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Speaking during the discussion at the Senate this morning on an Adjournment Motion, Mr. Khurram Dastgir Khan, Federal Minister for Commerce, responded to the statements of the Honourable members of the Senate on the recent elections for the Human Rights Council, wherein Pakistan could not secure re-election as a member.

Agreeing with the urgency and importance of the debate, the Minister informed the House that Pakistan had conducted a spirited, sustained and concerted campaign for the candidature to the Human Rights Council. While the Permanent Mission in New York was the focal point for the campaign, the effort was complemented by our Missions across the world with their countries of accreditation. Resident foreign missions in Islamabad were also periodically approached. The Adviser to the Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs sent letters to Foreign Ministers of all countries as part of our systematic outreach for our candidature. All high-level bilateral meetings were utilized to lobby and seek support. It was through these efforts that we were able to secure commitments of 120 votes for our candidature. But not all of these votes were polled.

Putting things in perspective, the Minister underlined that Pakistan maintains a robust and active profile at the international fora. This is reflected through Pakistan’s membership of a number of UN bodies, secured through election or endorsement. This indeed, is a manifestation of Pakistan’s effective multilateral diplomacy and successful foreign policy.

The Minister noted that Pakistan was currently an elected member of around 20 important UN bodies which included, for example, the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), Human Rights Council (HRC), Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD), Commission on Social Development (CSOcD), Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), Commission on Population Development (CPD), Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD), Executive Boards of UNDP/UNFPA/UNOPS, Executive Board of UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), Executive Board of the World Food Programme (WFP), UNESCO Executive Board, Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLS), Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND), Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice (UNCCPCJ), Committee on Contributions (CoC), Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL), Committee for Programme & Coordination (CPC), Commission of Science and Technology for Development, International Telecommunication Union (ITU) Council, and Committee on NGOs. Pakistan has also been elected to UN Women Executive Board for term 2016-18. Pakistan’s candidatures for Committee on Contributions (2016-18) and UNCITRAL (2016-22) have received the endorsement of Asia Pacific Group.

During the last two years, we have secured success in a number of important candidatures including inter-alia ECOSOC (2015-17), Commission on Narcotics Drugs (CND), Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice (CCPCJ), International Telecommunication Union (ITU) Council, Committee on Non-Governmental Organizations, UN Women Executive Board, Committee on Contributions, and UNCITRAL.

The Minister emphasized that while the Human Rights Council was also important, it was clear that Pakistan’s presence at the United Nations was emphatic and vigorous. Pakistan has a strong voice at the United Nations and will continue to use its influence and role to advance its core interests including Kashmir. He recalled the strong policy statement on Jammu and Kashmir by the Prime Minister during his address to the UN General Assembly in New York in September.

The Minister said that Pakistan has historically enjoyed firm support across the various regional groupings, in particular with developing countries from Asia-Pacific, Africa, and Latin America. These cooperative ties are long-standing and are based on commonality of interest and convergence of views. We take pride in these ties, and have full confidence and trust in our friends, who have supported us in the past, and also supported our candidature to the HRC, wherein we got 105 votes.

The Minister said that while the general conduct of foreign policy had been questioned by some members, he would like to recall various major achievements in recent months including notably Pakistan’s membership of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, the China Pakistan Economic Corridor, and strengthening of ties with Russia, which were all applauded by the House. The House had also applauded and supported the government’s policy on Yemen. The House was also aware that the government has recently shared dossiers of Indian involvement in terrorism in Pakistan with the UN and the United States.

The Minister noted that while the human rights situation in the country was not perfect, a lot of progress was being made. He underlined that the right to life was the most important human right. Pakistan’s fight against terrorism was to protect this right. While some might question our commitment to human rights over our domestic policy measures in our fight against terrorism including the death penalty and establishment of military courts, the Minister categorically stressed that these measures have been put in place with national consensus, not to undermine the fundamental rights of our citizens, but instead, to preserve and protect them against a faceless enemy that makes no distinction and offers no excuse in targeting innocent civilians including women and children.

Our commitment to fight terrorism is firm and abiding. Fully mindful of our international obligations, Pakistan will continue to take all necessary steps to protect its citizens from this scourge, the Minister emphasized.

The Minister said that while the outcome of the election was disappointing, we must not lose sight of the fact that Pakistan was seeking a fourth term, having served continuously on the Council from 2006-11 and from 2013-15. The incumbency factor appears to have worked against us, and may have served our competitors.

The Minister noted that certain foreign policy choices had been mentioned in the debate as contributing factor.

He recalled that as a proactive member of the HRC since its establishment in 2006, Pakistan has been a prominent voice on human rights at the Council. In particular, in its capacity as the Coordinator of the OIC Group on human rights and humanitarian affairs in Geneva, Pakistan has played a constructive role to forge consensus between the OIC and the West on important issues such as defamation of religions, Islamophobia, and dialogue and understanding among cultures and civilizations.

The Minister highlighted that we have also remained an ardent advocate of human rights including the right to self-determination of our Kashmiri and Palestinian brethren, who continue to be subjected to foreign occupation.

Pakistan’s strong, independent and principled position over the years on a number of human rights, political, and peace and security issues, has not been universally popular, and occasionally puts us opposite the influential countries. Understandably, this might have also cost us some votes.

The Minister noted that since every vote counts in the General Assembly, our election campaigns are also somewhat disadvantaged because of resource constraints, and our insignificant presence or absence of diplomatic Missions in a number of countries, particularly the Small Island Developing States, and other countries in Africa and Latin America. This year, this factor gained more significance since the election was hotly contested. We therefore, need to prioritize more active engagement with these countries, including consideration of opening of new missions.

The Minister said that Pakistan will continue to play its active role for the promotion and protection of human rights, nationally and globally, including at the various fora of the United Nations. Pakistan will continue to champion the just cause of the oppressed around the world.

The Minister assured the House that Pakistan shall continue to forcefully raise the Kashmir dispute at the United Nations, including at the HRC, the General Assembly, the Security Council and other fora. In particular, we shall continue to draw attention to the human rights violations in Indian Held Kashmir at the Human Rights Council, where, apart from the Council members, all other UN Member States have the right to make statements and participate in the discussions. Absence from the HRC as a member will therefore have no impact on Pakistan’s foreign and Kashmir policy, he noted.

The Minister said that we will continue to draw on the guidance of the Honorable House in performing this important role.

The Minister concluded by recalling that Pakistan has a strong record of winning elections to major UN/international bodies. We had a sound strategy based on which resilient efforts were undertaken in support of this HRC candidature. While learning lessons, we can draw strength from the solid tradition to forge even more effective strategies to ensure successful outcomes in the future.

4 November 2015

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