Event ReportsPublished on May 01, 2009
Pakistan's record in fulfilling its international commitments to eliminate all forms of racial discrimination came under strong criticism when its periodic report on implementation of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination came up for examination
UN committee pulls up Pakistan for racial discrimination

Pakistan’s record in fulfilling its international commitments to eliminate all forms of racial discrimination came under strong criticism when its periodic report on implementation of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination came up for examination on February19 and 20, 2009 before the 18-member committee of independent experts (CERD) which reviews such reports which each State Party is required to submit periodically under the Convention.

Pakistan’s Report was almost 10 years overdue and this was adversely noted by the Committee. The Report contained an exhaustive enumeration of the constitutional provisions, legislation and administrative measures aimed at establishing equality between all Pakistani citizens and the institutional framework for the protection of human rights, and special measures put in place for members of minority groups, including reserved seats in the federal and provincial legislatures. But the big gap between law and practice, and the severely disadvantaged position of minority communities women and non–Punjabi ethnic groups was brought out in the extensive documentation presented by several NGOs, including Minority Rights Group, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, as well as a submission on caste-based discrimination in Pakistan from the International Dalit Solidarity Network.

There was lively and aggressive questioning of the Pakistani report by Committee members. The taking over of the administration of law and justice under Sharia norms by the Taliban in Swat, which was then hitting the headlines, exercised several Committee members.  They wondered how the Government of Pakistan could take responsibility for discharging its obligations under various international conventions in Swat in this situation. This apparently took the Pakistan delegation by surprise. Eventually, however, it was decided not to include this aspect of Swat in the CERD Recommendations on technical grounds, since the International Convention on Elimination of Racial Discrimination does not explicitly cover discrimination on grounds of religion. This did not, however, prevent CERD from expressing concern in its comments and recommendations about the similar situation in FATA and NWFP, in parts of which even the secular writ of the Government does not run. CERD urged Pakistan to ensure that its national laws, particularly the provisions relevant to the implementation of the Convention for Elimination of Racial Discrimination, and other human rights instruments ratified by it, applied to the whole of its territory, including FATA and NWFP.

Balochistan featured prominently during the CERD questioning due to the many reports of arbitrary arrests, disappearances and extra – judicial killings of members of the Baluchi minority, particularly Baluchi women, in the course of the operations of the Pakistan armed forces. A determined effort by the expert from China to delete criticism of Pakistani Army abuses in Baluchistan during actions against what they termed Baluchi “terrorists and saboteurs”, whom the Pakistani delegation accused of being externally inspired, was resisted by the majority of CERD members. The UN Secretariat, was also very keen on CERD taking a strong position on Baluchistan, as they were greatly concerned about the fate of a abducted UNHCR staffer, whom his Baluchi captors had threatened to execute if he UN did not take a position on Pakistani Army collective retaliation against Baluchis, particularly women.

The definition of minorities in the Pakistani constitution covers only a miniscule part of its minorities comprising of religious groups like Hindus, Christians, Sikhs and others. The Pakistani report contained no statistical data disaggregated by provinces for ethnic/linguistic groups such as Sindhis, Pashtuns, Baluchis and tribal populations in a country whose overwhelming domination by Punjab has led to its being described as a Punjabi ethnocracy. CERD was not prepared to accept the Pakistani justification that its constitution defined minorities only by religion and requested Pakistan in its next periodic report to provide data on the ethnic composition of the population, their actual levels of education, health and unemployment, and the extent of their participation and representation in political life and public services.  CERD has always insisted that such data was essential for an assessment of a State Party’s implementation of the Convention, as wide discrepancies in socio–economic indicators was normally a sure indicator of de-facto discrimination and structural obstacles to full enjoyment of education and health services and employment opportunities.

Christians and Hindus in Pakistan, as well as Muslim sects like Qadianis, continue to suffer extensive victimisation under the “blasphemy laws”, whose procedures and lack of safeguards make them readily amenable to misuse and pressure in furthering personal agendas such as in property disputes. Pakistani women in general, but women from marginalised minority communities in particular, are subjected to high levels of violence and are still  held in thrall to the Hudood laws despite some small recent improvements. The high levels of social prejudice and exclusion of non-Muslims has reduced the minority communities to a virtual underclass.

And yet, barring the lurch towards medievalism from the time of Zia-ul-Haq, the constitutional provisions and legislation in Pakistan, and its institutional framework for social and economic governance is quite forward-looking. This was noted by CERD with appreciation. Pakistan is also in the process of setting up an independent national human rights institution complying with the internationally recognized Paris Principles, like the National Human Rights Commission of India. But the Achilles Heel of Pakistan in this area is lack of implementation. Pakistan will have to do much more to ensure that the principles of non-discrimination which it claims to abide by are actually realised by its population in substantial measure.

Dilip Lahiri is a Distinguished Fellow at Observer Research Foundation

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