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Can Pakistan Implement The International Bill Of Human Rights?

Flood victims queue to get food handouts donated by a charity organisation while taking refuge in a relief camp for flood victims in Sukkur, in Pakistan's Sindh Province.

Flood victims queue to get food handouts donated by a charity organisation while taking refuge in a relief camp for flood victims in Sukkur, in Pakistan's Sindh Province.

There was a time when Pakistan was a pioneer in human rights. The country was among the original 48 signatories of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UNDHR) in 1948. The document, drafted by U.S. first lady Eleanor Roosevelt with Canadian, French, Chinese, and Lebanese colleagues, remains a seminal document for individual rights and freedom worldwide.

Unfortunately, Pakistan now lags in its adoption of two more international agreements which, in addition to the UNDHR, form the "International Bill of Human Rights." These include the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR 1966, enacted in 1976) and the International Convention on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR 1966, enacted in 1976).

Pakistan ratified the ICESCR in April 2008 and the ICCPR in June 2010 -- expressing reservations as to the latter’s most important articles (and perhaps the main objective of the covenant). On examination, these objections are both peculiar and incomprehensible.

Pakistan voiced reservations on Article 3 (equal right of men and women), Article 6 (right to inherent life and death penalty abolition), Article 7 (capital punishment and torture), Article 12 (freedom of movement and no force expulsion), Article 13 (no forced expulsion of an alien of the citizen except national security concerns), Article 18 (freedom of choice of religion and no coercion), Article 19 (freedom of expression), and Article 25 (equal rights to all citizens in public services and affairs and the right to vote).

In these articles, Pakistan reserved the right to apply the covenants only as they are compatible with the domestic laws of the state. The ICCPR, however, contains important measures that are obligatory for signatories to uphold. If not, how would there be any weight to the phrase "international conventions?"

It is a question every Pakistani must ask him or herself.

Moreover, the government of Pakistan has hesitated in implementing measures adopted by the Human Rights Committee (HRC) under Article 40. Pakistan has argued that the HRC lacks competence and has deemed HRC criticism "biased" -- likely meaning that the country will not accept further HRC covenants in its domestic laws.

Upon ratification of the ICESCR, Pakistan declared that the government would implement the covenant in a progressive manner and with the maximum available resources. Thus far, the government has failed in its promise, pointing to existing economic conditions and a lack of continuity with the country’s constitution.

Critics have argued that, under Pakistani law, the main purpose of the covenant and its implementation will be unclear beyond government promises that “all necessary measures will be taken” to implement ICESCR in its domestic laws with all available resources.

As a defender of the covenant, my reservation is that for Pakistani elites -- i.e. politicians, bureaucrats, and the establishment -- all resources are and will be available, but for their betterment alone. There will always be a "resource deficit" in terms of providing these rights to the Pakistani masses.

Pakistan's late ratification of these covenants and its reservations about the foremost articles indiacte that the country is not sincere in its human rights commitments. Pakistan suffers from mass violations of individual rights, corruption, abuses of power, and gender violence -- all of which continue unabated.

These problems, coupled with an ever-widening income gap, the lack of free expression or freedom of religion, are all key problems the country will have to tackle in order to implement the International Bill of Human Rights. Unfortunately, I cannot see Pakistan as being capable of true implementation of the covenants in the near future.

-- Fazal Afridi, Radio Mashaal