Pakistan’s legislative, institutional measures advancing human rights in line with UN goals

ISLAMABAD, Jan 29 (APP): Pakistan has taken a range of legislative, policy and institutional steps to advance the human rights agenda with a focus on protection and promotion of rights of women, children, journalists, refugees and vulnerable sections of society, in line with the standards of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of the Human Rights Council of the United Nations.

According to official data available with APP, the federal government had enacted legislation to safeguard rights of women and children including Women’s Property Rights Act, 2020, Zainab Alert, Response and Recovery Act 2020 and, Anti-Rape (Investigation and Trial) Act 2021.

The legislative and institutional steps had gone a long way in safeguarding rights of the Pakistani citizens especially women, children and transgender persons.

The Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act, 2018 guaranteed rights for transgender citizens and prohibited any discrimination against them in their enjoyment of fundamental rights of voting, inheritance, education, work, property, access to public areas. The enactment of ICT Rights of Persons with Disability Act, 2020 went further to safeguard and prevent any discriminatory acts against persons with disability. Senior citizens were also protected from discrimination under ICT Senior Citizen Act, 2022.

The Human Rights Council through the Universal Periodic Review mechanism periodically reviews the human rights record of every UN member state. The ultimate goal of UPR is to strengthen the realization and enjoyment of human rights in a country.

Established in 2007, this peer-driven review mechanism provided a platform for dialogue and constructive engagement among states.

In line with the goals of the United Nations, Pakistan had also paid significant attention to strengthening rule of law, accountability and access to justice in the country. Among these were the Juvenile Justice System Act, 2018, which laid down a comprehensive system to deal with juvenile cases with enhanced focus on social rehabilitation and reintegration. Under the Legal Aid & Justice Authority Act, 2020, a legal aid and justice authority had been established for providing affordable and quick access to justice to the poor and vulnerable segments.

The Torture and Custodial Death (Prevention and Punishment) Act, 2022 criminalised torture, death and rape in custody and protected due process and fair trial rights of under trial persons.

The government had also taken credible steps to provide a safe and enabling environment to journalist community. The Protection of Journalists and Media Professionals Act, 2021 (Journalist Act) was its concrete example. The act stipulated establishment of a Commission as a grievance redressal mechanism for journalists and media professionals in any case of intimidation and harassment.

Despite the serious social and economic impacts of the COVID pandemic, global economic downturn and devastating floods of 2022, the Government had taken wide ranging measures to alleviate poverty, provide adequate standard of living, strengthen social safety net, and reduce inequalities.

The Benazir Income Support Program (BISP) was a flagship initiative under which unconditional cash transfers had been disbursed to the poor and the marginalized. During the pandemic, the program was launched to help poor families affected by the Covid-19 pandemic and an amount of approximately Rs 180 billion to around 14.9 million beneficiaries (Rs 12,000 per beneficiary) was disbursed.

Moreover, the government was also implementing the National Population Action Plan with the target to ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive health by taking multi-pronged measures including involvement of all public and private sector health facilities. A national campaign to fight malnutrition and stunting among children was also underway.

The bill to criminalize enforced disappearances was undergoing parliamentary process. In line with the State’s zero tolerance policy, the alleged cases of missing persons are being expeditiously and efficiently dealt by Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances. The overall decrease in number of alleged cases received from the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances attest to this positive trend.

The economic constraints notwithstanding, Pakistan had also continued to safeguard and advance basic rights of over 3 million Afghan refugees, who were enjoying access to basic amenities and opportunities like employment, health care, education, water and other public services at par with Pakistani citizens.

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