The ICJ and Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) urge the Pakistani authorities to fully engage with the UN human rights body by answering its questions comprehensively.
The call follows the recent adoption by the United Nations Human Rights Committee of a document raising a multiplicity of concerns about Pakistan’s human rights record.
“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,” he added.
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 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.
Pakistan ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) in June 2010. Following ratification/accession, every state party to the ICCPR is required to submit an initial “state report” containing information on the implementation of each provision of the treaty.
Pakistan submitted its initial state report to the Human Rights Committee in October 2015.
In light of the information provided in the State report, as well as information received from civil society, the Human Rights Committee then prepares a List of Issues containing particular issues of concern to the Committee, and asking whatever questions it sees fit in light of those concerns.
The answers provided by the State party to those questions, as well as other information submitted by civil society and others form the basis of the “review” of the State’s compliance with the treaty.
The State is not obligated to reply to the List of Issues in advance of the review session, but in practice most do.
The State replies are presented to the Committee at the beginning of the review and are the starting point for the interactive dialogue between the Committee and the State under review.
During the review, the Committee meets with State representatives who present answers to the List of Issues and respond to the Committee’s questions.
At the end of the session, the Committee adopts Concluding Observations, which highlight the Committee’s concerns and make recommendations to the State on improving the implementation of the ICCPR.
Pakistan’s ICCPR review is scheduled to take place in July 2017.