International coalition of human rights NGOs calls on Josep Borrell to suspend Pakistan's GSP+ status

The EU institutions have been urged to act urgently in the case of Pakistan’s alleged continued human rights abuses.

A international coalition of highly respected human rights NGOs, coming together under the umbrella of Brussels-based Human Rights Without Frontiers (HRWF), delivered a letter to the EU’s High Representative Josep Borrell, calling for the suspension of Pakistan's GSP+ status, which gives the country preferential trading rights with the EU, on the basis of “continued human rights abuses.”

In the letter, delivered by hand by Brussels spokesman of Paris-based Alliance Internationale des Droits et des Libertés, Andy Vermaut, to the Brussels offices of Borrell, a former Spanish MEP, on Wednesday, the NGOs particularly highlighted the abuses of Pakistan's blasphemy laws.

This has recently seen an eight year old child charged with blasphemy “against the prophet” an offence carrying a mandatory death sentence.

The letter follows a recent conference on the matter, hosted by the Press Club in Brussels, which was addressed by former European Commissioner Jan Figel, MEP Peter van Dalen and others.

From Great Britain, the House of Commons All Party Parliamentary Group for International Freedom of Religion or Belief has since declared its support for the campaign.

One of the organisers of the letter told this site that there is particular concern about Pakistan’s current country’s blasphemy laws, and the lack of respect for the presumption of innocence.

The letter handed to Borrell, the EU’s foreign affairs chief, cites article 12 of a European parliament Joint Motion For A Resolution, dated April 28 and passed by 681 votes.

This pledges “to immediately review Pakistan’s eligibility for GSP+ status in the light of current events and whether there is sufficient reason to initiate a procedure for the temporary withdrawal of this status and the benefits that come with it, and to report to the European Parliament on this matter as soon as possible.”

The recent conference heard that of the benefits given as a result of the current agreement with Pakistan, around 20% only accrued to the EU, causing, in the opinion of the conference, no significant potential detrimental economic impact on the EU or the member states should the agreement be suspended.

The imposition of the mandatory death sentence for those found guilty of blasphemy against the prophet, particularly in the context of such charges having recently been levelled at an eight year old child, makes, in the opinion of the conference, the current GSP+ status enjoyed by Pakistan “morally and politically untenable.”

During the conference, the names of 47 prisoners who are currently held on blasphemy charges in Pakistan were read out.

They are: Mubashir Ahmed; Gulab Ahmed; Ahtesham Ahmed; Zahid Ahmed; Ahmed Waqar; Anwar; Islam; Mailik Ashraf; Anwar Ashgar; Ahmed Ashgar; Noor Ashgar; Malik Ashraf; Kausar Ayub; Amud Ayub; Taimur; Siya; Raza; Zafar Bati; Md. Safi; Md. Shehzad; Rehmat Ali; Asif; Md. Aslam; Arif Mehdi; Junaid; Hafeez; Abdul Hamid; Md. Faruq; Hayai Bin; Malik; Md. Humayan Faysal; Aftab Mastargil; Nadeem James; Arif Massih; Saudi Issaq; Abdul Karim; Imran Massih; Yakub; Ishfaq Massih; Saba Massih; Bashir; Mastan Mushtaq; Shamsuddin; Md. Yussaf; Inayat Rasool; Iqbal and Md. Aslam.

The list comprises Ahmediyyas, Shias, Hindus, and Christians.

Sixteen of these have been handed a death sentence.

Since the conference took place, one more prisoner has been identified to the organisors, Stephen Masih, a 40-year-old Christian who has a history of mental disability.

The letter sent to Borrell on Wednesday states that “Accordingly, we wish to ask the High Representative - who has previously stated that suspension of Pakistan’s GSP+ status is a measure of last measures - what his current position is in this regard?”

The letter goes on to say that “given that Pakistan’s behaviour clearly contravenes the requirement for GSP+ beneficiaries to ratify 27 international conventions, numerous it is clearly in breach of, we respectfully ask how the High Representative can justify the continuation of Pakistan’s GSP+ status?”

No one from the EEAS was immediately available for comment to this website on Wednesday.

The letter is signed by the following organisations: the Alliance Internationale des Droits et des Libertés; Baloch Human Rights Council; Bitter Winter; British Pakistani Christians Ltd; Conscience et Libertès; the European Association for The Defense of Minorities (EADM); European-Association-for-The-Defense-of Minorities; Forum for Religious Freedom Europe (FOREF); Free Nadeem Samson Campaign; Human Rights Without Frontiers (HRWF); International Institute for Religious Freedom (IIRF); Minority Concern; the Noodt Foundation; PostVersa Fundamental Rights Chapter; Set My People Free and the Soteria International.

The organisers of the initiative reported on Thursday that the number of signatories continues to grow, mounting still further pressure on Josep Borrell.

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