KARACHI - Civil society and labour rights activists from all provinces of Pakistan have urged President Dr Arif Alvi to ensure provision of fundamental human rights including labour rights to all citizens ensured under the Constitution of Pakistan.

Addressing a joint press conference at Karachi Press Club on Sunday, the civil society activists said a delegation of representatives of the key civil society organizations met with the President at Sindh Governor’s House and presented a memorandum of the issues being faced by the rights activists.

Karamat Ali, Executive Director of Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research (PILER); Mohammad Tahseen, Executive Director, South Asia Partnership Pakistan (SAP), Lahore; Ali Palh, Coordinator, Sindh Human Rights Defender Network, Hyderabad; Ms Bushra Arain, President, Leady Health Workers Association, Lahore; Liaqat Ali Sahi, General Secretary, State Bank Democratic Worker Union (CBA), Karachi; Rashida Dohat, Director, Omar Asghar Khan Foundation, Islamabad; Nasir Aziz, Secretary General, National trade Union federation, Karachi addressed the press conference.

Karamat Ali said the President Dr Alvi heard the delegation members very patiently and assured that their grievances would be redressed.

The civil society’s memorandum highlighted the violation of freedom of association, freedom of press, right to free trial, minorities, women and children rights. “We have proposed to set up a task force comprising senior government officials, experts from private sector and civil society representatives to find a workable solution.

The civil society raised the issue of missing persons. We have urged the government to find a lasting solution of the problem. Enforced disappearances are no solution to the issue of terrorism or anti state activities. Those involved in any criminal cases must be brought to courts and dealt in accordance to the law, said Karamat Ali.

The actions by the state and non-state actors in recent years have resulted in curbs on freedom of expression and freedom of media. Recent raid on the Karachi Press Club (KPC) by plainclothes armed men is one example of harassment of journalists. Retrenchments of media people; drastic reduction in government ads to newspapers and TV channels; unannounced sanctions against some media houses; surveillance and harassment of those using social media as a platform of expression are other examples of increased hindrances in the way of the right to expression.

He said as civil society, we believe that it is important to put in place appropriate mechanisms to ensure the freedom of expression and free media in accordance to the Constitution and international best practices.

Regarding minorities rights, Ali said the President was requested to take practical measures to ensure implementation of Supreme Court’s landmark decision regarding minorities’ rights. We have requested to establish the Minority Rights Commission, which is the centre point of Supreme Court decision.

We urged the government to consider the guidelines issued by the National Commission for Human Rights for adoption at all levels and take necessary measures including required legislation for recognition and protection of human rights defenders.

Regarding labour issues, Karamat Ali said we have requested the President to ask the federal government to conduct an immediate review of all laws concerning to labour and human rights to bring them in conformity with the international commitments and constitutional provisions. This may follow by making appropriate institutional arrangements to implement these laws and policies. Civil society should be consulted in all such processes.

Karamat Ali said trade unions have already shrunk to the lowest ebb in Pakistan. Of the 65 million labor only about 1 per cent are unionized. This is an alarming situation both for a society and democracy. There might be multiple factors for this drastic decline of trade unions. Restrictive laws are a major hurdle in exercise of the right to association and collective bargaining.

It is also important the legislation and policy making process be expedited in provinces as in accordance to the provisions of the Constitution of the Pakistan and in accordance of ILO (International Labor Organization) Conventions ratified by Pakistan.

We have requested the President to intervene and ask the federal government to take appropriate measures to universalize social security for all citizens. First step may be to combine all the labor welfare institutions and universalize social security coverage for all workers.

He said a large number of rural populations is landless and shelter-less. While the government has already started housing program for shelter-less and unprivileged, we believe that land reforms are essential to end poverty and marginalization. We have urged the government to start with distribution of the state land among landless farmers as a first step. There are multiple studies suggesting that enough state land is available to distribute, which may provide a piece of 5-7 acres to a land-less family.