GENEVA, January 26, 2023 — Ahead of a mandatory United Nations review of Pakistan’s human rights record this Monday, January 30, a report by a human rights group has exposed numerous false claims in the country’s submission to the 47-nation Human Rights Council.
“Pakistan’s submission to the UN about its human rights record is filled with lies,” said Hillel Neuer, executive director of the Geneva-based UN Watch, an independent non-governmental human rights organization.
“Our report documents 10 false claims, and we call on the UN Human Rights Council on Monday to hold the Pakistani regime’s representatives to account for trying to cover up gross and systematic human rights violations,” said Neuer.
“The UN must urge Pakistan’s military-dominated regime to put an end to torture, enforced disappearances, child labor, and violence against women, and to stop crushing independent media, censoring Facebook and Twitter, persecuting Hindus, Christians, Sikhs, Shia, and Ahmadis, hosting terrorist groups, and backing China’s persecution of Muslim Uighurs.”
Pakistan will go before the UN Human Rights Council on Monday morning, for a mandatory human rights review that all UN member states undergo every five years. While the session is meant to scrutinize governments and thereby strengthen the basic rights and freedoms of their citizens, most of the UNHRC members who take the floor are expected instead to praise Pakistan for its alleged achievements.
Following are some of most absurd claims in Pakistan’s submission to the UN, contrasted with the reality.
1. Democracy and Fundamental Freedoms
Pakistan’s Claim: “As a vibrant democracy, Pakistan will continue to uphold fundamental freedoms including meeting people’s needs and providing an enabling environment for the continued exercise their rights to freedom of expression, assembly and association.”
Reality: Pakistan is ranked “Partly Free” by Freedom House with a low score of 37/100, meaning that it is not a “free democracy.” This ranking is attributed to various factors including the influence of the military, attacks by Islamist militants, and restrictions on civil liberties. According to Pakistani journalist Taha Siddiqui, the country’s purported democracy is “a facade” and in reality Pakistan is a hybrid regime where the military controls the government behind the scenes. In December 2021, several UN experts condemned the military court’s conviction of human rights activist Idris Khattak. The experts asserted that Khattak’s arrest and conviction was “part of an alarming pattern of silencing human rights defenders and outspoken civil society leaders.”
2. Media Freedom
Pakistan’s Claim: “Pakistan values the role of free media…”
Reality: Reporters without Borders (RSF) ranks Pakistan 157 out of 180 for media freedom—in the bottom 15%. The media in Pakistan is targeted by both the civilian authorities and the military, according to Freedom House. Journalists have been violently attacked by military agents. Furthermore, the planned government regulator—the Pakistan Media Development Authority—would have the power to punish journalists for infringing regulations. RSF considers Pakistan one of the deadliest countries in the world for journalists. Media reported at least two journalists killed in Pakistan in 2022. One journalist, Pakistan Daily editor Hamza Azhar Salam, has already been threatened in 2023.
3. Enforced Disappearances
Pakistan Claim: “The alleged cases of missing persons are being expeditiously and efficiently dealt by the Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances.”
Reality: This claim is directly contradicted by the Islamabad High Court which, in June 2022, rendered a decision highly critical of Pakistan’s Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances. Chief Justice Athar Minallah observed that the Commission had failed to fulfill its responsibility and called the Commission “a burden” which must “justify its continued existence.” The Court also lambasted the government for its involvement in disappearances, stating “you are proving that [forcibly] disappearing people has been the policy of the State since the days of General Musharraf…”
4. Blasphemy Laws
Pakistan’s Claim: “The Government of Pakistan is committed to curb the misuse of blasphemy laws.”
Reality: The Pakistani NGO Center for Social Justice reported that in 2021 at least 84 people were accused of blasphemy in Pakistan and three people were extrajudicially killed. In October 2022, two people were killed within days of each other for blasphemy. Earlier in the year, a Pakistani court sentenced a woman to death for sharing images on WhatsApp that were considered insulting to the Prophet Muhammad.
5. Gender Equality
Pakistan’s Claim: “The Federal Government has enacted a number of laws, policies, programs and other measures to remove gender disparity and empower women”
Reality: According to the Global Gender Gap Index Report 2022, Pakistan ranks near the bottom, scoring 145/156 for economic participation and opportunity, 135/156 for educational attainment, 143/156 for health and survival, and 95/156 for political empowerment. According to UN Women, Pakistani women account for less than 25% of the workforce, and women’s income is about 16% of a man’s income.
6. Violence Against Women
Pakistan’s Claim: “In addition to policy measures, Pakistan has also enacted various legislations to address VAW including harassment, deprivation from inheritance, domestic violence, acid throwing, and rape.”
Reality: According to UN Women, while Pakistan has enacted laws to empower and protect women, the implementation of those laws is weak. Over 34% of women in Pakistan who are or have been married have experienced spousal physical, sexual, or emotional violence, and 56% of those women did not seek help or tell anyone. In March 2020, the UN Committee on Elimination of Violence Against Women expressed concern about “the high prevalence of gender-based violence against women and the social acceptance of domestic violence, underreporting of gender-based violence against women and impunity for perpetrators.”
7. Child Marriage
Pakistan’s Claim: “Since the subject of child marriage has been devolved to provinces every provincial government has taken its own initiatives to revise the age of marriage…”
Reality: As reported by UNICEF, there are 19 million child brides in Pakistan. As recently as January 16th, UN experts expressed alarm about this continuing violation. “We are deeply troubled to hear that girls as young as 13 are being kidnapped from their families, trafficked to locations far from their homes, made to marry men sometimes twice their age, and coerced to convert to Islam, all in violation of international human rights law,” they said in a statement. The experts also accused Pakistani courts of enabling the marriages. Former Balochistan lawmaker Yasmin Lehri commented in October 2022 that in the rural areas of Balochistan almost all girls are married before the age of 18.
8. Child Labor
Pakistan’s Claim: “Legislation prohibiting employment of children is in force across the country.”
Reality: Notwithstanding these laws, Pakistan still has high rates of child labor and exploitation. The Committee on the Rights of the Child expressed serious concern about this issue when it last reviewed Pakistan in 2016. More recently, in January 2023, Punjab Provincial Assembly Member Sadia Sohail remarked that “Child labour is a social evil, which cannot be neglected. The state has not been able to safeguard children’s rights and wellbeing, therefore an emergency should be imposed to tackle the issue of child labour.” Punjab Secretary, Labour and Human Resource Department Nabeel Javed, added that “Child labor is fragmented and there is dire need of inter-departmental coordination to work collectively for the eradication of child labour,” emphasizing that all stakeholders from public to private sectors and donor agencies must collaborate to address the issue.
9. Cooperation with UN
Pakistan’s Claim: “Pakistan is working in close coordination with United Nations human rights mechanisms by actively engaging with them, especially the Human Rights Council (HRC), and its allied mechanisms and forums, including but not limited to Treaty Bodies and Special Procedures.”
Reality: According to the UN database on Special Procedure Visits, only three Special Procedures have visited Pakistan. The last visits were in 2012 by the Working Group on Enforced Disappearances and the Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges. The only Special Procedures Pakistan has invited recently are those on Foreign Debt, Poverty, Education, and Disabilities. Recent visit requests from the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (2018), Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion (2018), Working Group on Discrimination Against Women and Girls (2020), Special Rapporteur on Torture (2021), and Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Killings (2023) received no response from Pakistan.
10. Protection for Minorities
Pakistan’s Claim: “In order to protect minorities and promote their public participation, the Government has taken several legislative, policy and administrative measures.”
Reality: Minorities are particularly unwelcome in Pakistan and comprise only around 4% of the population. The Pakistani constitution discriminates against minorities and prevents them from rising in the political ranks. Pakistani minorities have been subjected to rising violence and attacks according to media sources. In January 2022, Peshawar priest William Siraj was killed by extremists. In May 2022, two Sikh businessmen and an Ahmadi man were killed in separate incidents across Pakistan. The family of the Ahmadi man accused the chief cleric at his seminary of provoking the murder by inciting violence against the Ahmadi community. In June 2022, a Hindu Temple in Karachi was desecrated. In October, Deutsche Welle reported a rise in hate crimes against minorities in Pakistan.