About 8,597 Pakistani citizens have been detained abroad, where almost 51 per cent of these are locked up in countries in the Middle East, subjected to the most inhumane conditions. In a recent hearing in the Lahore High Court on Monday however, regarding migrant workers in Saudi Arabia- progress was finally made. The Honorable Judge ordered the federal government to formulate an official policy regarding the Pakistanis prisoners abroad and submit it at the next hearing.

Justice Mansoor Ali Shah made it clear that it was necessary to know about the proper state policy regarding these detainees to see if it is in line with international law and to make sure it is applied across the board. In response to this, the government submitted a report, claiming that they provide legal and financial assistance to the detainees-something that was almost negligible. However, the Honorable Judge was not convinced, making it clear that a more comprehensive policy was to come from the government.

The LHC should be applauded for taking this monumental step. With seventeen Pakistanis executed in Saudi Arabia alone this year, the killing is unlikely to stop unless a framework is not formulated to give basic fundamental rights to the number of Pakistanis abroad. From this hearing, it was made clear that regardless of the nature of alleged crimes, all accused are entitled to a fair trial and proper defence. Sarah Belal, the Executive Director of Justice Project Pakistan, a pro-bono human rights law firm, commented that she was delighted by the decision of the LHC to compel the government towards taking the right step to ensure that these Pakistanis are not left to their fate. Moreover, she was hopeful that this will be an important step in compelling the government to recognize ‘its duties towards these abandoned citizens who are living their worst nightmares thousands of miles away from home’.

The petition in the LHC, by the families of these migrant workers, laments the lack of consular support and assistance provided by the Pakistan government to their own citizens facing execution in Gulf countries. It also includes families of Pakistanis whose loved ones were recently beheaded in Saudi Arabia but have yet to receive their bodies.

No legal justification exists for our inaction and the suffering of our citizens. The only way to ensure that our government cannot look away from this issue is to make it impossible for it to do so. We will never know how many of our fellow citizens could have been saved with proper legal advice or more effective legal representation.