Pakistan Reader# 547, 31 January 2023
On 30 January, the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) Working Group of the United Human Rights Council said that it would review Pakistan’s human rights track till 3 February along with a few other countries. This comes as Pakistan’s review meetings with the UPR took place in May 2008, October 2012 and November 2017. The UPR’s review session was questioned by the US, who asked about the Pakistani government’s “plans” to tighten civilian control of the military, and also the equitable participation of the ethnic and religious communities, including women in the society and democratic process of the country.
Since the third UPR review in 2017, Pakistan has said that it has been “steadfast” in its cooperation with the UN Human Rights machinery and that it has made sustained efforts to adhere to international human rights obligations, including reports of treaties and Special Procedures. Additionally, Pakistan also said that it has submitted periodic reports to the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, the Human Rights Committee, the Committee on the Rights of the Child and the Committee against Torture and that the advancement of basic human rights protection has been taken care of by the government in the most “efficient” manner.
What is the human rights situation like in Pakistan?
Pertaining to the US’ questions about the credibility of Pakistan’s aid and services to its people in times of socioeconomic turmoil, the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime released its annual report on “Trafficking in Persons” allowed an insight into the trafficking “patterns and flows” during the Covid-19 pandemic and also projected the important changes that countries are embracing to resist elements like human trafficking in their countries. In December 2022, Pakistan’s conviction rates for human trafficking remained significantly low, with internal displacements within the country leaving the women and children with very little.
According to the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), in Punjab, trafficking cases that were reported stood at 217 in 2022, jumping from a mere 6 from the previous years, and recorded an increase of nearly 3,517 per cent. In Sindh, trafficking cases stood at 434, ballooning a rise of about 7,000 per cent. Meanwhile, in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the reported cases fell from 71 to 61 in 2022, with Balochistan securing 38 cases in the same year as well. In the Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT), the total reported trafficking cases stood at 26 in 2022, with the FIA recording nearly 1,300 cases of human trafficking from 2020 to 2022.
Why are the cases alarming?
In December 2022, a human trafficking racket was busted in Hyderabad with nearly 14,000 victims trafficked by 18 cartels in the region. Pakistan’s issue with trafficking comes with its rising unemployment and unstable economy. According to economists, trafficking cases would further rise due to the incriminating levels of instability and unemployment in the country following the socioeconomic fallouts of the floods and the pandemic. Pakistanis seeking employment and better living conditions could be easily coerced into leaving the country, often leading to illegal transportation and falsified assurances across the border. Syed Tahsin Anwar Ali Shah, former director general of the FIA, said that the primitive reasons for increased trafficking included inflation, unemployment and unequal resource distribution. He said that the FIA had made a Red Book which would induce a “terrorist-style bounty” to catch hold of the traffickers, which eventually slowed down. Shah defended the FIA and said that despite the rise, the FIA had “managed” to curb the practice, with nearly 170 human traffickers being arrested in the last two years, which fares much lesser than the cases that go unreported.
“Trafficking in Persons,” United Nations of Drug and Trafficking, December 2022
“Crises hindering victim identification: UNODC human trafficking report,” UN News, 24 January 2023
Amir Ahmed, “UN human rights body to review Pakistan’s record in Geneva today,” Dawn, 30 January 2023
Khalid Rasheed, “Drastic rise observed in human trafficking cases,” The Express Tribune, 19 December 2022
“Human trafficking,” The Express Tribune, 30 January 2023