Apr 21, 2021

UNPO Position on EU-Pakistan Relations

The UNPO welcomes the potential intiative of the European Parliament to enact an Urgency Resolution on Pakistan. It requests that the European Parliament looks not only at the government of Pakistan's actions, but also at the whether the EU, itself, is tacitly complicit in human rights violations in Pakistan as a result of the continuation of its current trade and aid relationship with the country.

The UNPO understands that the European Parliament is particularly concerned about the use of the blasphemy law to target religious minorities and to order and enact death sentences. On March 10, the Lahore High Court increased the sentence of Sajjad Masih from life imprisonment to death, for sending supposedly blasphemous text messages. The appeal of Shagufta Kausar and Shafqat Emmanuel, who have been imposed the death penalty for similar text messages, has been continually delayed, to-date for over six years.

These are just two of a pattern of practice in Pakistan of repression of ethnic and religious minorities. Since the general elections in Pakistan in 2018, human rights activists and organisations have reported that the human rights situation has clearly 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.

The increase in religious persecution in Pakistan caused the US government in 2018 to place Pakistan on a list of the worst offenders of religious freedom, as a Country of Particular Concern. As of 2020, just 12 other states are on this list: Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, Nigeria, North Korea, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Vietnam.

The practice of targeting religious minorities goes hand-in-hand with targeting ethnic groups, particularly those, such as the Sindhi who have large populations of Sikhs and Hindus and who also reside in economic important regions. The Sindh and Baluch, for example, are regularly subjected to major human rights violations caused by economic development programmes tied to Pakistan’s Belt and Road Initiative Agreement with China, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.

These violations of religious freedom and minority rights have been documented by the UNPO for years, most recently in our two reports: Religious Persecution in Pakistan and the EU’s Generalised Scheme of Preferences Plus (GSP+): Inspirations from U.S Policy (February 2020); and A Tale of Three Ports: The Impact of the Belt and Road Initiative on Unrepresented Peoples in Pakistan and China (April 2020).

Beyond documenting the significant problem with religious and minority rights in Pakistan, these two reports highlight significant problems with the EU’s current position on Pakistan. Specifically, despite the rampant violation of the religious freedom and minority rights in Pakistan, Pakistan continues to receive the EU’s most beneficial trading relationship: the Generalized Scheme of Preferences Plus (GSP+). This trading scheme is designed to provide trade rewards to countries positively progressing and capable of respecting the international human rights conventions. The EU has continued to provide this to Pakistan even despite the re-institution of the death penalty in 2014 and the clear increase in violations of religious freedom and minority rights. This is extremely problematic for a number of reasons.

First, in order to maintain a participant country in the GSP+ programme, the European Commission is required to regularly assess whether the country is adequately progressing on human rights. For geostrategic reasons, the European Commission continues to certify Pakistan as eligible for the programme. Yet, the GSP+ programme should not be extended to human rights violators. This raises major rule of law concerns, specifically raises questions as to whether the EU is actually willing to comply with its own rules in implementing its flagship trade and human rights programme.

Second, by maintaining Pakistan’s GSP+ status, the EU is tacitly encouraging the government of Pakistan to continue its negative trend. The GSP+ process is designed to encourage human rights compliant behavior. Yet by continuing to certify Pakistan as eligible for the programme, the EU helps Pakistan to hold itself out as a human rights respecting country and provides it cover to fail to address major issues like the death penalty, religious freedom and minority rights.

As a result, the UNPO suggest that the European Parliament’s resolution should not only call out the problem in Pakistan, but should also request:

The European Commission to urgently reassess its position on Pakistan’s eligibility for the GSP+ programme and other trade and aid benefits; The European Commission to submit a report to the European Parliament detailing the trade and aid relationship that the EU has with Pakistan explaining why Pakistan should remain eligible for programmes such as the GSP+; and The European Ombudsman to investigate whether the EU’s rules are being appropriately complied with in the furtherance of GSP+ benefits for Pakistan.


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).