Feb 19, 2020

Divergence of EU, US Trade & Human Rights Policy

The UNPO has submitted a report to the members of the EP Trade Committee (INTA) highlighting concerns with religious persecution in Pakistan ahead of meeting on GSP+. 

The UNPO has submitted a report to the members of the European Parliament International Trade Committee (INTA) highlighting concerns with regard to the systemic and widespread religious persecution in Pakistan, in light of the EU’s Generalised Scheme of Preference Plus (GSP+). The current EU approach to deal with these issues contrast sharply with the position taken by the United States which has designated Pakistan as a Country of Particular Concern (CPC). By keeping the GSP+ status to Pakistan despite of overwhelming evidence of human rights abuses, the EU puts the credibility of its core principles at stake. 

Since the general elections in Pakistan one year ago, human rights activists and organisations have clearly reported that the human rights situation has increasingly worsened. It has been noted that violations of freedom of religion and belief in the country, at the hands of both state and non-state actors, have been on the rise. Religious minorities, including Hindus, Christians, and Sikhs, as well as Sufi, Ahmadiyya, and Shia Muslims, have been subjected to attacks by extremist groups and discriminated against by society at large.

Besides that, suppression of critics of the establishment has intensified in what can be seen as a chilling crackdown on freedom of expression in the country. Widespread enforced disappearances, arbitrary detentions, and extrajudicial killings continue to stain Pakistan’s already grim human rights record.

From a legal perspective, although Pakistan affirms that all citizens are equal under the law, the constitution of Pakistan explicitly prohibits non-Muslim citizens from holding governmental positions. Therefore, religious discrimination against minority groups is rooted in the very laws and policies of the state.

Furthermore, Pakistan enforces abusive blasphemy laws that disproportionately target religious minorities. In doing so, the country further aggravates the already dire situation of those groups. Despite no person having ever been executed under the country’s blasphemy laws, the accused are often killed by angry mobs or fall prey to pre-trial murders.

GSP+ programme

With regards to the EU’s GSP+ programme, it is clear that it is an immensely effective mechanism to improve human rights. The leverage that it creates was shown in the process of granting GSP+ status to Pakistan, after it withdrew its reservations to some international human rights conventions. However, the EU is failing to effectively sustain the value of the GSP+ process post-ratification with regards to Pakistan. Despite the alarming situation of religious minorities in the country and the reintroduction of the death penalty, the EU has consistently opted to keep Pakistan’s preferential status. Such policy threatens not only the credibility of the EU’s own instrument but also contradicts its own core values and GSP+ provisions.

When looking closely at EU and US foreign policy, it can be said that there are contrasting approaches towards Pakistan’s religious freedom violations. While the EU has continuously failed to recognise the severity of Pakistan’s religious freedom violations, the US government has finally designated it as a Country of Particular Concern (CPC). Because of the disconnect between EU and US positions, today, Pakistan finds itself on a list of only 10 countries designated as the worst violators of international religious freedom in the world, while simultaneously finding itself on a list of just 8 other countries being granted the most favourable trade preferences by the European Union because of their commitment to human rights.

In this context, the UNPO urges the European Union to launch a temporary withdrawal procedure of the EU’s GSP+ trade preferences to Pakistan pursuant to Article 19 of the GSP Regulation. This could provide the EU with more credibility as it comes to the promotion of human rights and could function as a serious incentive for change in Pakistan. Furthermore, in order to be more effective, the UNPO encourages the EU and the United States to harmonise their approaches to international religious freedom violations in Pakistan.


Dowload the report


Photo: Ahmadi community members carry the coffin of a victim of an attack by extremists on two Ahmadi mosques, during a funeral ceremony in Rabwah in May 2010 (AFP).