Human Rights in Pakistan: Progress Amid Challenges

The 42nd Session of the Universal Periodic Review

Review of Pakistan - Fourth Cycle

30th January 2023


By Frizia Rounak / GICJ

Executive Summary 

On the 30th of January 2023, the 42nd session of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of the United Nations took place, during which an Interactive Dialogue was held concerning the fourth cycle of the UPR for Pakistan. The country submitted its report on the 10th of November 2022, incorporating recommendations made by Special Rapporteurs, treaty body experts, civil society organisations, and the Human Rights Council. These reports presented a wide range of reforms and improvements in the human rights situation of Pakistan.

During the interactive dialogue, participating delegations highlighted a number of problems, which Pakistan attempted to address in their responses. The key issues discussed were the rights of women, children, elderly persons, and other minorities; the right to health, education, and poverty elimination, and the ratification of treaties. While Pakistan has shown progress in several spheres of human rights development, including the rights of women and children, the economic and political situation of the country still demands reforms, especially since progress was weakened by the COVID-19 pandemic and climate calamities.

​​Geneva International Center for Justice (GICJ) urges Pakistan to take all essential measures to strengthen the country's human rights condition. We encourage Pakistan to progressively abolish the death penalty and to guarantee the constitutional right of all its citizens. Further, the State should adopt comprehensive and inclusive legislation to uphold, promote, and progress the rights of women, children, older persons, and other marginalised groups.

Background 

The UPR process was established in 2006 through Resolution 60/251 to assess the progress made by nations in fulfilling their legal obligations under international law. Each cycle reviews UN member states, with the current one being the fourth and continuing until 2027. Pakistan has undergone four periodic reviews, the first in May 2008, the second in October 2012, the third in November 2017, and the most recent in January 2023. The Working Group of the UPR, composed of Human Rights Council member states, has the opportunity to evaluate the human rights record, inquire, and suggest improvements.

In accordance with Human Rights Council resolutions 5/1 and 16/21 and based on the results of the comprehensive feedback, Pakistan submitted its country report for the fourth cycle of the UPR in December 2022. They acknowledged their human rights progress within the country, presented challenges faced in the process of human rights development and recognised the suggestions made in previous cycles. The Minister of State for Foreign Affairs of Pakistan, H.E. Ms. Hina Rabbani Khar, also acknowledged the cooperative efforts of the troika consisting of Argentina, Nepal, and Gambia.

Pakistan’s national report was drafted considering the compilation of  UN information and the summary of stakeholders’ information –  both prepared by the OHCHR. At the national level, an inclusive and consultative process involving all national and provincial stakeholders, civil society organisations, and academia was held. 

In the reports prepared by the OHCHR, concerns were raised regarding the country's cooperation with international human rights mechanisms and bodies, the national human rights framework, as well as its counter-terrorism policies and the rights of minorities, political, social, and civil rights. Attention was also given to the rights of vulnerable groups, such as children, women, persons with disabilities, indigenous people, migrants, and displaced persons.

Presentation by Pakistan

H.E. Ms. Hina Rabbani Khar presented Pakistan's report by first welcoming all distinguished delegates. This was followed by an acknowledgement of all the challenges Pakistan has faced in human rights progress including, the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, the global financial crunch, and unprecedented climate calamities which severely affected the lives and livelihoods of millions, squeezed fiscal space and resulted in the erosion of developmental gain in many spheres of human rights. 

However, Ms. Khar also emphasised that Pakistan’s progress in human rights  has still grown since the last UPR cycle, which is evident in their “independent judiciary, robust parliamentary traditions, vibrant civil societies, and free media''. These human rights advancements have been made through institutional, legal, and policy measures. For example, the government has improved human rights institutions, established complaint cells, a reporting mechanism, child protection institutes and a council for senior citizens, and taken steps to empower women's rights, including amending the Protection Against Harassment of Women at Workplace Act.

In the ensuing debate, member states highlighted several human rights issues that must be addressed. 

Ratification of Outstanding Human Rights Treaties

Many member states such as Italy, Japan, and Niger noted that Pakistan is yet to ratify the International Convention for Protection of Persons from Enforced Disappearance. Liechtenstein and Luxembourg also recommended that steps be taken to accede to the Rome Statute in its 2010 version and the Optional Protocol for the Convention Against Torture. As many perpetrators are currently on death row, Italy, Mexico, and Norway urged Pakistan to ratify the 2nd Optional Protocol of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, aimed at abolishing the death penalty and ensuring the right to life. Mauritius asked Pakistan to consider ratifying the UNESCO Convention Against Discrimination in Education. Additionally, Montenegro suggested the ratification of the Optional Protocol to CEDAW to guarantee access to modern and contraceptive methods and decriminalise abortion. As Pakistan receives an influx of migrants from its neighbouring countries, many states including Niger recommended the ratification of the International Convention on the Protection of all Migrant Workers and Members of their Families. To ensure the rights of these workers, the Philippines suggested the ratification of the Domestic Workers Convention. 

Rights of Women, Children, Minorities, and Other Vulnerable Groups

Although Pakistan has taken several steps to ensure the rights of women, its National Commission for Human Rights is still not compliant with the principles relating to the status of national institutions for the promotion and protection of human rights (the Paris Principles). Pakistan was commended by many states, including Lebanon, Lao’s People Republic, and Mali for adopting  of the torture and custodial death acts of 2022. However, many concerns were raised  regarding the rights of women, children, and other vulnerable groups. As such, many states, including Netherlands and Norway urged Pakistan to prevent all forms of discrimination against religious minorities, with particular regard to women, girls, and children. Mexico, along with many other states, recommended that Pakistan adopt all necessary measures to eradicate a forced conversion to Islam of women and girls born into religious minorities and to adopt a comprehensive law to prevent and eliminate all forms of discrimination. 

The delegate for the Philippines added that it was vital that the country take steps to enhance the implementation of laws and policies on the elimination of discrimination against women and girls and on combating gender-based violence, including domestic violence and honour killings. To ensure the rights of children, Israel demanded that Pakistan put an end to the widespread use of state penalty, especially against children and persons with disability and adopt comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation. As the climate calamities of summer 2022 affected many, especially the most vulnerable communities, Malaysia recommended that Pakistan strengthen its efforts to enhance the resilience of the marginalised communities to the impact of climate change, including climate-induced disasters. Liechtenstein, along with other states, suggested adopting comprehensive policies to prevent sexual exploitation and abuse of children, as well as all forms of slavery and trafficking. Overall, Jordan and Lebanon encouraged Pakistan to continue drafting laws to promote and uphold the rights of vulnerable groups, women, children, and older persons.

Right to Health, Education and Elimination of Poverty

Mauritania welcomed Pakistan’s commitment to protecting human rights embodied in the form of efforts to advance human rights and fundamental freedoms of all to meet basic needs, including setting up of social nets for the most vulnerable. Mauritius appreciated Pakistan’s contribution to the voluntary trust fund supporting the welfare of least-developed countries (LDC) and small island developing states at the level of the human rights council. Morocco, along with other states commended Pakistan on setting up the flagship programs to improve human rights in the social field, which proves free, basic health services to all as well as the policy guidelines on minimum standards for quality education in Pakistan. However, many delegates also raised concerns and recommended solutions to increase access to education, healthcare, and eliminate poverty in the country. Lithuania, Malaysia, and Mauritius encouraged Pakistan to continue efforts to increase access to education for all, including girls and in rural areas.  Luxembourg suggested  strengthening the education system especially in rural areas and implementing laws and policies to ensure universal access to education including by stepping up efforts to ensure that children stay in the education system beyond primary level. Kyrgyzstan suggested that Pakistan combat poverty through further implementation of the Benazir Income Support Program with the purpose of evening out consumption, reducing poverty, and empowering women.

Position of Geneva International Center for Justice

Geneva International Center for Justice (GICJ) recognises the hurdles faced by Pakistan, potentially hindering the growth of human rights in the country. Further, we applaud Pakistan for its recent advancements in women's rights, poverty reduction, and healthcare for the most vulnerable. However, we urge Pakistan to ratify the outstanding human rights treaties, fostering development in all spheres of society, abolishing the death penalty, and ensuring just access to proper education, healthcare, and justice for all. We recommend that Pakistan adopts a comprehensive and inclusive legislation to uphold, promote, and progress the rights of women, children, older persons, and other marginalised groups. We also call on the international community to support Pakistan in redevelopment after the unprecedented climate disasters of 2022 and endorse the calls from several countries to fortify human rights through its rebuilding programme. 

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 Pakistan, human rights, minority rights, women’s rights, ratification, climate calamities

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