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 For instance, an advert for positions was first placed in May 2019 but then withdrawn without explanation (Baloch & Ellis-Petersen, 2021).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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Kenza Mena
Team Coordinator -China

Kenza Mena has expertise in international criminal law since she is currently pursuing a last-year Master’s degree in International Criminal Justice at Paris II Panthéon-Assas and obtained with honors cum laude an LLM in International and Transnational Criminal Law from the University of Amsterdam. She also holds a Bachelor’s degree in French and Anglo-American law. 

Since September 2021, she has been the coordinator of Team China at GHRD, a country where violations of human rights, even international crimes, are frequently perpetrated by representatives of the State. Within Team China, awareness is also raised on discrimination that Chinese women and minorities in the country and, more generally, Chinese people around the world are facing.

Kenza believes that the primary key step to tackle atrocities perpetrated around the world is advocacy and promotion of human rights.

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.

Lukas Mitidieri
Coordinator & Head Researcher- Bangladesh

Lucas Mitidieri is currently pursuing his bachelor’s degree in International Relations at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ). As the GHRD Bangladesh Team Coordinator, he advocates for human rights and monitors violations across all minorities and marginalized groups in Bangladesh. Lucas believes that the fight for International Human Rights is the key to a world with better social justice and greater equality.

Nicole Hutchinson
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.

Gabriela Johannen
Coordinator & Head Researcher – India

Gabriela Johannen is a lawyer admitted to the German bar and holds extensive knowledge in the fields of human rights, refugee law, and international law. After working for various courts and law firms in her home country, she decided to obtain an LL.M. degree from Utrecht University where she studied Public International Law with a special focus on Human Rights. Additionally, while working as a pro-bono legal advisor for refugees, she expanded her knowledge in the fields of refugee law and migration.

Gabriela is the coordinator and head researcher for GHRD India, a country, she has had a personal connection with since childhood. Her primary focus is to raise awareness for the severe human rights violations against minorities and marginalized groups that continue to occur on a daily basis in India. By emphasizing the happenings and educating the general public, she hopes to create a better world for future generations.

João Victor
Coordinator & Head Researcher – International Justice

João Victor is a young Brazilian lawyer who leads our team of International Justice and Human Rights. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in Law from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and possesses over 5 years of experience in dealing with Human Rights and International Law issues both in Brazil and internationally, including the protection of refugees’ rights and the strengthening of accountability measures against torture crimes.

João has an extensive research engagement with subjects related to International Justice in general, and more specifically with the study of the jurisprudence of Human Rights Courts regarding the rise of populist and anti-terrorist measures taken by national governments. He is also interested in the different impacts that new technologies may provoke on the maintenance of Human Rights online, and how enforcing the due diligence rules among private technology companies might secure these rights against gross Human Rights violations.

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.

Angela Roncetti
Team Coordinator and Head Researcher- South America

Angela holds a Bachelor of Laws (LL.B) from Vitória Law School (FDV) in Brazil. Her research combines more than five years of experience conducting debates and studies on the rights of homeless people, the elderly, children, and refugees. Besides that, she also volunteers in a social project called Sou Diferente (I am Different in English), where she coordinates and takes part in actions aimed at the assistance and the emancipation of vulnerable groups in the cities of the metropolitan area of Espírito Santo state (Brazil).

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.

Pedro Ivo Oliveira
Team Coordinator and Researcher
(Africa)

Pedro holds an extensive background in Human Rights, especially in Global Health, LGBTQ+ issues, and HIV and AIDS. He is currently finishing his Bachelor’s Degree in International Relations and Affairs at the Pontifical Catholic University of Minas Gerais, Brazil. Moreover, he successfully attended the Bilingual Summer School in Human Rights Education promoted by the Federal University of Minas Gerais and the Association of Universities of the Montevideo Group. Besides, Pedro Ivo has a diversified professional background, collecting experiences in many NGOs and projects.

With outstanding leadership abilities, in 2021, Pedro Ivo was the Secretary-General of the 22nd edition of the biggest UN Model in Latin America: the MINIONU. Fluent in Portuguese, English, and Spanish, Pedro Ivo is the Team Coordinator and Head Researcher of the Team Africa at Global Human Rights Defence. Hence, his focus is to empower his team from many parts of the world about the Human Rights Situation in the African continent, meanwhile having a humanized approach.

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

Veronica Delgado
Team Coordinator and Researcher- Japan, Sri Lanka & Tibet

Veronica is a Colombian lawyer who leads our team of Japan, Sri Lanka and Tibet. She holds a master’s degree in Public International Law from Utrecht University. She has experience in Colombian law firms. Here she represented clients before constitutional courts. She also outlined legal concepts to state entities such as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ombudsman’s Office on international law issues.

Veronica has an extensive research background with subjects related to public international law. She worked as an assistant researcher for more than two years for the Externado University of Colombia. Here she undertook in-depth research on constitutional, business, and human rights law issues. She was involved with consultancy services with the Colombian Army regarding transitional justice. 

Wiktoria Walczyk
Coordinator & Head Researcher (Nepal & Indonesia)

Wiktoria Walczyk has joined GHRD in June 2020 as a legal intern. She is currently coordinator and head researcher of Team Nepal and Indonesia. She has an extensive legal knowledge concerning international human rights and is passionate about children’s and minorities’ rights. Wiktoria has obtained her LL.B. in International & European Law and she specialised in Public International Law & Human Rights at The Hague University of Applied Sciences in the Netherlands. Moreover, she is pursuing her LL.M. in International & European Law and focusing on Modern Human Rights Law specialisation at the University of Wroclaw in Poland. In order to gain an essential legal experience, Wiktoria has also joined Credit Suisse’s 2021 General Counsel Graduate First Program where she is conducting her legal training and discovering the banking world. She would like to make a significant impact when it comes to the protection of fundamental human rights around the world, especially with regard to child labour. 

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.

Jasmann Chatwal
Team Coordinator & Head Coordinator: North America

Jasmann is a political science student at Leiden University who joined GHRD in May 2021 as an intern in team Pakistan. Now, she is the team coordinator for North America and is responsible for coordinating the documentation of human rights violations in USA, Canada, and America.