Pakistan enacted a new law creating an independent National Commission for Human Rights in accordance with Paris Principles. NCHR will monitor the general human rights situation in the country; inquire into complaints of human rights violations; visit places of detention; review laws and recommend new legislation; and develop national plan of action for promotion and protection of human rights. The Commission will have the authority to summon witnesses and seek production of documents.”

While it is appreciated that the NCHR has been created in accordance with the Paris Principles the claims by the government that the NCHR will visit detention centres and monitor the human rights situation and that it will be independent and can summon and try officers of the armed forces is to be viewed with extreme suspicion in the absence of a single successful prosecution. In fact, the government has turned a blind eye time and time again to the arrogance of the police and armed forces in their blatant refusal to comply with the orders of the courts. Despite the fact that the higher courts are independent, the officers of these institutions regularly fail to attend hearings. In view of this it is yet to be seen as to how the NCHR will improve the human rights situation in the country without having any judicial power. This Commission is likely to prove a futile exercise and place more burdens on the exchequer.

The minister also claimed that “… in the past ten years, terrorism and extremism have endangered national security and our social fabric and violated the human rights of our citizens … Pakistan has made extraordinary efforts and sacrifices to eradicate the scourge of terrorism and build a peaceful and stable region.

It cannot be denied that Pakistan has suffered the scourge of terrorism and this may be borne out from the attacks on hospitals, schools, shrines, mosques and other places of worship. This has created an environment of intimidation for law enforcements officials, members of the judiciary, the media and the civil society. However, it is a fact that despite the proper identification of the culprits and their illegal parties, they continue to roam free and the government and its law enforcement agencies turn a blind eye to their existence. Understandably it must be a daunting task for the government, since striking fear upon the poor and the underprivileged in the means with which most politicians in Pakistan retain power. In that some of the activities of the political leadership in Pakistan is synonymous with terror activities.

To highlight the point, the minister said, “to date we have lost nearly seven thousand Pakistani soldiers and policemen, and over 40,000 people in total. The total cost of this struggle to Pakistan’s economy over the last decade has been nearly 70 billion [US] dollars…”

Though the minister brought up the problems of terrorism, the minister said nothing about what the government has done to combat it. This is due to the appeasement policy followed in Islamabad. There have been numerous instances where leaders and spokesmen from banned organisations, some of them internationally wanted men, are allowed to make hate speeches in the public in full view of the authorities. These criminal elements collect public donations, but nothing is done to arrest them for fear of upsetting the extremists. Half-hearted attempts by the government has self-censored its capacity to deal with extremists. This has resulted in increase in extremist activities than the number of actions claimed by the government that it has taken against extremist groups. It was despicable to hear the minister, who failed to acknowledge the government’s responsibility to end extremist violence in Pakistan.

The government has arrested thousands of alleged extremists over the past four years but there have been no successful prosecutions due to the lack of proper witness protection and half-hearted attempts by the prosecutors to obtain a conviction. This has only led to the extremists utilising the weaknesses of the law to their own benefit. It would appear that the extremists know the system much better than the government and use it to their advantage.

The lack of proper witness protection system allows the extremists to coerce and intimidate, not only the witnesses, but also the judges. This has led to some judges forced to flee the country. Some unfortunate judges were murdered in Pakistan.

The minister also cited the case of Ms. Malala Yousafzai to push on with the government’s sorry story. The minister said, ” …one clear indicator of Pakistan’s clarity of purpose in fighting the scourge of terrorism is the reaction the world witnessed to the heinous attack on young Malala Yousafzai … Malala is one of the nearly 70 million Pakistani children of school-going age that will shape the destiny of Pakistan in years to come. She was targeted for assassination because of her extraordinary courage and resolve as a young activist for education.”

It is unfortunate that the minister took advantage of this incident to excuse the government of its responsibilities. The minister claimed that the government of Pakistan is strong in its resolve to combat terrorism and the attack on Malala in particular. Anyone examining the situation could realise that the reaction of the people in Malala’s support came from within and was the result of a feeling of deep disgust at this cowardly act. The peoples’ reaction had nothing whatsoever to do with what the government did.

The minister probably made one of the few accurate statements when she said, ” … instead, what Pakistanis demonstrated in the days following the attack on Malala was that our commitment to our daughters and sisters is unflinching, and stronger every day.”

It was indeed, the ‘Pakistanis’ that demonstrated that commitment and sadly, not the government. Using the attempted assassination of a young girl to make tall claims on behalf of the government only places the minister and the government that the minister represented at the UNHRC at a very low par.

After Malala, it was the minister’s turn to find the next excuse, which the minister did at the expense of the US. The minister said, “drone strikes and resulting civilian casualties on our territory undermine [sic] our battle for hearts and minds. Our position is very clear. Drone attacks are counter-productive, against international law and a violation of our sovereignty. Loss of precious human lives cannot be simply dismissed as “collateral damage”.”

The minister used drone attacks to criticise foreign governments for invading the sovereignty of the land. However, what the minister did not admit is the fact that it is the government of Pakistan that went to bed with these foreign governments.

The reason why these drone attack are continuing is because of Pakistan’s commitment and promises to combat terrorism on its own soil have not been kept. The attack on Bin Laden’s hideout in Pakistan is proof to the fact that the government turned a blind eye to his existence, which was only 80 kilometres from the capital, Islamabad.

There can be no denial that the drone attacks cause collateral damage and innocent lives are lost. But this cannot excuse the government’s incapability of dealing with the terrorists. Instead, they are covertly harbouring the terrorists, selecting those groups that claim to be ‘Pakistanis’. This is despite the fact that these groups are assassinating police officers soldiers and citizens indiscriminately. In many cases the victims are slaughtered and beheaded like animals and their bodies left hanging in public to intimidate anyone who might stand against them.

In today’s world figures are always widely used to describe a situation and the fact is that while several hundred people, terrorists and civilians have been killed in the drone attacks over 40,000 innocent lives have been lost due to the bomb blasts and bloody attacks by the terrorists. There are many foreign terrorists hiding in the country with the connivance of the authorities and these people are causing just as much mayhem as the drone attacks. The question that must be then asked is as to who is violating the sovereignty of Pakistan, the foreign governments responsible for the drone attacks or the Pakistani authorities themselves who are harbouring foreign terrorists?

Instead of blaming others for the drone attacks the government must ask itself why they are continuing. The government must first introspect as to who is responsible for the terrible loss of human lives in Pakistan?

Commenting on minorities the minister said, “… minorities are an integral part of Pakistani society and have an invaluable role in the development, peace and prosperity of my country. The Constitution of Pakistan guarantees equal rights and status to all citizens, irrespective of religion, gender, race, caste, colour or creed.”

This comment by the minister is nothing less than an insult to the people of Pakistan where religious minorities are harassed and killed daily. The AHRC has reported consistently on the targeted attacks on the Shiites, which take place in broad daylight on public roads in the presence of persons in military uniform. To date, every year, around 200 Shiites are killed in this manner and the groups that claim responsibility for these killings move freely and even have offices in the major cities. It has already been mentioned above that despite the fact that these organisations and banned and many of the members wanted internationally and locally, no attempts are made by the government to shut them down.

Despite what the Constitution of Pakistan guarantees about freedom of religion no person from the minority groups are protected. The Ahmadis are one of the largest minority groups in the country and the members of this community are outstanding citizens that contribute to the welfare and wellbeing of the community. However, they are frequently attacked for their beliefs. Their places of worship are attacked and they are not allowed to carryout their religious observances. They are a disenfranchised people. They are even not allowed to bury their dead in public graveyards.

The Christian and Hindu population are also contributing members of society that decided to remain with Pakistan at the time of the creation of the country. The religious fanatics who rape and abuse them with impunity consider the women of these communities as free game. The AHRC has reported extensively on the harassment and forced marriage and conversions of both Christian and Hindu women to Islam. Even when the victims are brought before the courts, the judges rule in favour of the abductors or kidnappers who are always supported by their religious leaders. The discrimination on the basis of religion can be witnessed by the massive migration of the Hindu population outside Pakistan.

On other fundamental freedoms the minister said, “… Pakistan attaches importance to the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression. This is a hard fought right for which many sacrifices by Pakistanis have been made. Following the restoration of democracy in 2008 all curbs against the media were lifted. The “Right to Information” is now guaranteed by the Constitution as a fundamental right after the 18th amendment.”

The minister completely ignored the fact that every year dozens of journalist are arrested, tortured and killed in the country. In 2011, 16 journalists were killed while they were engaged in work. Furthermore, as Pakistan has remained a national security state it is difficult to imagination how the “Right to Information” is now guaranteed. In addition there is also the Official Secrets Act, 1923 prevailing, with which anyone could be declared an enemy of the state. This ensures that the media never reports adversely on military operations or killings by military officers as these entities are given a ‘sacred’ status. Freedom of expression is further narrowed by the banning of YouTube and many international websites on the pretext of blasphemy and obscenity.

The Blasphemy Laws: Above all there are the blasphemy laws that even control what students can write in their examination papers. The religious affiliations of the ordinary people are judged and controlled by the operation of this law. The law authorises any person to accuse someone of blasphemy for any petty reason that might suit him or her.

The minister totally ignored the consequences of the blasphemy law and made no mention about the deaths caused by religious extremists due to the misuse of this law. Since 2008 almost all the member states of the UN HRC have been requesting Pakistan to repeal this law. It is interesting that despite this, the minister failed to speak about this law. Is this an attempt to appease the religious power centres in Pakistan, so as to ensure success in the coming elections?

The government of Pakistan must be aware that the blasphemy law will remain a tremendous barrier to the promotion of democracy in the country.

Speaking about women, the minister said, ” … special attention is being given by the Government to the political, social and economic emancipation of women and protection of the rights of other vulnerable groups including children and minorities.”

Recent reports on the use of children to collect the waste and offal of animals sacrificed during the Eid celebrations do not bear this out. Child labour is a very common practice and it is estimated that as many as 20 million children are engaged in manual labour in Pakistan. This is particularly common in the rural areas where children are used as bonded labour to pay off their parents’ debts. Also in the rural areas over 70 percent of the children are denied education and health care.

Often the children in the informal sectors such as brick kilns and engineering sectors are not paid money, but their wages given as food, once a day. There are reports that over two million children have gone missing and are feared to have been trafficked. There is also the question of children being used in the sex industry. Neither of these points have been examined by the government or responsibly dealt with in the minister’s report.

And, as stated earlier the forced marriages and conversion of women from the religious minorities is further evidence of the government’s failure in this area. The government can make tall claims of the legislation they have passed for the protection of women and children. But the dreadful facts that are readily available prove the contrary. Legislation without implementation or the political will to improve the lives of people is useless.

Another area, which the government has failed to act upon, is the Jirgas that are held illegally and are used to humiliate, punish and control women. No action is taken when these councils declare a couple karo-kari that leads to honour killings. Likewise, the government does nothing to prevent the exchange of minor girls as compensation so settle family feuds. It is evident that government ministers and politicians are heavily involved in the running of Jirgas and have a vested interest in allowing them to continue. This goes a long way to explain as to why the Bill against domestic violence has been pending in parliament since 2009.

Death sentences: Since 2008 the member states at the UNHRC have been demanding that Pakistan should have a moratorium on death sentence. While it is noted that there have been no executions in Pakistan for four years, more than 8,000 convicts continue in the death row. It is noted that the Muslim political parties are exerting pressure upon the government not to remove the death sentence from the statue books. The government is conscious of the fact that it requires their support in the forthcoming elections. The international community expects the government to remove the death sentence immediately and respect the right to life.

Some form of commitment by the minister on this issue was expected, but sadly not forthcoming.

Balochistan: Despite the fact that the situation in Balochistan remains grave, minister tried to camouflage it by not mentioning it at all. Thousands of people are missing after arrest and human rights abuses continue unabated. The military and the Frontier Corps are given free rein to control the law and order situation in the region and extrajudicial executions and enforced disappearances are commonplace. A new phase of the elimination of the evidence was introduced by the extrajudicial executions of disappeared persons. The people are being denied of their basic rights of handling their own affairs. Military check posts are a common sight and even the educational institutions are not spared.

Since July, 2010 more than 400 bodies of missing persons have been found in Balochistan. To date around 200 women are also missing. The nationalist groups claim that more than 100 children are being illegally detained by the military. Interestingly the cabinet members from the area all live in Islamabad and only visit the province rarely. The government has constituted two commissions to investigate the causes behind the extrajudicial executions and enforced disappearances in Balochistan. One commission that was assigned to complete its report within three months has still not been presented it. Another commission was formed and it was also taken well over an year but failed to conclude its investigations.


The report of the foreign minister was disappointing at the very least. Member states have made their recommendations that military operations should be halted in Balochistan and the government should ensure that laws are fully implemented to investigate and prosecute those responsible for torture, extrajudicial executions and enforced disappearances. Those found accountable for human rights abuses must be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law and the impunity offered to the offenders should be withdrawn immediately. Amongst other recommendations was that adequate resources must be provided to the National Commission on Human Rights to enable it to perform its duties.

An immediate moratorium must be declared on death penalty and equal political participation must be ensured and the reservations placed by Pakistan on Articles 3 and 25 of the ICCPR must be withdrawn. The blasphemy laws must be abolished and legislation must be enacted ensuring freedom of religion and belief for all religious groups. The government must introduce and enforce strong legislations prohibiting attacks on journalists and effectively investigate such attacks and prosecute those responsible. Effective measures must be taken to prevent forced conversion to Islam and forced or early marriage. The government must start a national dialogue with the aim of enacting a national internally displaced persons policy consistent with the UN Guiding Principles on internal displacement.

And finally, there must be an immediate and adequate justice reforms initiated in Pakistan, without which any rights, no matter whether they flow from the constitutional guarantees or from international human rights law or from both will be impossible to be realised in Pakistan.