South Asians for Human Rights

Promoting Democracy, Upholding Human Rights

Secretary General Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, I. A. Rehman

By Waqar Gillani

The News on Sunday: How do you see Pakistan’s performance on implementing international treaties on human rights?

I.A. Rehman: Pakistan has been quite tardy in signing international instruments. But since 2010 Pakistan has become a party to core international human rights instruments. These instruments cannot be implemented unless we have domestic legislation. Laws have to be made to carry out the responsibilities we have assumed. That process has not started yet. Nothing has been implemented in true sprit. They are still working on framing the laws. For instance, the worst form of child labour is addressed by some laws — like the Juvenile Justice System Ordinance is covered under CRC.

And laws against sexual harassment, domestic violence can be attributed to the CEDAW but, by and large, the task of implementation has not been normally carried out. And the issue is some of the important conventions have Protocols. There are two Protocols to International Covenant on Civil and Political rights and unless we sign them Pakistan cannot take its complaints to the UN.

There is optional protocol number one on civil and political rights that provides a mechanism for indigenous grievances against the state through the UN machinery but we have not signed it. Similarly there are two protocols on CRC. We have signed one but not ratified. Actually Pakistan’s response to the international treaties is very notional and very minimal. Then there are gaps also. For example, our constitution says slavery is prohibited and should be abolished but there was no law and slavery-like conditions prevailed till the law came in 1992.

TNS: Do we lack the political will or is this not a priority?

IAR: It has not enjoyed priority in the eyes of the government. The fact is that Pakistan Peoples Party government is said to be more sensitive to these issues than others but even this government apart from ratifying these conventions has not taken concrete steps.

Secondly, there is a very strong conservative opinion in Pakistan and the whole question of human rights has become controversial. The purpose of opposition is not to enforce rights but to block the enforcement of international human rights.

Also, there is an escape window provided by the UN itself. The UN also realises that all countries could not implement all treaties so they gave them the options that they introduce the rights subject to availability of the resources. So our constitution makers have also divided rights. Some of the rights fall under the chapter of fundamental rights; other rights have been mentioned in the chapters of Principles of Policy. Right to health is not recognised. Children’s right to get education is recognised now under the 18th Amendment.

So all these social and economical rights are in the Principles of Policy, which are not enforced. Right means you can go to the court and ask for it. Now, the state should have revised this scheme. The government cannot say forever that we don’t have resources to educate the children, to give social security or housing.

TNS: What are some of the major reasons in not implementing these commitments?

IAR: There are three excuses. One, they are afraid of the conservative opinion. For instance our fundamental rights chapter does not recognise the right to change religion. They are afraid of the conservative opinion. Similar is the case with the right of girls’ own choice to marry. Of course, it is allowed but not implemented because they are afraid of conservative opinion.

Second factor is that they claim that they don’t have resources.

Thirdly, they don’t revise their rights. New rights are being created and recognised but our fundamental rights chapter was adopted in 1950 and has not been changed substantially. These three factors combine to strengthen the lack of will of the government to implement them.

TNS: Do you think lack of resources is indeed a big issue for implementation and how can we pool in the resources?

IAR: No doubt huge resources are required. There are two views. The way the government is managing and running its resources it is not easy. Once you have allocated your resources for a particular head, it will become a custom of withdrawing from it. If they withdraw money from defence, they can make their plan for human rights resources. It’s all a matter of planning.

TNS: How do you respond to claims of implementing international treaties on labour issues?

IAR: The government does not have the will or power to pressurise the employers to give labourers a relief. The colonial government had a system of tripartite consultations where the employer and employees sit together and the government plays a referee’s role. Now that tripartite consultation is not held regularly. A tripartite mechanism of workers, employers and the government used for resolution of labour disputes has not found a place in the Punjab law. It is a matter of concern that a proposal to that effect by workers and employers prior to the enactment of this law has been ignored. Workers’ councils that had representation both from workers and from employers have also been abolished. Both mechanisms must be restored to give the workers and employers sufficient say in resolving work-related disputes.

The meeting demanded that all matters concerning labour must be decided after due consultation with all stakeholders as laid down in ILO Convention 144. Even labour polices are not announced regularly. HRCP has always deplored the lack of regard for labour rights and international conventions while adopting new labour laws following the transfer of the subject to the provinces under the 18th Amendment. No new legislation has been done. The workers in major public sector enterprises are not consulted before crucial decisions that had a bearing on the terms and existence of their employment and viability of the organisations that employed them. The National Industrial Relations Commission (NIRC) had chosen to curtail its tenure.

There is an urgent need to clarify the position of All Pakistan Trade Unions registered before the 18th Amendment came into force. Law and equity demand that such bodies should be allowed to continue. For example, the new Punjab labour law reduces the number of outsiders in a union’s executive from 25 per cent to 20 per cent. This is contrary to the workers’ right to derive strength from the society wherever a union lacks expertise.

TNS: Do you see these rights and treaties implemented in the future?

IAR: The chapter of human rights is not a matter of academic interest only. If we grant people their rights their lives will change. Their ability to work will change. There will be a healthier and new and better society than we have now. Human rights are needed for development, peace and self-realisation of our people.

Some small steps here, some small steps there. It will take a long time. You cannot withhold and deny people their rights forever but the process will be very very slow, half-hearted and very partial.

We need peoples’ movement to realize this thing. Peoples’ movements are not so strong. People are making protests and demonstrating for water and power supply but that too is on a very narrow scale. I have not seen anybody making protests and demands for the overall rights. Government can also organise people by abolition of feudal system and also to give people their right to work and change their environment so that they begin to see life in a different way.

The HRCP has repeatedly called upon the government to take all steps, including the introduction of new legislation, in order to secure implementation of all human rights instruments it has ratified, especially the most recently ratified Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention against Torture.

We have also called upon the government to withdraw all reservations made to the various human rights instruments and to also ratify the optional protocols to the ICCPR, CAT, CEDAW, and CRC. The human rights bodies also demand the government to set up a special task force to draw up proposals for bringing domestic law in harmony with Pakistan’s obligations under international human rights treaties. All reports to the UN bodies must be drafted in consultation with civil society organisations and comments by the UN committees on reports submitted by Pakistan must be made public. And the government should submit a report to parliament every year on actions taken to ensure enforcement of human rights standards.

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Source: The News – 27.03.2011