We tend to make too much of international conventions and protocols because that’s how countries are judged. That’s the ideal that all responsible, civilized states aspire for. By signing these international covenants and treaties and protocols, the states reaffirm their commitment to their own people.
The normative international framework regarding human rights, gender, education and health and intellectual property etc., put in place under the aegis of the United Nations or even outside it, is actually an extension of the social contract that each state makes with its own citizens. The international system takes into account the imperfections within the states and provides a platform that allows the erring states to reform; it puts a kind of pressure on the signatories to comply.
Unfortunately, the list of erring states is long; some powerful states ignore the requirements of the international system and do not sign treaties they don’t plan to implement. The imperfect states that do become signatories, or so goes the logic, must then initiate domestic legislation that supports its international obligations. And slowly and gradually the comity of nations shall achieve the universal goal of peace and prosperity and dignity for all the people of the world.
Pakistan falls among the list of countries that choose to follow the roadmap specified in the international system. Or does it? That is what today’s Special Report is all about. True we did not get a chance to see whether Vienna Conventions applied to Raymond Davis or not since Islamic laws were invoked to secure his release, we still can look at our other commitments.
We are told that Pakistan’s record in signing and ratifying international covenants is impressive. As of 2010, it has indeed become a party to core international human rights instruments. Wonderful news but come implementation time and we lag far far behind. Why? Because putting the cart before the horse seldom works. Long before the states agree to a system among themselves, they have to have a trusted contract between them and their respective people. The state of Pakistan must have such a commitment with its people. Only then will it be able to implement its international obligations.
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.
“Infringement of intellectual property is a concern”
-- Advocate Zain Sheikh
By Saad Hasan
Waqas Siddiqui, a 27-year-old, Karachi-based video game enthusiast cannot stop grinning. He has just completed all levels of Crysis 2, an action packed game on virtual war against the aliens. Created by US-based Electronic Arts, it was officially made available for gamers around the world on March 22 this year at a price of $60. Siddiqui bought it six days before the launch for only Rs50 (or $0.588)!
Thousands of shops are doing a roaring business of selling pirated CDs in Pakistan. Internet hackers somehow manage to get hands on the game and put it on the web. Using Torrents and other software, it becomes downloadable. But it is in Karachi’s Saddar area where it is copied onto the CDs and brought to the market.
Over the years, Pakistan has signed many international treaties and agreements. Protecting intellectual property rights of the local and foreign manufacturers is one of them. Failure of successive governments to meet the commitments has done no good to country’s industry and trade.
Advocate Zain Sheikh, who has been practicing law since 1979, says that in most cases local laws have been modified to confirm with global treaties but the implementation has lagged behind. “International trade is now regulated under the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) framework. Like all the other countries, certain obligations were imposed on Pakistan.”
Relevant laws were prepared for copyrights, trademarks, patents and integrated circuit layout protection after Pakistan became a WTO member in 1995. The Trademark Ordinance 2001 was the hallmark of that exercise, he said.
“WTO has liberalised the market and made it easier for the genuine companies to register their trademarks. There were a lot of ambiguities in the past. For instance, Toyota, which is a brand for the cars, could have been used for Toyota watches. This is no longer possible.”
But, Pakistan has some deep-rooted problems. Besides absence of a will to enforce laws, there has never been an effort to create systems, which are necessary to implement the international treaties in letter and spirit.
An important part of WTO is the protection of production process methods, which are unique ways developed by companies to manufacture goods. Pakistan does not have the accreditation bodies for the purpose, a big obstacle in way of multinational companies from entering the country.
Sheikh said that Pakistan is not the only country where infringement of intellectual property has been a concern. “China was notorious for violations of trademarks and copyrights till a few years back. But now branded products are increasingly being registered there.”
Microsoft, the owner of Windows software, has already complained about copyright infringements in Pakistan, he said. “International and domestic software developers have been lobbying hard to control piracy. Thousands of legal notices have been issued to individuals and companies for unauthorised use of software.”
Non-compliance with WTO rules can be devastating. Failure to apply international standards has already hurt few major industries. While government officials never hesitate to sign global and regional treaties, the domestic impact of such pacts is always ignored. Consequently, a few years ago, Pakistan lost its place as a leading exporter of footballs.
International watchdogs bombarded media with news of football makers in Sialkot using under-aged labour who were never properly paid. All along government chose to ignore the criticism till it was too late.
Similarly, the European Union slapped a ban on import of fisheries from Pakistan on concerns of hygiene. Though thousands of pages of WTO agreement were signed in a few hours still little things, like a clean boat, a box with ice to keep the fish fresh and cleanliness at the cold storage were all ignored.
Some aircraft of Pakistan International Airlines (PIA), the national flag carrier, were also banned from flying to EU states because of non-compliance with international standards. Here again, small mishaps led to severe repercussion.
Some of the local laws have never been modified in years even as officials renewed commitments with the global community, Zain Sheikh said.
On July 28 last year, the country witnessed one of its worst airline accidents when an Airblue aircraft crashed into Margalla Hills with 152 people onboard, hours after takeoff from Karachi. There were no survivors. As weeks passed by and the issue of compensation surfaced, there was confusion everywhere.
Pakistan ratified the Montreal Convention in 2006 that deals with the compensation to passengers who are injured or killed in aircraft accidents, Sheikh said. “But the compensation provisions are for international flights only. Each country has the right to set the limits for compensation on domestic routes.”
The present Carriage by Air Act 1966 offers just few thousands rupees in compensation for domestic passengers, he said. “Other countries have changed their laws taking inflation and other factors into consideration. We still have to do that.”
Even the new Act, which is awaiting the government’s approval offers just Rs500,000 in compensation, a discrepancy that could come back to haunt the aviation industry in future and scar country’s reputation further when it comes to international conventions.
“These commitments are crucial”
-- Nighat Said Khan, women’s rights activist
By Ammara Ahmad
The News on Sunday: Though Pakistan is a signatory of a number of international commitments yet the gap between commitment and reality is too wide. Why?
Nighat Said Khan: There is an enormous gap, in terms of human development, specifically on gender indicators. It is one of the lowest in terms of gender equality. However, there has been women empowerment in politics and political policymaking. There are representatives on reserved seats, ambassadors, women in media, not just on-screen but also off-screen, running channels, producers, directors etc.
We might have the highest women political representation in the world but this only creates more gap because other indicators suggest we are at the bottom of women development.
One disturbing aspect is that Pakistan has a range of mechanisms to facilitate women empowerment. For example we have a ministry for women development along with a National Commission on Status of women; it is rare to have both. Then we also have mechanisms for affirmative action and separate provincial departments for women.
We have this gap because in Pakistan, we tend to have the same response for each problem -- that is to form a committee, task force or commission. This adds an extra layer, which keeps us occupied, instead of the cause. On another level, poverty, education, health and the very patriarchal system we have here are reasons why we fail to follow our international commitments. Also, we are always on the cross-road of ideology of Pakistan and re-establishing what the status of women would be.
TNS: How can these obligations help/improve the status of women in Pakistan, especially those participating in public sphere?
NSK: These commitments are very crucial to women empowerment. Take CEDAW, which addresses a range of sectors like citizenship, economy, education, health and gives a yardstick to measure development and insist that we progress towards achieving these measures.
One hurdle is that the international community is led by the US. When the US wants to support a regime, it does so without much heed to the deteriorating women rights and humans rights situation. This happened in the Zia regime, which gained international support nevertheless. Sometimes, the US start supporting the women rights causes. CEDAW and the Platform for Action are very specific that we make national plans and utilize the same markers that the international agreements established. These agreements tell you what sectors, indicators, policy guidelines to focus on. For example if there is an area CEDAW misses, then Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women covers it. These agreements ensure that women must be involved in reconstruction, rehabilitation, conflict resolution, security and peace process and all other negotiations.
TNS: Have Pakistan’s international obligations helped in formulating effective national policies -- and to what extent? Would you agree that the National Plan of Action or Gender Reform Action Plan or National Commission on the Status of Women are outcomes of its international commitments?
NSK: National Commission on the Status of Women (NCSW) has no coordination with the UN or any international agreement. Pakistan has had some five national commissions starting from 1954. Women’s movement was very strong in Pakistan from the start. One has to realize that the Women Conference of Women’ 75 materialised due to the voices from this part of the World, particularly Pakistan. We have been demanding separate seats for women since the 1950s, along with double vote for women seats and the general seats. We demanded these rights a long time before the UN did and played a role in drafting these UN agreements and resolutions. This is a commitment we initiated and committed to. NCSW is not linked with National Plan of Action or Gender Reform Action Plan (GRAP), which is a development programme on education with no policy influence.
National Plan of Action ‘98 is very comprehensive but has not been implemented to a large extent and needs to be updated. This is primarily because there is no political will to work, no allocated resources along with a mindset and system that perpetuates the inequality of women. The patriarchy of the system or state is not challenged, only the policy and paperwork increases.
TNS: What can be done to ensure the state fulfills its obligations? Will it meet the MDGs?
NSK: Gender equality is lacking not just in the health and education sector but also in public space; the women don’t get the kind of work they desire and retain the same patriarchal social roles. However, there are women and girls in villages and towns who have gained their right to education and work through their personal struggle. Infant mortality and maternal health are not my areas of specializsation but my understanding is that they have not improved much because the state does not have the outreach, the roads, manpower and infrastructure to improve the infant mortality and maternal health.
However, this is categorically the responsibility of the state, a human right and every citizen pays for it through direct and indirect taxes. Another dilemma in the achievement Millennium Development Goals is that now the international community and donors channel the money through NGOs and private sector that does not have the outreach which the state can have. Therefore it is like a drop in the ocean. Also, much of the money is lost in the institutional cost.
All the international commitments have an impact on women -- be it the Universal Declaration on Human rights, International Labour Organisation, World Trade Organisation or an environmental agreement.
Some are women exclusive such as Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) which we ratified in 1996 and now have to persistently follow and report our progress on it; the Platform for Action 1995; the agreement for Civil and Political Rights and the United Nations Security Council Resolutions on Women, especially for Peace and Security. These Resolutions include 1325, 1820, 1888, 1889 and 1920.
“We need to make the environment number one priority”
-- Environmental lawyer Ahmed Rafay Alam
By Shahzada Irfan Ahmed
The News on Sunday: How far has Pakistan succeeded in fulfilling these commitments and honouring international conventions on climate change, safe drinking water, pollution etc?
Ahmed Rafay Alam: Strictly legally speaking, under the Pakistan Environment Protection Act, the federal government has the power to make rules with respect to the enforcement of these international environmental agreements. It has complied with its obligation under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and has submitted an Initial Communication on Climate Change to the UN outlining Pakistan’s vulnerability to Climate Change. Pakistan has signed and is committed to the Millennium Development Goals, which includes education and clean drinking water. While the MDG’s are not enforceable, there is no chance that Pakistan will comply with its obligations under it.
If you ask me whether Pakistan follows its international obligations outright, I would say it would be hard to locate any legal liability, but if anyone cared to take a deep breath of city air, they would have another opinion.
TNS: What are the major hurdles in achieving these targets? Is there any problem with environmental law enforcement or there’s a lack of political will?
ARA: There are many problems with environment enforcement. The first is lack of understanding. This translates, in practice, to a lack of funding to the enforcement agencies as well as a lack of political will. Environment concerns are still confused and thought of as anti-development when this is a debate that was and has settled nearly 20 years ago.
Over and above, it is lack of awareness and lack of political will. Then there’s the 18thAmendment. The subject of environment and environment enforcement has now been devolved to the provinces and the question of who will now enforce Pakistan’s international obligations remains pending. This is a crucial debate to have, and one in which no one appears interested. In such circumstances, overcoming major hurdles will be impossible.
TNS: What will be the cost of not fulling these commitments, for example ISO 14000 compliance? Does Pakistan stand to lose a lot?
ARA: Pakistan already loses a lot by not enforcing environment protection legislation. The Prime Minister of Pakistan himself has stated that environment degradation each year not only costs Pakistan hundreds of thousands of lives (we have the highest infant death rate and child mortality rates in the world, and these are on account of impure drinking water; nearly one-half of all patients admitted in our hospitals are because of unclean drinking water) but also nearly Rs360 billion in lost revenues.
TNS: How can we overcome the problems that stop us from complying with international environmental regulations?
ARA: It’s not just enforcing international environment legislation. It’s also about enforcing local environment legislation. Remember, the federal government has the power to make rules, and has, regarding our international environment obligations.
We need to make the environment a number one priority in Pakistan. We need to see that development does not take place in a vacuum and that the environment and pollution are kept in mind when planning development policy and executing development projects.
Pakistan is signatory to a number of international treaties and conventions on the environment. These include the RAMSAR Convention on Wetlands, the International Plant Protection Convention, 1951, the World Heritage Convention, 1972, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna, 1973 (CITES), the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals, 1979, the Convention on the Law of the Sea, 1982, the Vienna Convention on the Protection of the Ozone Layer, 1985 and related Montreal Protocol, the Basel Convention on the Transboundary Movement of Hazardous Waste, the Convention on Biological Diversity, 1992 and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.
“Pakistan needs institutional arrangements”
-- Dr Sania Nishtar, the founder and president of Heartfile
By Abdul Sattar
The News on Sunday: What is the purpose of signing these covenants, articles and protocols?
Dr Sania Nishtar: Each one of these international instruments binds Pakistan, legally or morally, to a set of actions that have the potential to improve health and health systems outcomes and achieve specific goals and objectives. In the process they also necessitate public policy, institutional and/or legislative actions. Many a time, signing a resolution or endorsing an international plan entails taking up a responsibility with many domestic health systems. Global Polio Eradication, as an international goal is a case in point. This particular international commitment entails addressing not only the systemic weaknesses which plague Pakistan’s health system, but also many geo-strategic distortions - such as constrained access due to the law and order situation and indoctrination of a philosophy and mindset, which undermine immunisation activities.
Besides, Pakistan needs institutional arrangements to give effect to the implementation arrangements that are committed through instruments. There are additional considerations related to monitoring and implementation, and guidelines to enable that. This was illustrated in the recent process of developing guidelines for monitoring the implementation of the WHO Global Code of Practice on the International Recruitment of Health Personnel, on which a public hearing was initiated by WHO on March 21.
TNS: What is one example of failure on Pakistan’s part to comply with an international health instrument?
SN: There could be many examples, but the case of IHR 2005 is most illustrative. Pakistan’s failure to comply is evident in the considerable under-detection and under-reporting of cases of H1N1 in 2009. So the impression that compared to many other countries in Asia the outbreak in Pakistan was of comparatively minor concern. This was rather misplaced. Many cases had been missed or under-reported due to the absence of an integrated functioning countrywide surveillance system. As part of IHR 2005’s stipulations, countries are expected to build institutional capacity to strengthen global public health security and management systems for addressing public health emergencies and risks of international concern. Pakistan neither has an integrated disease surveillance system nor an apex coordinating arrangement to collect, consolidate and analyse health information. Within this context, the Prime Minister’s statement to prioritise establishment of Integrated Disease Surveillance and Response is a step in the right direction. Disease security and consolidating capacity in this area is a strong rationale for retaining a national/federal role in health, post-18th Amendment.
TNS: Does Pakistan use international instruments to mobilise resources?
SN: Yes, it does through different institutional entry points. Through the Economic Affairs Division, there are various agreements with multilateral development agencies, for example World Bank, Asian Development Bank and some major bilateral donors. The Planning and Development Division, Ministry of Health (MoH) has agreements with bilateral donors, through which Official Development Assistance is channelled for budgetary support and programmes. Individual programmes of MoH have agreements with corresponding global programmes - Global Alliance for Vaccine Initiative, Global Fund For AIDS, TB and Malaria. MoH’s office of International Health mobilises WHO support and handles agreements with countries that do not have aid missions in Pakistan. The Foreign office does likewise for health projects linked to Friends of Democratic Pakistan and handles resources committed bilaterally under Kerry-Lugar Legislation by USA. Additionally, it plays a role in mobilising assistance in disasters.
International agreements and disease security need to be retained as national/federal mandates in the post-18th Amendment situation. The technical and policy rationale for doing so is strong and multi-pronged.
Pakistan is signatory to a number of international health instruments that range from negotiated formal conventions, treaties, protocols and international rules and regulations with stated and binding stipulations. For example, Pakistan has ratified World Health Organisation’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, the first health treaty adopted under Article 19 of the WHO constitution. Pakistan is also a signatory to International Health Regulations 2005 (IHR 2005), the world’s first legally-binding agreement in the fight against public health emergencies of international concern and an update of the International Health Regulations of 1969.
Others include the Alma Ata Declaration on Health for All, the Millennium Declaration, through which Pakistan has committed itself to meeting the Millennium Development Goals, the Ottawa Declaration and Bangkok Charters on Health Promotion, the Mexico Ministerial Statement on Health Research, and many others.
There are other rights-centered international instruments which deeply impact health rights, for example the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and its covenant, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), the UN Declaration on the Elimination of Violence, Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, etc.
WHO resolutions related to safeguarding public health interests in the context of liberalisation of international trade under World Trade Organisation (WTO) agreements, particularly Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights, also fall within this space-and the list goes on.
There are other potential declarations in the pipeline, which Pakistan will need to deliberate upon and endorse shortly; for example, the Moscow Declaration on Non-communicable Diseases in April 2011.