Violence Against Women & Girls: Revisiting Pakistan’s International Human Rights Obligations
COVID-19 is not only a public health crisis, it also carries various implications for democracy, human rights and gender justice. According to a recent special report by Freedom House, “Democracy Under Lockdown”, since the Coronavirus outbreak, the condition of democracy and human rights has grown worse in 80 countries.
It is argued that COVID-19 has deepened the existing gender inequalities and gender power imbalances leading to gender-based violence (GBV) across the world. However, response to the implications on gender-based violence remains insufficient. According to the United Nations, one-fifth of the 206 countries analyzed, or 42 States, had no gender-sensitive measures in place to respond to the pandemic.
There is a critique on the preparedness and response plan of Pakistan with regards to its gender component. A great deal of literature has been produced so far as to how better respond to gender-based violence in the wake of COVID-19 in Pakistan.
Keeping that aspect aside, in this article, I reiterate Pakistan’s obligations under Concluding Observations of UN Human Rights Treaty Bodies and Outcome Document of Third Universal Periodic Review of Pakistan (2017) with a belief that an effective response to these recommendation at policy and practice level could not only overshadow impacts of COVID-19 on GBV but also help improving the overall situation of gender-based violence in the country. Further, I will take into account violence against women and girls (VAW&G) only under GBV.The Outcome Document of the review adopted by UPR working group lays down various recommendations for Pakistan. However, concerning VAW&G, Pakistan accepted to fully staff and fund the national human rights institutions outlined in its Action Plan for Human Rights to better collecting and analyzing of disaggregated data in support of laws, policies and safeguards related to women and girls. It accepted to strengthen the national and provincial commissions on the status of women through increased funding and support, given the importance of the issue. Also, it accepted to implement, effectively and stringently, legislation criminalizing violence against women and domestic violence including marital rape and improve data collection mechanisms on violence against women.
Pakistan ratified Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) on 12 March 1996. Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women in its concluding observations on the fifth periodic report of Pakistan at its seventy-fifth session (10–28 February 2020) recommended Pakistan: to adopt legislation to criminalize all forms of gender-based violence against women, including domestic violence and marital rape, without exemptions, to adopt a national plan of action to combat all forms of gender-based violence against women with a particular focus on domestic violence. It also recommended to introduce systematic capacity-building for judges, prosecutors, police officers and other law enforcement officials on the strict application of criminal law provisions for gender-based violence against women and on gender-sensitive investigation procedures, and introduce mandatory training for medical personnel.
Further, it recommended the government to ensure the availability of inclusive and accessible shelters for women who are victims of violence, medical and psychological support services as well as legal counselling and rehabilitation services for victims by providing adequate funding, staff training, while regularly monitoring those services. In addition to that, it recommended to systematically collect and analyse data on all forms of GBV, disaggregated by age, region, disability and relationship between the victim and perpetrator, as well as data on the number of protection orders issued, on prosecutions and on the sentences imposed on perpetrators, and include such data in the next periodic report.Pakistan ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) on 23 Jun 2010. Human Rights Committee in its Concluding Observations on the initial report of Pakistan adopted by the Committee at its 120th session, 3-28 July 2017, recommended Pakistan to effectively enforce the anti-honour killings, anti-rape laws and other relevant laws criminalizing violence against women and domestic violence, and monitor their enforcement throughout the territory. Also, it recommended protecting women and girls from sexual abuse, harassment, trafficking, and investigating any such cases to bring perpetrators to justice and providing the necessary assistance to victims.
Pakistan ratified UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT) on 23 Jun 2010. Committee against Torture in its Concluding Observations on the initial report of Pakistan at its sixtieth session (18 April-12 May 2017) recommended Pakistan to intensify efforts to prevent, combat and eradicate all forms of violence against women by strengthening legal provisions in national and provincial legislation that address and criminalize violence against women. It recommended to guarantee in practice that women who are victims of violence have immediate access to legal remedies, effective protection, including shelters, medical care and psychological support. Furthermore, it recommended to conduct awareness-raising campaigns and training for public officials concerning their due diligence obligation under the Convention to protect women from violence, including honour killings, and to refrain from acquiescing in or condoning such violence.
Pakistan ratified Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) on 12 Nov 1990. Committee on the Rights of the Child in its Concluding Observations on the fifth periodic report adopted by the Committee at its seventy-second session (17 May-3 June 2016) recommended Pakistan to ensure that effective protection, including shelter and other protection measures, is provided to women and children who are victims of crimes committed in the name of so-called honour, and to those at risk of falling victim to such crimes.
Pakistan ratified the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) on 17 Apr 2008. Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in its Concluding Observations on the initial report of Pakistan adopted by the Committee at its sixty-first session (29 May-23 June 2017) recommended Pakistan to effectively enforce the anti-honour killings laws and all other relevant laws criminalizing violence against women and monitor their enforcement. Further, it recommended to promptly investigate cases of violence against women and punishing the perpetrators with penalties in commensurate with the gravity of the offences.
Undoubtedly, the government of Pakistan has taken many steps at various levels in the light of aforementioned obligations; however, only a complete compliance will improve the situation of VAW&G in the country considering relevant impacts of COVID-19 on VAW&G.