Pakistan was on Wednesday re-elected to the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) after securing 169 votes in a 193-member UN General Assembly. Uzbekistan, Nepal, China were also elected to the rights body, but Pakistan got the distinction of garnering the most votes from UNGA countries. The country’s three-year term on the body will begin in 2021, on the very first day of the new year.
The election comes at a critical time for Pakistan. The country is striving hard to enhance its international profile tarnished by years of terror allegations. The government is also battling internal political turmoil wherein the opposition accuses the government of unfair treatment. Pakistan Army, often accused of heavy-handedness, is fighting enemies on both the eastern and western borders while trying to maintain domestic law and order.
Perhaps aware of the importance of the re-election of the country to the rights body, Prime Minister Imran Khan took to social networking platform Twitter on Wednesday afternoon to congratulate the nation. “Pakistan’s resounding success in this election to an important UN body showcases Pakistan as a principled, reliable & responsible player at the international stage, with the capacity to contribute meaningfully to work of the UN,” he tweeted.
PM Imran, who has risen to prominence on the international stage after spearheading globally acclaimed climate projects in Pakistan and leading a peace outreach to New Delhi, was on Wednesday in the line of fire as arch-enemy India accused Pakistan of harboring terror groups and condemned the country’s election to the UNHRC. Indian ally Israel also took a swipe at the UN in light of the results of the rights body ballot.
The bitterness of India and Israel on Pakistan’s election to the UNHRC is best understood in the context of Islamabad’s clear stance on the occupied Kashmir and Palestine issues over the years. But it does not explain the whole story. In recent years, the country has taken numerous steps to safeguard the rights of children, women, transgenders, prisoners, and laborers. The country deserves to be on the rights body, opine experts.
Pakistan’s stance on the Kashmir issue
Seventy-three years have passed since the partition of the sub-continent, yet the Kashmir territorial dispute remains a major cause of the constant tensions between Pakistan and India. Under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, tensions in Indian occupied Kashmir (IOK) have exacerbated. In 2019, he abrogated Article 370 and 35A, revoking autonomy of the area. Consequently, protests broke out all over the region.
Kashmiris Muslims in IoK are constantly being subjected to extreme violence inflicted by the occupying Indian forces. The forces have killed and arrested several who were fighting for a separate state. Modi labels them as ‘terrorists’. However, Pakistan condemns the unlawful killings and human rights violations prevalent in IoK. Pakistan has always been vocal about Kashmir’s right to self-determination.
Pakistan will remain actively engaged with the Council as well as its related processes to continue to highlight the plight of Kashmiris and other oppressed people all over the world
It also believes a plebiscite should be held under UN resolutions. Kashmiris should be the ones who decide which country they want to join or if they want a separate state altogether, Pakistan has maintained on international forums. Pakistan’s re-election in UN Human Rights Council weakens India’s stance on Kashmir. The international community acknowledges Pakistan’s vigorous efforts towards human rights protection.
In Kashmir, Pakistan can work synonymously with UNHRC to ensure the Kashmir dispute reaches a conclusion. An official statement issued by the Foreign Office in this regard adds that Pakistan will remain actively engaged with the Council as well as its related processes to continue to highlight the plight of Kashmiris and other oppressed people all over the world.
Read more: India called out on Kashmir crimes: UNHRC
Pakistan’s stance on Palestinian rights
Pakistan has long been a proponent of Palestine’s right to self-determination and this is reflective in the fact that Pakistan does not recognize Israel as a separate state. The issue is very personal for Pakistan as Palestine is sacred land for Muslims as well. The recent US-UAE-Israel accord had left people wondering whether Pakistan would finally recognize Israel under political pressure. However, the foreign office left no room for ambiguity.
The FO stated: “Pakistan’s approach will be guided by our evaluation of how Palestinians’ rights and aspirations are upheld and how regional peace, security, and stability are preserved.” It further added that Pakistan has an abiding commitment to the full realization of the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people, including the right to self-determination. Peace and stability in the Middle East region are also Pakistan’s key priorities.
Post-US-UAE-Israel accord, Prime Minister Imran Khan, during an interview with Dunya News, stated: “Our stance is very clear; as Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah said, Pakistan will never recognize Israel until Palestinians are given their right of a just settlement.” Pakistan’s stance remains undeterred.
Pakistan’s stance on Nagorno-Karabakh
The conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh region between Azerbaijan and Armenia has resurfaced recently, leaving several civilians killed as the two countries go to war over the territory. The region is internationally recognized as a part of Azerbaijan, but Armenia has ethnic roots there, thus it controls the region. According to BBC, the conflict has now moved outside the disputed region, and several were killed in Ganja city on Monday.
In response to the conflict, Pakistan’s Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) stated: “CJCSC [Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee] said that Pakistan Armed Forces fully support Azerbaijan’s position on Nagorno-Karabakh, which is in line with the several unanimously adopted United Nations Security Council resolutions.”
Domestic rights achievements
Ministry of Human Rights, headed by Shireen Mazari, is a government agency working diligently to protect human rights across Pakistan. In 2016, it initiated an Action Plan for Human Rights that includes ‘six thematic areas’ including the implementation of rights of women, children, minorities, and vulnerable population, as well as, the consolidation of significant National Human Rights Institutions.
Legal reforms executed by the action plan include the National Commission on the Rights of the Child Act 2017; Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act 2018 which was one of its kind and aims to protect transgenders against any form of harassment; the National Commission on the status of Women (Amendment) Act, 2018; ICT Rights of Persons with Disability Bill, 2018; Torture and Custodial Death (Prevention & Punishment) Bill, 2018; ICT Capital Territory Senior Citizen Bill, 2019 et cetera.
Ergo, Pakistan can initiate dialogue and provide significant input to resolve pressing humanitarian issues such as the Kashmir conflict
Moreover, under the action plan’s other thematic areas, MoHR has issued national policy guidelines on gender-based violence & women’s rights as well as prioritizing and implementing rights of minorities and rights of children. MoHR has led several public awareness campaigns on human rights across media, such as bringing important issues pertaining to child abuse and women’s rights to public attention through TVCs and video messages.
What does the future hold?
Pakistan’s re-election in HRC is representative of its resounding efforts towards safeguarding human rights. It is also representative of the fact that Pakistan’s determination in this regard is acknowledged and deemed significant by the international community. Rights experts believe that the win has several messages for the country.
“This win will not only provoke a sense of achievement and motivation in MoHR and Pakistan’s several other prominent organizations working towards human rights protection but also reinforce Pakistan’s position as a strong international actor,” a rights expert told GVS. “Ergo, Pakistan can initiate dialogue and provide significant input to resolve pressing humanitarian issues such as the Kashmir conflict,” she added.
“Pakistan has always been assiduous in its effort to deter human rights violations, whether they are domestic or anywhere else in the world. The stance it takes has always been one that advocates human rights protection, as is seen in its role in the Kashmir conflict, Israel-Palestine conflict, and the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh region,” she said.
The expert further noted that Pakistan’s ministry of human rights is working tirelessly to guarantee human rights. “Its list of credentials in the past few years is noteworthy. Thus, Pakistan’s win will prove advantageous not only for Pakistan’s international image but also for future conflict resolution pertaining to local or international human rights violations.”