In May of this year the Members of European Parliament released a report titled ‘Religious Minorities in Pakistan’. This report draws attention to the plight of religious minorities in Pakistan and the institutionalised discrimination against these groups by the Pakistani authorities. The report calls on Pakistan to drastically improve the conditions of religious minorities living in the country, and threatened that failing to do so would prompt the European Union to a seriously re-examine the financial assistance from its budget to Pakistan.
However, it appears that the EU does not speak with a common voice when it comes to its relationship with Pakistan. On 20th March 2019 the 5th Session of Pakistan-EU Political Dialogue took place in Brussels, Belgium, followed by the 4th Session of the Pakistan-EU Strategic Dialogue on 25th March in Islamabad, Pakistan. The EU delegation was headed by Ms Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy/Vice-President of the European Commission and Pakistan was represented by Makhdoom Shah Mahmood Qureshi, Minister for Foreign Affairs. Following the meeting, the EU and Pakistan representatives issued joint press communiqués that praised Pakistan’s progress in terms of human rights, security and the fight against terrorism. This calls into question the validity of such statements when much of what was stated as being agreed to, can be contradicted with facts and evidence to the contrary.
“Both sides reaffirmed their commitment to strengthening of multilateralism and adherence to the principles and purposes of the UN Charter as well as international law” states the press release. “Both sides expressed a strong political commitment towards the mutually beneficial GSP Plus preferential trade regime provided by the EU and to utilise it to its full potential. The two sides reaffirmed their resolve for the promotion and protection of human rights and shared their perspectives on issues related to freedom of religion or belief and the role of civil society. Pakistan and the EU agreed on the importance of further promoting inter-faith harmony.” Whilst the press statement may depict a certain picture of Pakistan, international reports by NGOs and human rights monitoring bodies, as well as by the European Parliament show another reality.
While Pakistan did ratify 27 core Conventions, which constitute a prerequisite to access the EU’s GSP Plus, reports from United Nations (UN) and International Labour Organisation (ILO), and gender equality and human rights organisations have highlighted violations of at least half of the conventions as defined in international law that have been committed by Pakistan. One example can be found in a recent report from the European Parliament on religious minorities in Pakistan, which highlights the blatant violations of fundamental rights and the continuous persecution of religious minorities in the country, including Hindus, Christians, Sikhs, Ahmadiyya and Shias.
Additionally, Pakistan has been listed as one of the world’s worst country’s to be a worker by the 2017 ITUC Global Rights Index. Trade unions and strikes are illegal in the “Exports Processing Zones” and a general disrespect for labour rights and freedom of association as this was highlighted by a report of the Pakistani Workers Federation.
On top of that, Pakistan’s records in terms of women’s rights and women’s empowerment are disastrous. The 2017 Global Gender Gap Index, ranked Pakistan 143 out of 144 countries due to prolific and systemic discrimination against women. Women’s rights in Pakistan are condemned by international organisations, including Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women. These groups have found that Pakistan repeatedly fails to fulfil its obligations under the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).
In light of the evidence, and contrary to the press communique, the European Institutions, the European Council and the European Parliament should seek clarity on the proposed Strategic Engagement Plan (SEP) between Pakistan and the EU. The Strategic Engagement Plan is being established “to signify the growing momentum of Pakistan-EU”. The reality of this momentum is not clear, nor its objective, or its compatibility with EU founding principles of democratic values.