Over the past two years the Government of Pakistan (GOP) has taken several steps that clearly reflect its lack of commitment to honouring its human rights obligations under international law and the Constitution. The current government demonstrated its lack of prioritisation of human rights issues by dissolving the Federal Ministry of Human Rights as soon as its ascension to power. The government’s subsequent decision to replace the dissolved ministry with a human rights wing under the Ministry of Law and Justice, effectively delegated the status of human rights as a peripheral issue in upcoming national policies and agendas. Executive decisions that followed, including the lifting of the moratorium of the death penalty in December 2014 and the subsequent executions of over 332 prisoners on death row in 2015, aptly prove the unwillingness of the government to be fettered by any human rights considerations in its exercise of power.

It is therefore, no surprise that the National Commission on Human Rights (NCHR), an independent human rights monitoring body established vide the National Commission of Human Rights Act, 2012, has been rendered essentially defunct since its very inception. Whilst the sole independent state body entrusted with investigative powers by the Parliament to hold the government accountable to its human rights commitments under the Constitution and the various international treaties Pakistan has ratified, the NCHR has been repeatedly denied access to any funding and state cooperation to effectively operate. In December 2015, the Senate’s functional committee on Human Rights expressed its concern regarding the delay in the release of funds to the NCHR and its non-functionality and passed a motion for debate on the issue. However, no such debate was held.

The NCHR was also not consulted in the development of the state reports on Pakistan’s implementation of the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), Convention Against Torture (CAT) and Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) even though reporting to these monitoring bodies falls directly under its mandate. Instead the reports were hastily developed by government consultants and submitted without any requisite transparency and consultation with members of civil society and other stakeholders. On 13.02.2016, the Prime Minister’s office however, delivered the final nail on the coffin of the human rights watch dog. In a press release, the office proudly announced that the PM has approved an amount of PKR 350 Million as the budget for the next two financial years for a new body known as the “National Institute of Human Rights”. No details have been released regarding the mandate, powers or independence of the new body. Clearly, the parallel body has been established to undermine and usurp the powers of the NCHR. Whilst the latter draws its powers from parliamentary legislation and holds extensive powers of human rights investigation, the former has been created through transparent and unilateral executive action and in all likelihood holds no powers of establishing government accountability. However, it is the former that has seamlessly been allocated a considerable endowment and the latter is running on fumes.

Despite every effort to render the NCHR defunct, the GOP has been using its existence as the key indicator of its fulfilment of international human rights commitments. The National Commission on Human Rights has been detailed under the aforementioned state reports to the United Nations monitoring bodies as a shining example of Pakistan’s progress on human rights. In fact, 3 days after the press release on the establishment of the National Institute of Human Rights, Mr. Ashtar Ausaf Ali, Special Advisor to the Prime Minister on Human Rights, delivered a statement at a session of the European Parliament on the Mechanism of the GSP+ which extolled the National Commission on Human Rights as a key indicator of the Government’s resolve and progress on its international Human Rights obligations under the trade agreement under the EU and Pakistan. Mr. Ali stated the Commission showed the great progress that Pakistan had made on human rights issues and demonstrated the government’s resolve in taking its human rights obligations seriously. Whilst the GOP has no qualms in using the NCHR at international forums to improve its image to the international diplomatic community, it has only served to stunt its functioning domestically. It also worth mentioning that at the European Parliament session, Mr. Ali stated that the Prime Minister has formulated a National Action Plan on Human Rights that details its human rights strategy for the upcoming years. This isolated announcement is another manifestation of unilateral and opaque executive actions that dominate the government’s human rights strategy. The development of a national strategy on human rights falls clearly under the legislative mandate of the NCHR under the NCHR Act, 2012. However, the NCHR was neither consulted nor aware of the development of such a National Action Plan. Clearly the GOP’s stances in international forums are marred in blatant contradictions and fallacies.

It is no secret that Pakistan’s human rights violations are centre-stage in the international diplomatic community and have resulted in a loss of political power in key strategic decision-making bodies. In December 2015, Pakistan lost its seat on the 47 member United Nations Human Rights Council after serving three terms. Such a major defeat is an apt demonstration of the censure the current government has attracted from the international community. Such a blatant undermining of the county’s only human rights watch-dog will not only worsen our diplomatic relations and standing, but will also legitimise the Government’s unilateral usurpation of the human rights and freedoms of the Pakistani populace.