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Editorial: Pakistan wins GSP+ EU loses its moral standing

The European Union (EU) has exceptionally furnished Pakistan with a two years extension in the Generalised Scheme of Preferences GSP+ status in clear violation of its set criterion based on which a state is granted this favour.

The GSP+ is an economic incentive arrangement granted, by the EU, to the states which ratify 27 international conventions and particularly not to the states that have retained the death penalty, whereas, according to the Human Rights Watch, Pakistan has one of the highest numbers of prisoners on death row in the world, numbering to over 8,000. Furthermore, the GSP beneficiary countries are bound to respect the principles of the 15 core conventions on human rights and labour rights, failure in doing so, can result in the termination of the privilege by the EU.

Among the 15 core conventions on human rights, Pakistan has ratified at least three, and it has constantly been in clear violation of the ratified conventions including the CAT – Convention against Torture and Other Cruel Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, CCPR – International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the CESCR – International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Ironically, the EU’s GSP assessment report of 2019 terms Pakistan’s human rights record unsatisfactory. Besides expressing concern that the National Commission for Human Rights (NCHR) in the country is operating without a commissioner since May 2019, it categorically states that although Pakistan in 2012, recognized the international law that considers enforced disappearances a crime, it has failed to criminalize enforced disappearances and torture. The report further observes that the culture of impunity continues in Pakistan with no evidence of investigations and prosecution of the crimes of abductions and extra-judicial killings provided by the state.

The United Nations Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) that reviewed Pakistan’s human rights record in 2017, included many recommendations by states, to Pakistan to ratify and implement various human rights instruments to enhance its human rights record instead, Pakistan rejected many of the key recommendations made by the states, including its failure to ratify the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court and to combat impunity for crimes against human rights defenders.

In its recent report, the state department also raised concerns about Pakistan’s conduct in Balochistan. The report endorsed Baloch human rights defenders’ accusations that Pakistan has accelerated the practices of arbitrary arrests and forcible disappearance of Baloch nationalists without cause or warrant. The fate of thousands of forcibly disappeared persons remains unknown. In a travesty of justice, the military authorities are bargaining with Baloch political parties to release some of the disappeared people in return for their legislative support in the passing of military-friendly legislations.

The state of human rights in Balochistan represents a grisly scenario, the media is strictly controlled, dissenting opinions on the China Pakistan Economic Corridor and crimes committed by the military establishment of the state are censored or not reported at all. In the light of Pakistan’s conduct in constant disregard of the UN conventions, and continued violations of human rights in Balochistan, Pakistan must be pressed harder by the EU and other concerned organizations to abandon its repressive policies in Balochistan and to align its conduct with the UN conventions. Granting GSP+ extension to Pakistan without addressing the genuine concerns of the people suffering under Pakistan, has put the EU in an awkward position, and is seriously not reflective of a union championing the cause of human rights.

Published in Balochistan Affairs on 20 March 2020

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