PTI’s agenda of curbing voices for human rights won’t succeed.
Pakistan is working for maintaining the EU GSP Plus status without taking sufficient care of religious minorities.
Pakistan does not enjoy a good reputation when it comes to human rights. However, since 2018, this situation has worsened and fallen short on several accounts. Rather than improving the situation, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-lnsaaf (PTI) is only suppressing freedom of expression to avoid criticism at home and abroad. This is what the Punjab government is doing in the death of two sanitation workers.
During the night between October 3 and October 4, Nadeem Masih (38) and Faisal Masih (28) got trapped in a 20-feet deep manhole in Sargodha. The two had gone down the manhole to rescue their co-worker Michael Masih (32), who had fainted because of poisonous gases. Unfortunately, after helping Michael come out of the manhole, they became victims of the gases and could not pull themselves out. The Punjab Emergency Service staff were alerted and timely arrived. They, however, refused to rescue them, claiming there were still gases in the manhole. Four hours later, Shahbaz Masih (36), another Christian sanitation worker, went down the manhole and brought the bodies out while the PES well-equipped staff was present.
No case of criminal negligence was ever lodged against the concerned department. However, in this instance, the families placed Nadeem’s and Faisal’s bodies on the Main Road, blocked the road, burned tires and demanded registration of a case. The protestors demanded murder charges be registered against SMC Chief Officer Khaliq Dad Gara and the three sanitary supervisors because they forced the workers to do their work without any safety equipment. The Sargodha Assistant Commissioner Omar Daraz Gondal negotiated with the families and accepted all the demands, except naming Gara in the criminal case.
The case was registered in the Satellite Town Police Station under Section 322 of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC), which requires paying diyat or financial compensation to the heirs in the case of accidental death under Islamic law, not murder as the family had demanded.
Nadeem’s wife, Marriam Bibi (32), a mother of six, is fighting this legal battle. She is a trash picker. Every day she wakes up at 3 am and goes out to clean roads and receives 17,000 a month, which is insufficient to meet basic needs. Since Nadeem’s death, children are not going to school due to financial conditions, and the family is on the verge of starvation. The families need urgent financial support, which is yet missing. Thankfully, after restoring the local government system, Sargodha Mayor Malik Naveed Aslam visited Mariam, gave 50,000 rupees as support, and promised to recognize sanitation heroes’ services, ensuring the provision of safety equipment to all workers of the SMC.
During the meetings with Gara, it became apparent that Commissioner Sargodha Dr. Masood had sent a summary to the Chief Minister Punjab Usman Buzdar to approve all the perks and privileges equivalent to a regular employee, including 1.9 million rupees as financial compensation and a permanent job for Nadeem’s kin. Still, so far, the Punjab CM Secretariat is not responding to them.
The deaths of Nadeem and Faisal is not isolated incident. Deaths of sanitation workers routinely take place. The only possibility is recognizing the shortcomings in the labor market based on the International Labour Organization’s (ILO) Decent Work Agenda, which requires a persistent commitment to human rights.
Under the aegis of Mian Muhammad Shehbaz Sharif sahib, the Punjab government struck down the policy of recruiting only non-Muslims for sanitation in 5eptember 2015 when this policy problem was presented to Mian Shehbaz Sharif with the support of the then Health Minister Khawaja Imran Nazir, during a high-profile meeting, on account of the Punjab Institute of Cardiology publishing an advertisement requiring only non-Muslims as sweepers. The current government, however, is continuing this discriminatory practice. Early November, a group of members of the EU Parliament, including parliamentarian Luis Garicano, visited Pakistan and discussed significant human rights issues, including hate speech against minorities, forced conversion of minor girls belonging to religious minorities, maltreatment, and discrimination with sanitation workers. The delegation inquired has put forward the question: “Why does the Government of Pakistan continue to breach the most fundamental commitments under international law to avoid discrimination by allowing the issuing of job adverts that specify that “non-Muslims” should apply for low status, low pay and menial jobs specifically in the sanitation sector?”
The European Union (EU) is considering reversing the Generalized Scheme of Preferences (GSP) Plus status, which has given Pakistan access to EU markets. The eligible countries are expected to implement 27 conventions on human rights, labor rights, the environment and good governance. The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) made considerable efforts to maintain the GSP Plus status.
The GSP Plus status requires implementation on the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD), Convention concerning the Abolition of Forced Labour, No. 105 (1957), and Convention concerning Forced or Compulsory Labour, No 29 (1930). The forced labor of sanitation workers violates all these three conventions that Pakistan has ratified and is obligatory under the GSP Plus restrictions.
The delegation has sought data on sanitation workers’ death and has inquired about policies, rules, and regulations behind this discriminatory practice. In the context of the Decent Work Agenda, the delegation has asked for the measures to be put in place to ensure that sanitation workers receive all appropriate health and safety equipment, ensure that it is fit for purpose, and ensure that all workers are trained on its use.
We were just done with the EU delegation. A few days ago, the United States designated Pakistan among the ten countries of particular concern for alleged religious freedoms violations in November. Human rights violations are not limited to religious minorities. In 2018, Pakistan scored 24 out of 100; the highest civil and political liberties score in the past several years. But in 2021, it has slipped to 22. In 2020, the political rights index for Pakistan was 16 score out of 40, meaning the highest score for political rights. The political rights Index of Pakistan fell gradually from 21 scores in 2014 to 16 scores in 2020. Because of its dismal performance, Pakistan slipped two spots in 2020, ranking at 153 out of 156, making it one of the worst countries for women and girls. The three other countries included Iraq, Afghanistan. Yemen. The Pakistani media, which has a long tradition of being very lively, have become a priority target for the country’s “deep state.” In 2020, 145 out of 180 slipped with three spots, whereas we were at 159 in 2013 and left at 139.
By providing Marriam due compensation and providing training and safety equipment to sanitation workers, Pakistan can gain respect and more access to the international markets by working on human rights, labor rights, women rights and minority rights.