Watch-dog body formed to monitor GSP+ compliance

KARACHI: Human and women rights activists, trade union leaders, academicians, representatives of journalists, lawyers and environmental protection organizations and other civil society activists on Tuesday asked the federal and provincial governments to take effective measures to implement and make the relevant laws to meet the compliance of 27 international conventions, under the GSP-Plus facility by European Union to export duty free many Pakistani products in the European markets.

In this regard a national network of civil society organizations for GSP Plus monitoring was formed at a roundtable on “Civil society’s role in GSP Plus monitoring compliance” jointly organized by Democracy Reporting International (DRI), Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research (PILER); and Sindh Human Rights Commission at a local hotel.

The main speakers of the roundtable were Dr. Jaffar Ahmed, Director, Pakistan Study Centre, University of Karachi; Justice (Retd.) Majida Razvi, Chairperson of Sindh Human Rights Commission; Dr. Riaz Shaikh, Dean, Faculty of Social Sciences, Shaheed Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto Institute of Science and Technology (SZABIST); senior trade union leader Habibuddin Junaidi; human rights activist Zulfiqar Halepoto,  Barrister Salahuddin, ex-President of Karachi Bar Association; Khurshid Abbasi, General Secretary of Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists; Anis Haroon, Human Rights activist, international trade union trainer Geoff Brown and Zulfiqar Shah of DRI.

In a resolution, passed at the end of the roundtable the participants resolved to make the civil society’s group active to undertake tangible, focused and sustained initiatives to play a meaningful role as a watch dog, monitor violations of national laws, push for legislative reforms to bring laws in to conformity with international treaties and covenants conditional to the Generalized System of Preference Plus (GSP+) scheme.

The meeting also decided to form a committee at Sindh provincial level by inducting members from human rights organizations, women’s organizations, trade unions, environmental organizations, bar councils and the academia.

These proposed groups and forums were asked to develop human rights database (information on human rights institutions; texts, reviews and analyses of national laws, legislation, Constitution; international treaties and global mechanisms on human rights), generate fresh data through field research on violations of rights; aAdopt a broader, inclusive framework for human rights; disseminate information on the GSP Plus monitoring mechanism; induct resource persons, through institutional mechanism (probably through Sindh Commission of Human Rights) to analyze quantitative and qualitative data; liaise with federal and provincial governments, relevant ministries and the GSP Plus monitoring cells; develop combined, CSO reports on the status of implementation of 27 covenants, conventions and treaties and align CSO efforts and reports with International monitoring requirements and cycles such as EU monitoring on GSP Plus and UN monitoring systems.

Speaking on the occasion Justice (Retd.) Majida Razvi said that Sindh was the first province which, has established an independent Human Rights Commission, where as the National HR Commission is yet to be set up.

She asked the civil society to play its role in the implementation of all the international Conventions including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other GSP-Plus related Conventions. The international conventions regarding good governance are important as they are required for continuation of the GSP Plus trade facility, but unfortunately in Pakistan and especially in Sindh no serious measure is being taken for good governance.

Speaking on the occasion, the women’s and human rights activist Ms. Anis Haroon pointed out Human Rights violation is ruthlessly happening in Pakistan without any check. Unfortunately, the civil society of Pakistan has become weaker with the passage of time. “We need to make civil society vibrant and for this purpose a critical mass has to be created in the society to push for implementation of these Conventions.”

Dr. Jaffar Ahmed, Director, Pakistan Study Centre, University of Karachi said that the GSP-Plus conditionalities have provided a room to Pakistani civil society to develop linkages with the European civil society to ensure implementation of the human rights Conventions in Pakistan. He underlined the need to have a human rights databank for doing advocacy and research on the issues. This data bank would help the civil society in the process with the European Union, he added.

Zulfiqar Halepoto of Forum for Conflict Resolution said Pakistan’s Constitution has many articles to ensure human rights for every citizens. Right to Life is part of the Constitution and recent execution of violation of right to life. There is also a major cause of the concern as disappearance cases of political workers are reported in Balochistan and Sindh. Military courts is another violation of the international commitments.

He emphasized the need for doing lobbying with the political parties, media, lawyers bodies, human rights organisations, concerned citizens, parliamentarians and academia to advocate and develop pressure on govt to follow the international procedure for implementation of the Conventions.

A senior trade unions tutor and member of ManchesterTrade Union Council said the GSP plus is also part of foreign policy of the European countries. The GSP+ facility requires the beneficiary countries to show continued progress against the conventions and satisfy the undertakings on monitoring and implementation made as part of the application to the scheme.

He pointed out the European Commission will establish a central data-base of registered exporters, through which operators will be able to check before declaring goods for release for free circulation that their supplier is a registered exporter in the beneficiary country concerned.

Senior trade union leader Habibuddin Junaidi said state’s attitude towards human rights is very negative. He said many institutions including parliament in Pakistan. Similarly, trade unions institution is also deteriorating. In such a situation, implementation of the human rights is a big challenge.

According to conservative estimates, he said, 60 million workers are there in Pakistan and out of which only 2 percent are associated with any trade union. An effective and active trade union movement is required in Pakistan, he added.

He underlined the need to create an awareness regarding GSP Plus among the workers and trade union leaders as well.

Barrister Salahuddin, ex-President of Karachi Bar Association bar associations and bar council of the country can play effective role in human rights implementations. “We have seen the role of lawyers during lawyers movement in 2007.”

It was a positive step that in the Azizullah Memon case the Supreme Court stated that the apex court can issue directives to the government to frame laws, which are in violation of fundamental rights ensured under Constitution.

He said the Article 3 in the Constitution is a revolutionary one. It states “The State shall ensure the elimination of all forms of exploitation and the gradual fulfillment of the fundamental principle, from each according to his ability, to each according to his work.”

Khursheed Abbasi, General Secretary of Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists said that journalists are also facing grave human rights violation. In 2014 about 40 journalists died in Pakistan while discharging their professional duties and total number of journalists who have lost their lives during few years is 122. Until now only two cases of journalists’ murder have been decided by the courts. .

In his welcome address and a presentation on GSP Plus Zulfiqar Shah of DRI said that In January 2014, the European Union granted Pakistan GSP + status, which is currently granted to 13 developing countries. The GSP Plus scheme has allowed Pakistan tariff free exports to European markets. The economic benefits of GSP + are considered to be highly significant with textile, garments and leather goods exporting sectors to be the biggest beneficiary.

The GSP Plus mechanism is an incentive mechanism for Pakistan to further democratic and human rights reforms achieving compliance to the 27 conventions attached to GSP Plus scheme is going to be a challenging task for the government. This requires both the creation of institutional mechanisms to ensure effective reporting to treaty bodies as well as a thorough review of the legislations to bring in laws in conformity with the requirements of the conventions.

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