Whilst Pakistan is at the centre of international concern due to its human rights record, Europe has remained quiet on the subject and has even chosen to overlook the violations of international core conventions.
To aid developing countries and encourage good governance in those countries, the European Union devised a strategy to provide trade subsidies to countries who agreed to follow human rights standards outlined by the European Parliament. The strategy was implemented in the form of GSP – The Generalised Scheme of Preferences. GSP+ is the commitment of a few countries, to go over and above standard requirements where more stringent rules and criteria are applied by the EU.
The European Commission has formulated a strict set of prerequisites for all applicants of the GSP+ program. These rules ensure the implementation of basic international human rights conventions. Currently, the EU is giving GSP+ to nine countries, including, controversially, to the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. Controversially, because Pakistan is on the terrorism financing, Financial Action Task Force (FATF), watchlist, which highlights countries engaged in State Sponsored terrorism and money laundering.
Death threats, disappearances, secret prisons and targeted killings are common place in the Pakistan. The media are a target of harassment, abuse and recipients of death threats. Journalists live in constant fear. Hence much news from Pakistan has to be released only by international journalists and NGO’s. This therefore questions how the European Commission conducts their assessment and monitoring of GSP+ in respect of due diligence.
In 2012, the targeted killing of people by unidentified individuals claimed 1,705 lives in the city of Karachi alone. The murder of women on the grounds of “honour” remains undiminished. 913 women, including 99 underage girls, fell victim to this terrible practice in 2012. Forced disappearances of human rights activists is of international concern due to the reported high numbers.
Forced disappearances began in Baluchistan, with of arrest and subsequent disappearance of hundreds of dissidents. This “epidemic” has since spread to the provinces of Sindh and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, and is reported in three out of four provinces in the country. The deeply disturbing findings are of maltreatment and mutilated bodies.
Whilst the affected communities claim that the death toll is already in the thousands, no one knows the exact number, as families are unable to report the disappearance to the police. Documentation of reports is difficult, and thus the requirements of the judiciary, to submit appropriate documentation, is not met. Nevertheless, the number of cases allowed by the courts is already in the hundreds.
The new 2018 Pakistani Government of Imran Khan, former international cricketer, is aware of the threat to peace and economic stability in Pakistan with the rise of militant forces and an environment of intolerance. GSP+ status allows Pakistan to import 20% of its exports to the EU duty-free and another 70% at a special tariff. Pakistan comprehends its value and knows the importance of fulfilling its obligations, in particular, those relating to the human rights and civil rights conventions.
However, there is little evidence that the government will assume its responsibilities. And why should it? When the European Commission has neither condemned the activities of Pakistan, nor withdrawn its GSP+ status for investigation, despite all the violations, it is obvious Pakistan will keep taking what it can get from its very generous and silent partner.