Global Human Rights Defence

Pakistan government accused of deliberately leaving inoperative its National Commission for Human Rights.

March 29, 2021, the Islamabad high court instructed the Pakistani government to promptly appoint a new head of the National Commission for Human Rights (NCHR), the human rights watchdog in Pakistan (Baloch & Ellis-Petersen, 2021). 

This demand from the high court comes shortly after activists, lawyers and legislators accused the current government of delaying the appointment of leadership roles within the commission to avoid facing accountability for human rights violations, especially those committed by the military (ANI, 2021; Bari, 2021). Likewise, some activists and lawyers have attributed the said delay to a “punishment” by the government to the national human rights watchdog over reports that the latter produced which publicised human rights abuses and torture (Baloch & Ellis-Petersen, 2021; Stubbs, 2021).

Since May 2019, when the four-year tenure of NCHR members expired, new commission members have been needed. However, almost two years later, no appointments have been made in a procedure that should have taken no more than one month (Stubbs, 2021). It is in light of these circumstances that the government has been accused of deliberately stalling its functioning (Bari, 2021), leaving the watchdog in a state of limbo and unable to perform its duties in holding the government accountable for human rights violations (Baloch & Ellis-Petersen, 2021).

According to Baloch and Ellis-Petersen (2021), the NCHR’s inactivity for nearly two years has coincided with regression in Pakistan’s press freedom and human rights, as well as allegations of an increase in enforced disappearances carried out by military-linked agencies. What is more, former NCHR chairman Justice Ali Nawaz Chowhan has accused the government of having a vested interest in hindering the body’s efforts to monitor human rights violations like enforced disappearances (ANI, 2021).

Furthermore, ineffective attempts by the government were directed to amend the commission’s state of uncertainty in 2019. For instance, an advert for positions was first placed in May 2019 but then withdrawn without explanation (Baloch & Ellis-Petersen, 2021). Another advert for positions was issued in July 2019, which was later found unconstitutional by Chief Justice Athar Minallah (Bari, 2021). The reason why the second advert was held unconstitutional was the inclusion of a maximum age limit, which the court overruled to make the selection process more inclusive (Bari, 2021). According to Akhtar Cheema, a lawyer and former legal adviser to Pakistan’s senate, the age restriction was deliberately put in place to delay the appointments, since, he argues, the government knew that it would be legally challenged and this would eventually delay the process of selection (Stubbs, 2021).

Pakistan’s National Commission for Human Rights

The NCHR was established through the Act XVI of 2012 to promote, protect and fulfil human rights, as provided for in Pakistan’s Constitution and the international treaties Pakistan has ratified (NCHR Pakistan, 2021a). Its purpose is provided in the Preamble of the same act: 

The establishment of NCHR was set up in accordance with the Principles relating to the Status of National Institutions (The Paris Principles), a set of standards drafted during an international workshop held in Paris in 1991 meant to frame and guide the work of National Human Rights Institutions (Democracy Reporting International, 2015). Finally adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1993, these principles include standards on the institutions’ competencies and responsibilities and their methods of operations (Democracy Reporting International, 2015).

The NCHR, as an autonomous state body, operates independently of the government and is directly accountable to the Parliament of Pakistan (NCHR Pakistan, 2021a). Its powers include, among others, the redressal and investigation of human rights violations by public authorities, the review of the Pakistani Legislation for the protection of human rights, recommendations for the adoption of new legislation following human rights standards, the research and advice on policy matters on the situation of human rights in Pakistan, the report on the Government’s implementation and monitoring of the state of human rights in Pakistan, the development of a national plan of action for the promotion and protection of human rights in Pakistan and the contribution to national human rights awareness-raising initiatives in the country (Junaidi, 2019; NCHR, 2021b).

Cross-blame between political parties

The delay in the appointment of head positions of the NCHR in Pakistan has resulted in a battling arena in which the government blames the opposition, despite the multiple accusations it has received by activists, lawyers and the eventual judgement of the Islamabad High Court (Bari, 2021). In other words, not only has the government not acknowledged such accusations, but it has also placed the responsibility for the inactivity of the NCHR upon the opposition.

In response to these accusations, Pakistan’s Human Rights Minister Dr Shireen Mazari denied that the government was obstructing the watchdog (Baloch & Ellis-Petersen). She argued that such delays were caused because the opposition leader had not responded with their preferences to the list of preferences sent by the government (in particular the Ministry of Human Rights) in December (Stubbs, 2021). She further added that “the laziness is from the side of the opposition, not the government” (Stubbs, 2021), even though the opposition leader was in jail at that time on allegations of money laundering (Baloch & Ellis-Petersen, 2021).

International commitments of Pakistan

Pakistan has signed and ratified many international treaties and conventions in regards to human rights, such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). More specifically, the NCHR was created in order to meet Pakistan’s International commitments and obligations made under the Generalised Scheme of Preferences (GSP+) Status, which facilitates Pakistan’s exports to the EU (Ministry of Human Rights, Government of Pakistan, n.d.). In that sense, the EU continuously monitors GSP+ beneficiary countries’ effective implementation of several conventions on human rights for them to continue receiving duties benefits (European Commission, 2020).

Concern about the (in)effectiveness of the NCHR was raised during the Universal Periodic Review’s Third Cycle (UPR) at the United Nations Human Rights Council in 2017. In it, several member states directed Pakistan a matrix of recommendations on the strengthening of the NCHR (UPR, 2017). For instance, countries such as Saudi Arabia and Palestine recommended the strengthening of the work of the NCHR (UPR, 2017). Similarly, Guatemala and Portugal advised Pakistan to take all necessary measures to ensure that the NCHR is in line with the abovementioned Paris Principles (UPR, 2017).

Bibliography

Islamabad HC directs Pak govt to revitalise human rights commission after activists accuse PM of sabotaging it (2021, April 9). Asian News International (ANI). https://www.aninews.in/news/world/asia/islamabad-hc-directs-pak-govt-to-revitalise-human-rights-commission-after-activists-accuse-pm-of-sabotaging-it20210409184421/ 

Baloch, S. M. & Ellis-Petersen, H. (2021, March 31). Pakistani government accused of “sabotaging” rights watchdog. In The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/mar/30/pakistani-government-accused-of-sabotaging-rights-watchdog 

United Nations Human Rights Council (2017). Universal Periodic Review – Pakistan – Third Cycle – Matrix of Recommendationshttps://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/UPR/Pages/PKindex.aspx 

Democracy Reporting International (2015, April). Pakistan’s National Commission for Human Rights – A Key Step for Maintaining GSP+ Statushttps://democracy-reporting.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/dri-pk-bp_54_pakistan__s_national_commission_for_human_rights_04-2015.pdf?__cf_chl_jschl_tk__=dbb67f07d7273954166d06211bc1da364a0c6154-1618307024-0-AR-Kc_rYkxhtkcq1Qp8BNYWHpAhGo0oc_hvvUn7Mqs4rdYNZtMN7UuJBskjeLCp2jI4MOYfIeZlKS_2MZBLNE0S0b14vENg5uiDblp3VXM_xExJvy_eD85SYEgACqSb4PvES248YCYhgUTj778CEwB8pStumaoPAovdS5pg1Gn8Avea740g2rImtPJUu04p2ThS3O0xk4d5TYcS2OAO3lhtrZ0wXVlQ0TAVCSISEollGqaYuDDTZGNO3-JBvPEXUBJTuHSH2n9BbTW_h8G3s_nDFV9rX30Z-YhAIVoAyj8oOEU1Ezjl-mdImDYXrUcnplcUqWKhvtg9gvjbFw8p-Vz7cdDQy_HYcc9pxXVgfpRGXff8To1aEnNBaUhqOvsIFNNszvFuxOKrxD8eccalsOdtLk6cEMXIP_G-kAOs31D8ZzNRrjBE8p8-z7Np0lfgZf58eoxHytMjf3MpmHy6xP7zJ5ZnuQHdDreAlr7H02s6jkdH2k1Ei35YNu0B7-Ft8eQ 

National Commission for Human Rights – NCHR Pakistan (2021a). Who we are. https://nchr.gov.pk/who-we-are/ 

National Commission for Human Rights – NCHR Pakistan (2021b). What we dohttps://nchr.gov.pk/what-we-do/ 

Stubbs, T. (2021, April 7). Pakistan Government Accused of Impeding The Country’s National Commission For Human Rights. In Human Rights Pulse. https://www.humanrightspulse.com/mastercontentblog/pakistan-government-accused-of-impeding-the-countrys-national-commission-for-human-rights 

Bari, M. (2021, April 7). Pakistan government accused of sabotaging human rights commission. In Deutsche Welle (DW). https://www.dw.com/en/pakistan-government-accused-of-sabotaging-human-rights-commission/a-57124832 

Junaidi, I. (2019, September 9). National Commission for Human Rights dysfunctional for over three months. In Dawn. https://www.dawn.com/news/1504289

Ministry of Human Rights – Government of Pakistan (n.d.). National Commission for Human Rightshttp://www.mohr.gov.pk/Detail/MDUwMDY4ZjAtMTM2YS00YzBkLWI3ZGItY2QyZDIyNDE4NzVh#:~:text=Complying%20with%20its%20international%20obligations,accordance%20with%20the%20Paris%20Principles European Commission (2020). Generalised Scheme of Preferences (GSP)https://ec.europa.eu/trade/policy/countries-and-regions/development/generalised-scheme-of-preferences/

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Aimilina Sarafi
Pakistan Coordinator

Aimilina Sarafi holds a Bachelor’s degree cum laude in International Relations and Organisations from Leiden University and is currently pursuing a Double Legal Master’s degree (LLM) in Public International Law and International Criminal Law at the University of Amsterdam.
She is an active advocate for the human rights of all peoples in her community and is passionate about creating a better world for future generations. Aimilina is the coordinator for the GHRD team of Pakistan, in which human rights violations of minority communities in Pakistan are investigated and legally evaluated based on international human rights legal standards.
Her team is working on raising awareness on the plight of minority communities such as women, children, religious and ethnic minorities within Pakistan.

Marguerite Remy
Coordinator Middle East and a Legal Researcher.

Marguerite is the coordinator of the team of legal researchers focusing on the Middle East and a legal researcher herself.

She developed her expertise in international human rights law, international criminal law and humanitarian law during her double bachelor in law and political science at Sorbonne-Paris 1 University and her LLM in public international law at Leiden University. Particularly interested in the Middle East for years, Marguerite has acquired a good knowledge of the region and its human rights issues through various field experience, including internships in a cultural service of the French embassy and in a local NGO, as well as a semester in a university in the region. Currently, her main interests are accountability mechanisms for crimes committed during recent armed conflicts, notably in Syria, the Israeli-Palestinian situation and the Palestinian case at the ICC, and transitional justice issues.

Nicole
Editorial Team Lead

Nicole has an MSc in International Development Studies with a focus on migration. She is passionate about promoting human rights and fighting poverty through advocacy and empowering human choice. Nicole believes that even the simplest social justice efforts, when properly nurtured, can bring about radical and positive change worldwide.

Mattia Ruben Castiello
Media quality coordinator

Mattia is currently in charge of quality checking and improving all the social media and website handles of the Global Human Rights Defence.
With a bachelor in Psychology from Spain and a master in Cultural Anthropology from the Netherlands, Mattia’s passion now lies in Human Rights in regard to the refugee and migrant crisis. Having lived his whole life in East-Arica, Mattia has had the opportunity to work with a vast amount of non-government organisations and health institutions. This has provided him with knowledge in diverse cultural understandings as well as interest in concerning global issues.

Jeremy Samuël van den Enden
Coordinator Bangladesh & Communication Officer
Mr. Van den Enden has a MSc in International Relations and specializes in inequality, racial dynamics and security within international diplomacy and policymaking. He studies the contemporary as well as modern historical intricacies of human rights in the global political arena. Furthermore, Mr. Van den Enden assists GHRD in revitalizing its internal and external communication.
Célinne Bodinger
Environment and Human Rights Coordinator

As the Environment and Human Rights Coordinator, Célinne is passionate about the health of our planet and every life on it.

Prerna Tara
Human Rights Coordinator

Prerna Tara graduated from Leiden Law School with an LLM in Public International Law. She practiced in the India before starting her Masters. She has assisted in pro- bono cases and interned at some of the best legal firms in India which has brought her face to face with the legal complexities in areas of corporate law, white collar crimes etc. Her work at GHRD deals with human rights research spanning throughout the globe.

Lina Borchardt
Team Head (Promotions)
(Europe)

She is currently heading the Promotions Team and University Chapter of Global Human Rights Defence. Her background is the one of European and International Law, which I am studying in The Hague. She has previously gained experience at Women´s Rights organizations in Germany, the Netherlands and Turkey over the past years.
She has been working for Global Human Rights Defence in the Netherlands since 2020. Her focus now is concentrated on the Human Rights and Minorities Film Festival and the cooperation of GHRD with students across the country.

Bianca Fyvie
Coordinator and Head Researcher
(Africa)

Bianca has widespread knowledge about social problems and human rights issues, with a specific focus on social justice in Africa and the empowerment of communities and individuals. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Social Work from Stellenbosch University as well as a Master’s degree in Social Work and Human Rights from Gothenburg University. She has participated in courses on Women’s Leadership at Stellenbosch University, and has worked with organizations such as AIESEC towards furthering the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. She also has experience in working directly with marginalized and vulnerable groups in South Africa while qualifying as a Social Worker.
Bianca is the coordinator for a group of interns doing research and reporting on Human Rights topics in a range of African countries. Her focus is on ensuring that these countries are monitored and have up to date reports and research conducted in order to allow relevant and updated information to be produced.

Alessandro Cosmo
GHRD Youth Ambassador
(European Union)

Alessandro Cosmo obtained his B.A. with Honors from Leiden University College where he studied International Law with a minor in Social and Business Entrepreneurship. He is currently pursuing an LL.M. in Public International Law at Utrecht University with a specialization in Conflict and Security. 
As GHRD’s E.U. Youth Ambassador, Alessandro’s two main focuses are to broaden the Defence’s reach within E.U. institutions and political parties, as well as mediate relations between human rights organizations abroad seeking European funding. 
Alessandro believes that human rights advocacy requires grass-roots initiatives where victims’ voices are amplified and not paraphrased or spoken for. He will therefore act on this agenda when representing Global Human Rights Defence domestically and abroad

Hiba Zene
Coordinator and Head Researcher
(Africa)

Hiba Zene holds a Bachelor’s degree in International and European Law from The Hague University and, has significant legal knowledge in the field of international human rights law. She actively advocates for the protection of all human rights of vulnerable minorities and marginalised groups. Focusing, specifically on the human rights of children and women in Africa.
Hiba is the coordinator and head researcher for GHRD Africa. As a human rights defender for GHRD she has examined and investigated various human rights abuses, violations and issues in Africa. She has led research missions addressing issues on Statelessness in Kenya, Child Abuse in Uganda, and Teen Pregnancy in Kenya.

Thaís Ferreira de Souza
Coordinator and Head Researcher (International Justice and Human Rights)

Senior Paralegal at PGMBM (Amsterdam office), working to bring justice for victims of wrongdoing by big corporations, with a focus on human rights and environmental law.
Previously, Thaís worked as a Visiting Professional at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the Hague, providing legal advice on international human rights law and international criminal law. She also worked at the State Court of Justice of the Rondônia State (TJRO) in Brazil from 2013 to 2017, initially as a legal clerk and posteriorly as a legal advisor to judges. In 2016 she served as the regional representative of the Brazilian Institute of Criminal Procedural Law (IBRASPP) in the State of Rondônia, Brazil and during her bachelor’s degree, she worked as a Research Assistant at the Research Group ‘Ethics and Human Rights’ of the Federal University of Rondônia for over three years.

Fairuz Sewbaks
Coordinator and Head Researcher
(Africa)​

Fairuz Sewbaks holds extensive legal knowledge regarding international human rights, with a specific focus on human rights dealings taking place in continental Africa. She holds a bachelor’s degree from The Hague University in public international law and international human rights and successfully followed advanced human rights courses at the Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria. She furthermore participated in the Istanbul Summer School where she was educated about the role of epidemics and pandemics in light of human rights.

 

Fairuz is the coordinator and head researcher for GHRD Africa. Her primary focus is to establish and coordinate long-term research projects regarding the differentiating human rights dealings of vulnerable and marginalized groups in continental Africa, as well as conducting individual research projects.

Priya Lachmansingh
Coordinator and Head Researcher, Political Advisor
(Asia & America)

Priya Lachmansingh is currently pursuing her bachelor’s degree in International & European
Law at the Hague University of Applied Science.
As GHRD’s Asia & America human rights coordinator and GHRD Political Advisor, Priya’s
prominent focus is to highlight human rights violations targeted against minority and
marginalized groups in Asia and America and to broaden GHRD reach within Dutch political
parties and as well seek domestic funding.

Fabian Escobar
Coordinator and Head Researcher
(Europe)

My name is Fabian Escobar, L.L.B. International and European Law candidate to The Hague University. I was born in Honduras and been living in The Netherlands, more specifically Amsterdam the last 8 years. I am passionate about Human Rights, Civil and Political Rights, fighting racism, and empowering women and ethnic minorities. In GHRD I am the coordinator for the Europe Team, I am thankful for being part of this team and that I have been given the opportunity to learn and apply my learning.