Christoph Strässer, Federal Government Commissioner for Human Rights Policy and Humanitarian Aid, visited the Pakistani cities Islamabad and Lahore from 8 to 11 March. During his first visit to Pakistan, the Human Rights Commissioner was briefed in particular on the state of freedom of religion and opinion, the blasphemy laws and the country’s provisions with regard to the death penalty and the protection of minorities.
In Pakistan, Christoph Strässer met representatives from the Government, religious communities and civil society. In his talks, Strässer called for human rights to be strengthened, recognised and observed. The Human Rights Commissioner argued that it would only be possible to stabilise the country’s difficult security situation in the long term if human rights are observed.
In response to a devastating attack on an army school in Peshawar in December last year with over 150 dead, including many children, the Government introduced jurisdiction by military courts for a two‑year period at the beginning of 2015 as part of its efforts to fight terrorism.
Abolishing the death penalty
Pakistan’s death penalty laws were also on the agenda. During the Human Rights Commissioner’s visit, it was announced that the Pakistani Government had decided to fully lift the moratorium on the death penalty in place since 2008. The Human Rights Commissioner made it clear that the Federal Government considers the death penalty to be inhumane and that it is committed to abolishing it without exception. This also applies to Pakistan, he said.
Difficult situation of children and women
Pakistani human rights activists highlighted the special circumstances of women, children and minorities in particular in talks with the Human Rights Commissioner. Acts of violence such as honour killings and acid attacks against women go largely unpunished, they complained. The activists added that 19 million children do not attend school and that child labour and debt bondage are still widespread despite contrary legal provisions in Pakistan.
Furthermore, the Human Rights Commissioner discussed labour law provisions and the rights of trade unions with his interlocutors.
During a conference in Lahore with the title “GSP+ and Challenges of Labour Compliance”, organised by the Pakistan Workers’ Federation in cooperation with the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, Christoph Strässer emphasised the importance of social and economic rights, also with regard to economic and trade relations with Germany and the EU.
In dialogue with religious leaders
At talks on interfaith dialogue organised by the Imam of the historic Badshahi Mosque in Lahore, the Human Rights Commissioner met representatives from the Islamic, Christian, Hindu and Sikh faiths. Together, they discussed the importance of dialogue between the religions and the responsibility of the “West” in tensions between religious convictions with regard to freedom of the press and opinion, for example following the publication of the Mohammed caricatures. The severe attack on two Christian churches on 15 March 2015 in Lahore, which left 15 people dead, demonstrated how difficult the situation of religious minorities in Pakistan is, said Christoph Strässer after returning from his visit.