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Human rights review2017/11/11
Reema Omer

On Nov 13, UN member states will review Pakistan's human rights record for the third time through the Human Rights Council's Universal Periodic Review (UPR) mechanism. 
Pakistan has been reviewed twice before in 2008 and 2012, but this time around there is an important difference: Pakistan finally has an operational National Commission for Human Rights (NCHR), which has made its own submission for the UPR process.
Refreshingly, instead of glossing over the government's dismal human rights record - as we have seen a number of other national human rights institutions do in their UPR submissions - the NCHR's report raises serious concerns about the deteriorating human rights situation in the country, echoing those of a number of national and international human rights organisations.
The NCHR's work has been subjected to a number of constraints.
The UPR is a unique mechanism of the UN Human Rights Council aimed at improving the human rights situation of each of the 193 UN member states. Under this mechanism, the human rights record of all UN member states is peer-reviewed every four to five years by the UPR Working Group, consisting of the 47 UN member states of the Human Rights Council; however, any UN member state can take part in the discussions during the UPR of the reviewed states. States then make recommendations to the country under review, which has the option of accepting or noting the recommendations. 
In this process, civil society organisations too can submit their own assessments of the human rights record of the state being reviewed, as can the state's national human rights institution - which in Pakistan's case is the NCHR.
The NCHR was constituted under the National Commission for Human Rights Act, 2012, for the "protection and promotion of human rights as provided for in the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan and the various international instruments to which Pakistan is a party or shall become a party". 
Since the law was passed, however, the commission's work has been subjected to a number of constraints, including its restrictive mandate over security and intelligence agencies, the government's delay in appointing members to the commission, the reported lack of impartiality of certain commission members, and attempts by the government to restrict the independent functioning of the commission. 
Earlier this year, for example, the UN Human Rights Committee and the UN Committee against Torture expressed concern about the government's refusal to allow the chairperson of the NCHR to meet them and present their reports and stated that, "there are indications that the commission is not fully independent".
The commission has itself noted that national human rights protection mechanisms, including the NCHR, "suffer from institutional weaknesses such as political interference, budgetary constraints, lack of trained personnel and restrictive power".
Now, however, it seems that things are changing.
Take the NCHR's submission for Pakistan's Universal Periodic Review. Even on contentious issues like blasphemy, enforced disappearance, the death penalty, and military courts, the commission's submission is surprisingly critical - in stark contrast to the government's national report, which is either silent on or grossly plays down some of the most egregious human rights violations in Pakistan.
For example, the commission's report points out that, despite accepting a number of recommendations to criminalise the practice of enforced disappearance in the previous UPR, enforced disappearance is still not recognised as a distinct criminal offence in Pakistan. The government's report, however, does not even acknowledge the question of criminalisation of the practice.
Also, in its national report the government wrongly asserts Pakistan's blasphemy laws are non-discriminatory, and "no one has been punished" under these laws. The commission, however, correctly highlights that blasphemy laws "remain an area of deep concern" in the country.
Similarly, while the government claims to have a "strong commitment to the promotion and protection of freedom of expression and opinion", the commission points out that freedom of speech in the country is often curtailed in the name of national security, including through laws such as the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act, 2016.
Most significantly, perhaps, the commission recommends that Pakistan abolish the death penalty and "as an immediate action reintroduce the moratorium on the death penalty".
Despite the execution of nearly 500 people in less than three years - in many instances marred by other serious human rights violations, including of the right to a fair trial, the imposition of capital punishment on people with physical and mental disabilities, and the execution of people who were children at the time of the offence - the death penalty is not even mentioned in the government's national report. 
That the NCHR has made a critical, seemingly independent report for the UPR process is significant for a number of reasons. 
Pakistan has in the past dismissed NGO reports to UN bodies as biased and driven by 'vested interests'. It will, however, have to take the NCHR's observations seriously, especially as it has held up the NCHR before the UN, the European Union and the international community as proof of its commitment to improving human rights. 
The NCHR's report is also an indication that after initial teething problems, the commission is now a step closer towards fulfilling its mandate, which includes more effective implementation of Pakistan's treaty obligations. This is a key prerequisite for the NCHR to get accreditation by the international coordinating committee of national human rights institutions, which is a requirement for an NHRI to be recognised internationally.
With UN treaty-monitoring bodies, special procedures, over a dozen civil society organisations, and now also the NCHR highlighting the serious human rights issues in Pakistan today, the government seems isolated in its glorified assessment of Pakistan's 'deep commitment' to human rights. 
One hopes that Pakistan will drop its doublespeak and posturing to engage with the UPR mechanism in its true spirit on Monday. -Courtesy: Dawn
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Take time out to think about life2017/11/11
Ke Jiayun

Just a few days after I came back from Tibet recently, I came across "Paths of the Soul," a movie about the famous pilgrimage to Mount Kang Rinpoche in Tibet playing in cinemas.
Kang Rinpoche is one of the four holy mountains in the Tibetan Buddhism and is also revered by Hindus and Jains ...

Threatened by dense smog2017/11/11


Smog continued to disturb arrival and departure schedule of flights at the local airport causing inconvenience to passengers. Dense fog engulfs cities in Punjab. Dense smog almost caused power breakdown in parts of Punjab. Two victims lost lives in an accident in Attock in an accident when a bus ran into a dumper ...

Devolution & its implications for democracy2017/11/11
Syed Mohammad Ali

Given the current political turmoil and general elections around the corner, it is hard to predict who will be at the helm of state affairs next year. The fact that a third consecutive government will soon complete its term in office is itself an accomplishment. In addition to the current suspense surrounding who will manage to exert control on the federal government and provinces, there are other important issues related to the deepening of the democratic traditions, which also merit attention.
A populous and heterogenous country like ours needs several layers of local governments. Devolution can potentially not only make social service delivery more accessible and accountable, but also help address inter and intra provincial grievances. The idea of devolving power is not new for Pakistan. Local governments have been repeatedly created and disbanded in the country. We have however had lacklustre experience with devolving power under both its military regimes and authoritarian democratic governments. Our military governments have repeatedly created party-less local governments to legitimise themselves.
Since coming to power in 2008, democratically elected political parties in Pakistan took the important step of devolving power from the centre to the provinces via the 18th Amendment, but devolving power down further has not proven easy. The lack of political will to do that led to delays in formulating local government acts and holding local government elections. After repeated prompting by the Supreme Court local government elections were held in 2015 and it took another year for them to become functional.
While local government acts were formulated by their respective provincial assembles and political parties were also allowed to participate in local government elections, they are still struggling with lack of adequate authority, capacity and financial resources to fulfill their functions. All local governments are dominated by provincial governments, including those in K-P.
Some of the major problems plaguing local governments include the lack of adequate authority and insufficient opportunities to generate their own resources. The creation of multiple provincial authorities, for managing cattle markets, waste management and other functions, is taking away power from local governments. While the justification of creating separate authorities was to help improve service delivery, the outcomes are hardly impressive. Punjab has even created health and education authorities at the district level, to be headed by technocrats appointed by the provincial governments, which goes against the principle of localising delivery and management of these essential services.
The current local government acts have also adopted tokenistic attempts to empower marginalised communities. Most provinces have reserved seats for women, religious minorities, peasants/workers and the youth in local governments. However, candidates for the reserved seats have been selected, rather than being able to run for elections. Selecting representatives on reserved seats obliges them to follow the line of their party leaders and patrons, rather than being able to safeguard the interests of the communities they represent.
Ideally, effective local government representatives could enable political parties to deepen their reach. It would enable their MNAs and MPAs to use local government councillors affiliated with their parties to help win elections and address the concerns of local constituents more effectively. For this to happen, however, local government representatives need to be better empowered. Perhaps this is a lesson which provincial governments will learn in the lead up to the coming general elections.
The future of local governments does remain uncertain at present. If the political parties in power at the provincial level come into conflict with those controlling local governments after the general elections, the current devolutionary exercise could experience another setback. The current local government system certainly needs to be reformed. -Courtesy: The Express Tribune
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Meeting challenges faced by motherland2017/11/10








Zafar Alam Sarwar
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