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EU says Pakistan's legal cases, anti-corruption 'rhetoric' still 'heavily politicised'

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Observation by EU made in a joint staff report on Pakistan’s GSP Plus for 2020 to 2022
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  • Observation made in report on Pakistan’s GSP Plus status.
  • EU questions NAB independence in report.
  • EU asks Pakistan to continue with legislative reforms.
ISLAMABAD: The European Union (EU) believes that the legal cases and the anti-corruption “rhetoric” in Pakistan are “heavily politicised”, reported The News on Wednesday.

The observation by the EU was made in a joint staff report on Pakistan’s Generalised System of Preference (GSP) Plus for the period from 2020 to 2022.

With the possibility of granting an extension in the GSP Plus status for all beneficiaries, including Pakistan, from 2023 to 2027, the regional body has asked Pakistan to continue legislative reforms to achieve tangible improvements.

The report noted that political and economic corruption is seen as “pervasive”, and questions are raised about the independence of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB).

The report found Pakistan compliant with almost all of the 27 conventions apart from the Convention Against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

Furthermore, to create a conducive environment for civil society organisations, priorities included facilitating the (re)registration of international non-governmental organisations (INGOs) and simplifying the rules for registration of domestic NGOs.

Dwelling upon recent developments, the report states that the political turmoil and constitutional challenges in 2022 and 2023 caused disruption and absorbed considerable energy from all political actors. At the same time, an economic crisis, high inflation and a serious shortage of foreign reserves continue to affect the country.

Despite the political turmoil with a change of government on the federal level and strong tensions between government and opposition at the federal and provincial levels, Pakistan has undertaken important legislative steps in areas linked to its sustainable development in line with GSP+. It will be crucial for Pakistan to continue legislative reforms and to implement legislation so that they lead to tangible improvements for all Pakistanis.

In the area of labour rights, the report states that priorities included extending the application of labour legislation to Export Processing Zones (EPZ) and Special Economic Zones (SEZ) without mentioning CPEC and added that adopting and implementing a comprehensive child labour law and completing child labour surveys in all provinces, as well as strengthening the labour inspection system to enforce the existing labour legislation in all workplaces.

An EU monitoring mission visited Pakistan between June 22- July 1 of last year. Besides the need for adopting new legislation, the monitoring mission underlined the need for better implementing existing legislation across all policy areas.

The Pakistani government is clear on its commitment to maintain its GSP+ eligibility, and, during the monitoring period, it has engaged openly with the EU at all levels. Political will needs to be coupled with more determined action for implementing reforms, in particular to better protect human and labour rights.

On Pakistan’s progress report, the EU’s monitoring assessment states that since 2020, Pakistan has adopted important laws in the field of human rights, namely regarding preventing and punishing torture, the protection of journalists, gender-based violence, preventing domestic violence, and, at the provincial level, promoting women’s rights.

The 2022 law against torture constitutes a significant step in the implementation of the Convention Against Torture, and the supervisory role given by the law to the National Commission for Human Rights in investigations is a positive achievement.

While legislative reforms are significant, important concerns remain, notably on enforced disappearances, allegations of torture as well as on restrictions of freedom of expression, and media freedom.

While the first steps to reduce the scope of the death penalty have been taken, further efforts are needed to align with international standards, namely by introducing a comprehensive revision of the mercy petition procedure.

Freedom of religion or belief and rights of persons belonging to minorities continue to be regularly violated, despite some efforts regarding interfaith dialogue. In this context, the government must take determined action and clear positions against the discrimination of minorities, religious sects and vulnerable persons, the misuse of blasphemy laws, and the risk of false accusations, mob violence and even mob lynching.

Restrictions to the civil society space through administrative hurdles, and other pressures on NGOs continue, even if the revised NGO policy of November 2022 foresees accelerated procedures. Despite obstacles, Pakistan’s civil society is vibrant.
 
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