Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) Sylwia Spurek and Maria Arena, Chair of the Human Rights Committee in the European Parliament (DROI), raised a written question to the European Commission recently stating that “in spite of having ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), Pakistan has retained high rates of sexual violence, honour killings and harassment, all of which were highlighted in the Commission’s 2020 evaluation”.
The two MEPs from the Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D) were endorsing repeated European Parliament concerns over violence against women in Pakistan and Pakistan’s compliance with GSP+ criteria in this respect.
The MEPs noted that “while praising Pakistan’s tangible progress by adopting new laws tackling rape and honour killings, on providing assistance to victims and outlawing forced marriages and conversions, the Commission has also mentioned Pakistan’s failure to implement these laws”. They further added “without the implementation of laws, women and girls remain at risk, as highlighted by the increasing numbers of victims, in spite of Pakistan’s stated commitment to making the elimination of gender-based violence a priority in its National Action Plan for Human Rights”. The MEPS therefore asked if the Commission could “clarify the numbers of convictions and legal sanctions taken against perpetrators of violence against women in Pakistan recently?”
The S&D parliamentarians further enquired “does GSP+ monitoring and evaluation include input from a gender expert?” and “does the Commission consider Pakistani as GSP+ compliant in respect of gender equality?”
Pakistan was granted access to the European Union’s flagship trade preference scheme the Generalised Scheme of Preferences (GSP+) in 2014. The European Commission has answers multiple questions from the European Parliament regarding human rights abuses in the country in which it highlights that, as a beneficiary country, Pakistan is subject to strict monitoring of its commitments under the 27 international human rights centred conventions.
On behalf of the European Commission, the Commissioner for Trade, Phil Hogan responded to the written questions on 12 August 2020 by referencing the 10 February 2020 published 2018-2019 Report on the Generalised Scheme of Preferences to the European Parliament and the Council that includes an assessment of Pakistan’s implementation of 27 conventions in the areas of human rights, labour rights, environment, and good governance under the Special Incentive Arrangement for Sustainable Development and Good Governance (GSP+).
Commissioner Hogan replied that “the report shows that GSP+ is effective as Pakistan is making progress over time: the country has shown commitment and taken concrete legislative measures towards improving the situation of women and girls” and that “according to unofficial data of civil society organisations, the conviction rate for cases of violence against women remains low, with just about 2, 5% of the perpetrators being sentenced by a court”.
He further acknowledged that “the situation of women and children in Pakistan remains problematic and challenges regarding gender – tackled under a number of GSP+ related conventions– are high” and “further progress is needed”.
The Commissioner added that these facts “are included in the list of salient issues the Commission sent to Pakistan in June 2020”. According to Mr Hogan, this list includes, “among others, effective action to tackle the impunity for the perpetrators of crimes, coordination and oversight of the formulation and implementation of gender equality policies and programmes, the prioritisation of women’s rights in development strategies, and addressing the wage gap.”
Mr Hogan said that a “response from the Pakistan government is expected by September 2020” and that “the issue will also be covered by a joint Commission/EEAS monitoring mission to Pakistan”.
In the response to the MEPs Spurek and Arena, Mr Hogan concluded that “GSP+ monitoring draws on both in-house – of the Commission and the EEAS – and external expertise on gender”.
The European Commission has given similar rhetoric in response to multiple questions raised by European parliamentarians of all groups. In this rhetoric the Commission is not only absolving Pakistan of its responsibility under CEDAW to address violence against women, but it is also complicit in the continuing abuse women in Pakistan face as it refuses to use the tools it has, such as GSP+, to force Pakistan into action. Considering the Commission’s admissions on its concerns regarding human rights abuses in Pakistan, the European Parliament must continue to ask for the justification of GSP+ provisions to any country failing in compliance.
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