Pakistan Placed on EU Watch Over Human Rights Violations for Preferential Trade Status

By A Correspondent
(Photo courtesy @UsmanFarhat Twitter feed)
The European Union is closely monitoring Pakistan’s deteriorating human rights situation amid ongoing political turmoil and a crackdown on the former prime minister Imran Khan and his supporters by its military-and Western-backed government of so-called “democrats”.

Pakistan has drifted towards full authoritarian rule in recent months with a growing number of independent commentators calling the military-led crackdown akin to martial law. More than half of the country is under direct military control after the military and Western-backed coalition government of 13 political parties – representing political turncoats, religious extremists and leaders notorious for corruption and links to terrorist groups – gave Punjab, Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa, and Balochistan provinces under military control under Article 245 of the country’s constitution.

A spokesperson for the European Union told the Spanish news agency EFE, Thursday (June 25) that the bloc, Pakistan’s largest trading partner, was watching the crisis-ridden country “in the context of a preferential trade agreement used as leverage to promote human rights and good governance”.

“The EU is continuously monitoring the implementation of 27 international conventions, including the international covenant on civil and political rights (in Pakistan),” EU spokesperson Nabila Massrali told EFE in an emailed response.

The EU can suspend the GSP+ status if the country doesn’t comply with the human rights conditions. Pakistan received the GSP+ status in 2014 which will expire in December 2023.

Pakistan currently enjoys the Generalized Scheme of Preferences-Plus (GSP+) that enables zero tariffs on two-thirds of imports from specified nations. The countries granted the status have to constantly uphold 27 international treaties on human rights, labor rights, the environment, and good governance.

Import tariff advantages are offered to help vulnerable developing nations eradicate poverty, promote sustainable development, and engage in the global economy.

The GSP+ status increased Pakistan’s exports to the EU from 3.56 billion Euros in 2013 to 6.64 billion in 2021, recording an 86 percent hike. According to government data, the EU’s exports to Pakistan increased from 3.31 billion Euros to 5.59 Euros during the same period, representing a 69 percent increase.

The United Nations, and international human rights groups, including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, have expressed concern about the government’s announcement to try Khan’s supporters, who clashed with police and rioted across the country following his arrest earlier this month, in the military courts, which work beyond the ambit of civilian courts.

In the first significant development on this front, an administrative judge in Lahore, Abher Gul Khan, ruled that 16 people be handed over to the military for “proceedings in accordance with the law”. The decision came after the commanding officer of 54 Electrical and Mechanical Engineers Battalion, Irfan Akhtar submitted an application to the court, seeking the custody of the suspects in accordance with Section 549 (delivery to military authorities of persons liable to be tried by court-martial) of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) and Criminal Procedure (Military Offenders) Rules 1970 for “inquiry/ trial to the extent of charges under the provisions of the Official Secrets Act, 1923”.

“The Pakistani authorities should end their arbitrary arrests of political opposition activists and peaceful protesters,” said Patricia Gossman, associate Asia director at Human Rights Watch in a statement on May 20th. “Anyone committing violence should be appropriately charged and their due process rights respected.”

The country’s military chief General Asim Munir is reportedly “furious” at the arson attack on Lahore Corps Commander’s residence and has vowed to bring the perpetrators to justice. Khan has cast aspersions at the military’s claim and demanded an independent investigation into the incident under Supreme Court’s supervision. The military has denied any interference in politics.

Khan said on May 24 that more than 10,000 of his party workers, including senior leadership and women, have been arrested in the countrywide crackdown on his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party. He alleged that the authorities had kept his party workers and supporters in cage-like prison cells without proper food and water.

In 2021, the European Parliament adopted a resolution which had called for the European Commission to review Pakistan’s eligibility for the GSP+ status, citing discriminatory laws towards minorities and fundamental rights.

The EU spokesperson told EFE that the bloc was “very closely” following the developments. “We have already called on all sides to refrain from escalating the situation, pursue dialogue and respect for the rule of law,” said Massrali.

The spokesperson said the EU top diplomat Josep Borrell told conveyed the same message to Pakistan’s deputy foreign minister Hina Rabbani Khar on the margins of the EU Indo-Pacific ministerial meeting in Sweden on May 13.

The military and its puppets in the government risk serious damage to their standing if the EU takes a position on the escalating crisis by revoking Pakistann’s GSP+ status. The country’s political and military elite have reportedly made heavy investments in Western countries, allegedly using the money stolen from Pakistan. Nawaz Sharif, the elder brother of prime minister Shahbaz Sharif, who was convicted of corruption, is absconding in London under British protection for the past four years.

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