The people of Pakistan strongly support the promotion and application of universally agreed human rights based on the principles of cooperation, non-discrimination, impartiality and genuine dialogue. Pakistanis derive their inspiration about human rights from the teachings of Islam that uphold the equality of mankind irrespective of colour, creed and ideology; and advocate provision of even playing field to everyone. Pakistan is of the view that cooperative approach at the international level helps in making tangible progress in the promotion and protection of human right. As a founding member of the Human Rights Council and during its prior tenure on the council from 2006 to 2011, Pakistan played a constructive role in achieving convergence between the West and the Islamic world on some of the contentious and challenging HR issues.

Pakistan’s national report on the promotion and protection of human rights before the HRC was quite promising, at least theoretically. This report was part of the second cycle of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process of the HRC. Since 2008, Pakistan has taken a number of steps to restore the democratic nature of state institutions. Members of the superior judiciary were freed and reinstated. All political prisoners were released, civil liberties were restored, curbs against the media were lifted and legal proceedings against lawyers and human rights defenders were dropped.

Parliament has passed three constitutional amendments to prompt and consolidate democratic values in the country. In April 2010, it unanimously passed the 18th Amendment that addressed many imbalances of power. The right to education (Article 25A), right to information (Article 19A) and right to fair trial (Article 10A) are now recognised as fundamental rights, which cannot be suspended.

Moreover, changes were made to administrative governance in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata), whereby the arbitrary powers of the local administration to make arrests and detain individuals were curtailed and prisoners have been given the right to bail. Likewise, in 2011, the Political Parties Order 2002 was extended to Fata.

In May 2012, Pakistan enacted a new law creating an independent National Commission for Human Rights (NCHR) in accordance with Paris Principles. A series of HR related legislation include: the Prevention of Anti-Women Practices (Criminal Law Amendment) Act 2011; the Acid Control and Acid Crime Prevention Bill 2010; Domestic Violence (prevention and protection) Bill and laws on sexual harassment. In order to ensure adequate representation of minorities in central and provincial legislatures, seats have been reserved for minorities in the Senate, National Assembly and Provincial Assemblies. At the same time, the government has fixed a 5 percent quota for minorities in all federal services. Today, the media in Pakistan is completely free and thriving. Also, the social media has emerged as a powerful and influential medium. This has strengthened the cause of human rights.

As regards our obligations to the international community, Pakistan ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and Convention Against Torture (CAT) in June 2010. In August 2011, Pakistan ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography. Pakistan has now ratified seven out of nine core international human rights treaties. This demonstrates Pakistan’s commitment to international human rights standards.

Pakistan extended invitation to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and a number of special members of the Human Rights Council to visit Pakistan. The High Commissioner visited Pakistan in June 2012. The Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers visited Pakistan from May 19 to 29, while the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances visited Pakistan from September 10 to 20. Pakistan has also extended an invitation to Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression.

In the past 10 years, terrorism has endangered our national security and social fabric. This has created an environment of intimidation. Our counter-terrorism response is in compliance with our obligations under international law. Despite daunting environment, Pakistani law enforcement agencies have acted with restraint. These operations are conducted on specific intelligence and with all precautions to avoid civilian causalities. Pakistan has lost nearly 7,000 Pakistani soldiers and policemen, and over 40,000 civilian persons. The economic cost of this struggle has been around $70 billion. This has adversely impacted the economic strength of the country, its ability to finance projects in the social sector and slowed the pace of achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). During this year alone, Pakistan slipped three notches on the Financial Development Index, and stood at 58th position out of 62 economies, surveyed by the Global Economic Forum.

Nevertheless, a couple of social protection networks are in place at the federal level, which include the Central Zakat Fund, Pakistan Bait-ul-Mal and Benazir Income Support Programme. These entities provide subsistence allowance to poor widows, orphans, disabled and the unemployed, and support their medical treatment. Unfortunately, they carry an impression of corruption and diversion of funds for political gains. During this year, according to Legatum Institute London, Pakistan has declined by 25 points in the prosperity index. As compared to 107th position in 2011, Pakistan stands at 132 among 142 countries of the world.

Promotion and protection of human rights is a continuous process to which people of Pakistan remain committed. Pakistan is a democratic, pluralistic and progressive country. Pakistanis aspire for a society that is based on equality, the rule of law, respect for diversity, and justice. Our constitution reflects all these aspirations. However, Pakistan’s government has a long way to go in translating these theoretical aspirations into practical benefits. Political polarisation, bad governance, nepotism, corruption in the lower judiciary, corporatisation of media etc are some of the powerful barriers, which inhibit good intentions from translating into sustainable plan of action. There is, indeed, a huge gap between the lofty claims made during the UPR and the ground reality of human rights.

The writer is a retired Air Commodore and former assistant chief of air staff of the Pakistan Air Force. At present, he is a member of the visiting faculty at the PAF Air War College, Naval War College and Quaid-i-Azam University.