ISLAMABAD - Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif on Tuesday said that Pakistan was committed to promote human rights in the spirit of constructive dialogue.

The foreign minister presented Pakistan’s national report on the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) before the Human Rights Council (HRC) in Geneva.

This was the third report by Pakistan since the inception of UPR process in 2006, the first two being in 2008 and 2012, said a foreign ministry statement.

Asif outlined the wide-range of legislative, institutional, administrative and policy measures to advance and safeguard human rights in Pakistan.  Highlighting the substantial progress made, the foreign minister reaffirmed Pakistan’s commitment to promote human rights in the spirit of constructive dialogue, engagement and cooperation.

Pakistan’s active role and contribution as a consensus builder within the international human rights policy debates was also underscored. Presentation of these reports is part of the Universal Periodic Review process established by the Human Rights Council whereby all UN member states outline the steps taken and progress made in the area of human rights . 117 countries participated in Pakistan’s UPR.

An overwhelming majority of states welcomed Pakistan’s advancement of human rights agenda, said the foreign ministry statement.

While acknowledging and appreciating the progress made by Pakistan, participating states made suggestions for its consideration, it added.

The foreign minister was accompanied by a high-level delegation, which included Senator Ayesha Raza Farooq, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Law Barrister Zafarullah Khan, Punjab Minister of Human Rights Khalil Tahir Sindhu and Pakistan’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations in Geneva Ambassador Farukh Amil.

Senior federal and provincial officials including secretary human rights , representatives of Federal Ministry of Religious Affairs, and secretaries law from the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Sindh were also part of the delegation.

Meanwhile, on Tuesday, Pakistan People’s Party Senator Farhatullah Babar called for a wide-ranging national debate involving all strata of society including political parties, lawyers, religious scholars, intellectuals, media persons and academia on awarding death penalty in a broken justice system and the laws heavily tilted in favour of the rich and the powerful.

Addressing a seminar on “Trial and Terror” organised by the Justice Project of Pakistan here to launch its report, he said that terrorists refused to be deterred by death penalty, the rich and powerful manipulated Qisas [revenge] law to get away with murder and only the poor were hanged.

Three years since the lifting of moratorium on executions it is time to make an assessment of the net result of the application of anti-terror laws, the military courts, the Regulation in Aid of Civil Power and Guantanamo Bay-type prisons for fighting terrorism, Senator Babar said.

“Nearly 500 have been executed during the last three years, over 80 per cent of them were ordinary criminals and not jet black terrorists as promised at the time of [setting up of] military courts,” he added. Babar said that in a security-driven state welfare and rights of the people mattered little.

“Our rush to carry out executions is a reaffirmation of the truth that a state that does not care about people’s lives is least concerned about how they died,” he said.

The lawmaker said that recently two brothers were acquitted of murder by the Supreme Court after nearly 15 years on death row but only after they had already been executed and no one in the criminal justice chain knowing about it.

He asked scholars how they rationalised such gross miscarriage of justice with the insistence that moratorium on executions was against religion.

Babar said that according to scholars, Islam called for death penalty in only two offences but today 27 offences in Pakistan carried death penalty.

“There is no reason why we should not revisit the offences that carry death penalty,” he said. The PPP leader said the implementation of Action on Aid of Civil Administration Regulation 2011 was another worrisome area.

The Regulation was given back-dated effect from 2008 to enable the security agencies to conduct open trial of those in their custody for years in the Pata or the Provincially-Administered Tribal Areas.

“However, today, no one knows how many internment centres have been set up for keeping them, how many inmates in these centres, what are [the] charges, how many have died, while in the centres and whether and how many are being tried for what crimes and in which courts,” he said.

These internment centres have become like little Guantamano Bay prisons, black hole for the inmates and no-go areas even for the judiciary and the parliament, the senator said.