The Human Rights Council adopted outcome document of the third Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Pakistan on 16 March 2018 during its 37th session. Earlier in November 2017, the review of Pakistan was done in Geneva by the working group on the Universal Periodic Review. The outcome document carries 289 recommendations made by various States during the review. Pakistan accepted 168, noted 117, and rejected four recommendations (all made by India) on the grounds that they were politically motivated.

A few of these recommendations extended by India principally made sense, which included providing space to political dissent and criticism in Pakistan and fulfilling international obligations under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, including consular access for foreign nationals without discrimination. However, these were out rightly rejected by Pakistan due to ongoing Kulbhushan Jadhav case and its apprehensions on alleged Indian involvement in political dissent in Sindh and Baluchistan.

The outcome document suggests that Pakistan has accepted some of the most important recommendations, such as criminalising enforced disappearances, working on raising the legal marriage age to18 years and prosecuting those involved against religious minorities including Ahmadis.

However, what remains a concern is that Pakistan has just noted rather than fully accepting some of the very significant recommendations which should have been otherwise accepted by it given the existing human rights scenario in the country and global political settings.

The European Union (EU) has persistently been demanding from Pakistan for the abolition of the death penalty at various for a, including during GSP+ review held recently. In addition to the Asia Bibi case and the protection of religious minorities, the issue which remains most pressed by EU and holds more potential to damage GSP+ course in future stands death penalty. Thus, the objective realities demanded that Pakistan should have accepted the recommendation to abolish the death penalty; or at least it must have accepted proposal to restore the moratorium on death penalty.

Enforced disappearances constitute one of the serious human rights issues in Pakistan which have triggered local as well global hue and cry. The Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances has not been able to completely address the issue of enforced disappearances in the face of its constrained mandate and operation. Keeping this view, it can beargued that Pakistan should have accepted recommendation on ratifying the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance. Though such ratification might not resolve the issue of enforced disappearances in Pakistan, it would develop international obligations on the State and would provide a way to the victims to frame their arguments and raise their cases accordingly in light of the Convention.

Custodial torture also remains a pressing human rights issue in Pakistan. Efforts to criminalise custodial torture has not been successful in the country so far. The bill on Torture, Custodial Deaths and Custodial Rape tabled by Senator Farhatullah Babar and passed by Senate could not be adopted by the National Assembly, and subsequently lapsed. The existing legal framework on custodial torture grounded in Penal Code is also weak. In this backdrop, the recommendation made by Poland and many other States to Pakistan to ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture to establish national preventive mechanism accordingly merited seriousness. However, Pakistan just noted and did not completely support it. The ratification of the said convention could create pressing obligations on Pakistan to prevent and prosecute cases of custodial torture institutionally. Most importantly, it could provide space for the regular visits to the detention places to be undertaken by independent international and national bodies.

On protection of human rights defenders, Canada recommended Pakistan to bring to justice anyone who threatens, abducts or attacks human rights defenders, journalists, bloggers or others who work to promote democracy. Similarly, Austria recommended introducing strong legislation prohibiting attacks against journalists, to effectively investigate such acts and to prosecute the perpetrators. Sadly, Pakistan just noted such essential recommendations.

Some other recommendations were made around optional protocols to various core human rights treaties such as International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Convention against Torture, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and Convention on the Rights of the Child. Such protocols are meant to provide individual complaint procedures in United Nations in case victims of human rights violations exhaust all the existing domestic remedies. I have already written on this subject in this space that our national level remedial mechanisms are too weak to provide complete justice and remedies to the victims of human rights violations especially of those which occur at the hands of State institutions. Thus, Pakistan should have accepted the recommendations to ratify these optional protocols so that victims could be provided red ressal mechanisms at international level.

Some of the States recommended Pakistan to issue a standing invitation to all special procedures of the Human Rights Council. By extending a standing invitation, States announce that they would always accept requests to visit from all special procedures. So far, 118 member states and one non-member observer state have already extended a standing invitation to special thematic procedures. Without standing invitation, special procedures send visit request to the states,and it remains at the discretion of those states to either accept or deny such requests. Pakistan being a member of Human Rights Council should have accepted such recommendation to show openness, commitment with and respect for human rights. Our neighbouring countries such as India, Afghanistan and Maldives have already sent such standing invitation to the special procedures.

To sum up, Pakistan should chalk out a plan to implement not only those recommendations which have won its support but also those to a possible extent which have been noted by it so that world might be given impression that it respects and honours human rights and the international community.
Article by MHRD/APMA Alumnus Jamil Junejo, originally published in the Daily Times on 24 March 2018. 

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