Pakistan’s re-election to the Human Rights Council of the United Nations is likely to leave a long term impact on the state of the global human rights as the rights domain faces serious challenges internationally. Out of the five candidates from the Asia-Pacific region who were competing for four seats in the HRC, Pakistan got the largest number of votes with 169 members out of 193 UN members at the UN General Assembly.
Uzbekistan received 164 votes, Nepal 150 and China got 139 votes and were elected alongside Pakistan. Saudi Arabia lost out with the lowest votes of 90. According to the HRC’s rules, the seats are designated to various regions of the world to ensure geographical representation. The latest round of election to 15 seats out of 47-member HRC was more or less determined in advance as other regional groups had uncontested slots.
Pakistan’s gambit has to be seen in the broader context of its domestic rights situation which has often brought international condemnation. To begin with, the issue of minority rights has been a weak point of Pakistan as Hindus, Sikhs, Christians have been at a receiving end in the country for a long time. The anti-minority violence had minimised in Pakistan after the communal riots of 1947 but violation of minority rights revived with Pakistan sliding into hardcore Islamic system during the reign of President Zia ul Haq. The worst instance of such violence was the 2011 murder of Shahbaz Bhatti, the minority rights minister of Pakistan who was a Christian.
With deepening theocratic elements in the Pakistani state, emerged greater sectarianism which translated as anti-Shia violence in Pakistan’s major cities like Karachi. The recent spate of kidnappings and murders of prominent Shia individuals have once again highlighted the problem areas of Pakistan’s human rights record.
Pakistan’s handling of the Baloch liberation movement and the activists in the Azad Kashmir region have drawn widespread condemnation. The Baloch activists have frequently recounted the unspeakable brutalities inflicted on them by the Pakistan military. The Baloch representatives have in the recent past travelled to Geneva and made representation regarding the state of the human rights situation in their province which is witnessing a public movement for freedom and autonomy.
Given the burden of human rights violations happening in Pakistan and the chances of international crackdown, there was obviously good reason for the country to remain a member in the UNHRC. It is therefore understandable that both Pakistan and China –both with widespread human rights issues – had reasons to expend great deal of diplomatic power to ensure continued presence in the HRC. Therefore the voting has to be seen in the larger context of human rights in Pakistan becoming its weak point especially as it targets others on this count. In recent days India has neutralised Pakistan’s criticism of the Kashmir issue by citing the abysmal treatment of the Hindu and Sikh minorities in the country.
It is therefore necessary to recognise that Pakistan is willing to invest diplomatic and political efforts to ensure continued presence in the global human rights bodies not just to target countries like India and Afghanistan but also to ensure continued prevention of any criticism of its domestic rights scenario from the HRC.
However, a larger question is the future of the HRC if it continues to be occupied by major rights violators like Pakistan. This has to be addressed by focusing on the fact that countries are not serious about rectifying the human rights violations happening at home and are viewing the issue as part of an arena of global power politics. Such an attitude will not allow HRC to deliver forcefully when it is required to and will leave a negative impact.