(CNSNews.com) – Less than two weeks before United Nations General Assembly elects new members of the U.N.’s Human Rights Council, Pakistan – which is seeking re-election to the body – defended its rights record on Tuesday, amid strong criticism over abuses including some of the world’s most notorious blasphemy laws.
At the HRC in Geneva, Islamabad went through its “universal period review,” a procedure in which every member of the U.N. has its human rights record evaluated by the council once every four years.
Presenting her government’s case, Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar described Pakistan as “a democratic, pluralistic and progressive state” and “a functional democracy with an elected and sovereign parliament, an independent judiciary, a free media and a vibrant and robust civil society.”
U.S. Ambassador Eileen Donahoe commended Pakistan for “passing strong laws to protect women,” and for authoring a national human rights commission, but said blasphemy laws “continue to be used to discriminate against members of certain groups of Muslims and non-Muslims alike.”
“We are particularly concerned about an uptick in violence against Shi’a, Christian, and Ahmadi communities, and the lack of investigations and prosecutions in these cases,” she told the meeting.
Under Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, disparaging Mohammed or desecrating the Qur’an carries the death penalty.
The South Asian country has been a member of the HRC ever since the U.N.’s top human rights body was established in 2006. As leader of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) on the HRC, it has led the Muslim bloc’s drive against “religious defamation,” which critics say is an attempt to extend blasphemy-type restrictions beyond the Islamic world.
As things stand, Islamabad is virtually assured a new seat in the November 12 election: The Asian group has nominated only five countries in Asia for five vacancies, and unless a sixth country announces a last-minute candidacy to make an actual contest, Pakistan will be approved. (The other four Asian nominees are the United Arab Emirates, Kazakhstan, Japan and South Korea.)
The only other way Pakistan could be denied a seat would be if it fails to achieve a simple majority – 97 of the General Assembly’s 192 members – but that is highly unlikely given the fact that more than 120 members are developing nations which have historically supported each other in such cases.
On Tuesday, a group of 40 human rights groups and lawmakers from around the world in a joint appeal urged U.N. member states to oppose Pakistan’s bid for another HRC term.
“Having regard to its poor record on human rights protection at home, and its poor record in human rights promotion at the U.N., the government of Pakistan fails to meet the minimum membership criteria established by the U.N. General Assembly,” the statement said.
In a statement presented to the General Assembly in support of its HRC candidacy, the Pakistani government says the country “is a strong proponent of an effective and robust United Nations human rights machinery. As a founding member of the Human Rights Council, it has made a constructive contribution to the promotion and protection of human rights.”
Among other achievements, it notes the existence of a national minorities commission which “actively considers and makes recommendations on issues of concern to minorities, including the review of any discriminatory policies or laws.”
The four-page statement makes no reference to the blasphemy laws.