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Provincial Policy Strategies on Human Rights - A New Way Forward in Pakistan

Islamabad, March 16: Diplomats, government representatives and rights campaigners have called for concerted efforts, awareness and institutional mechanism at federal, provincial and grass root levels for protection and promotion of human rights enshrined in the Constitution as well as international treaties rectified by Pakistan.

They made this plea at an event held here Thursday to celebrate the completion of provincial human rights policy strategies prepared by the Strengthening Participatory Organisation (SPO) in collaboration with the Federal Ministry of Human Rights and the provincial departments and supported by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) of the British government.

The event started with recitation from the Holy Quran, Bible, and Bhagvat Geeta, and an anthem - a rare demonstration of pluralism, inclusiveness and tolerance, human dignity, equality and respect for basic human rights. 

Former Federal Information Minister and SPO Board Chairperson Javed Jabbar in his keynote address said that human rights are ingrained in all religions and cultures, calling the notion that human rights are a western-driven agenda as unfounded.

He said we are living in a period where human rights of individuals and vulnerable groups are usurped by states, religious and powerful groups, media, and families.

Jabbar said in today’s world humanity is facing a new scourge of extremism, terrorism, and intolerance which are also a violation of human rights. He asked the government and civil society to join hands for the long haul as in his words “it took centuries for the developed societies to give fundamental rights including the right of vote for women, strengthen democratic institutions and protect civil liberties.”

Jabbar lamented flaws in the prosecution and investigation system that has allowed alternative mechanisms of quick dispensation of justice.  He cited the establishment of military courts ‘a solution’ but not ‘the permanent solution’ to counter terrorism, stressing the need for fair trial.

He also criticized the patriarchal tribal and feudal systems prevailing in society which have deprived the women of their basic rights.

He also said that there is a huge vacuum between civil society and philanthropic community in creating awreness about human rights.

British High Commission’s Political Consular William Middleton recalled Quaid-i-Azam’s words that Islam has taught us democracy, equality of man, justice and fair play to everybody. “We are the inheritors of these glorious traditions and are fully alive to our responsibilities and obligations as framers of the future constitution of Pakistan,” he quoted Jinnah as saying.

He lauded eighteenth amendment and other pro women and children legislation in the recent years, stressing the need for effective enforcement of laws, strengthening institutions, raising awareness among citizens of their fundamental rights.

Although the [provincial] strategies provide a clear vision for the issues requiring attention, the overall vision -- whether strengthening the rights of religious minorities in KP, eradicating the scourge of bonded labour in the brick kilns of Punjab or setting up a fund to provide free legal aid to poor and vulnerable persons in Sindh and in Balochistan -- can only be achieved if each area is pursued with determination, as Mr Jinnah argued, he said.

Muhammad Arshad, Director General, Ministry of Human Rights elaborating the steps taken by the government for protection and promotion of on human rights cited articles 32-40 of the Constitution which protect fundamental rights, guarantee security, freedom of expression, right to information and discourage discrimination on the basis of sex.

Arshad said Pakistan is translating its commitments to the international community into policy and legislation despite challenges such as lack of education, awareness, social and cultural discriminatory patterns, intolerance, human trafficking, violence against children and women and bonded labour.

To improve the sorry state of affairs, the government has launched a Plan of Action focusing 60 areas including legislation for protection of rights of vulnerable groups, bringing PPC and CrPc in line with the human rights policy, modernizing school and college curriculum by including human rights in it, improving the training of police officers, prison staff, and lower judiciary.

Zeeshan Zafar, head of the project “Making provincial govts in Pakistan more accountable for human rights,” lamenting lack of human rights policy, said the policy strategies once approved by the respective provincial cabinets will give legal status to all HRs guaranteed in the international treaties to which Pakistan is a party.

While Iftikhar Ali Shallwani, Secretary, Law, Parliamentary Affairs and Human Rights Department, Sindh highlighted the legislative steps taken by the provincial govt, rights activists Dr Sadiqa Salahuddin said about 70 percent people in Sindh have no rights to land. She called for the implementation of land reforms to ensure ownership of land rights and protection of economic and political rights of the working class.

SPO Chief Executive Naseer Memon said Pakistan requires concerted efforts with public and private partnership to ensure sustainable progress on the international commitments. He spoke about the five-year partnership with the government in preparing the landmark policy document on human rights and termed it a unique model of public-private partnership in preparing the provincial policy strategies given the magnitude of the challenges, limitations and shortcomings.

We are passing through the democratic transition. Provincial governments should be empowered to take the lead in implementing policies, promoting diversity, pluralism and tolerance.

Dr Tufail Muhammad, Furrul Saqlain, Director, Human Rights Department, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa; Muhammad Tahir Secretary, Human Rights and Minority Affairs Department, Punjab and Zeenat Yaqoob also spoke on the occasion.










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