Opening Remarks by the UN Resident Coordinator,a.i. United Nations Pakistan‎ on UN Day event at MOFA : 24 October 2019

Excellency, Foreign Secretary, Mr. Sohail Mahmood,

Senior Government Officials,

Excellencies,

Distinguished guests,

Colleagues and friends,

Good morning and Assalam o Alaikum,

First, allow me to express my appreciation to His Excellency, the Foreign Secretary, for his gracious remarks and for hosting all of us here this morning!

Today, we mark 74 years since the United Nations Charter entered into force.

Our Charter established the three founding pillars of the UN system: peace and security, development, and human rights. These pillars are as relevant today as they were 74 years ago.

They guide the UN’s work in Pakistan. They guide the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Pakistan was one of the first countries to embrace the agenda and its Sustainable Development Goals. In doing so, it committed to leave no one behind, and to reach those farthest behind, first.

This year, Pakistan presented its first Voluntary National Review on the Sustainable Development Goals. This milestone shows that Pakistan is serious about achieving the goals, and upholding the common threads that weave the SDGs together – peace and security, development, and human rights.

Pakistan is stepping up on the global goals. As one of the countries most affected by natural disasters, Pakistan knows only too well that climate change is happening. The science is real. The time to act is now. Pakistan is taking action with initiatives like Clean and Green Pakistan. Schemes like Ehsaas – the country’s largest social protection and poverty alleviation programme – are lifting millions of people out of poverty.

Time and again, Pakistan has shown its commitment to protecting the vulnerable. For 40 years, Pakistan has sheltered millions of refugees. Continuing this proud legacy, the Government has decided to extend Proof of Residency Cards for 1.4 million refugees until the end of June 2020. We commend this decision. It reflects the compassion, and the commitments, at the heart of the UN Charter.

UN agencies are committed to supporting Pakistan’s initiatives. Together, we are ‘delivering as one to achieve the SDGs’ by implementing the United Nations Sustainable Development Framework – also called the One UN Programme III – our framework for cooperation with the Government of Pakistan. To achieve our goals, we need a strong United Nations. That is why the UN’s bold reforms are repositioning the UN development system and our management paradigm. We want to evolve as a trusted partner and impartial advisor for all countries, including Pakistan, as they advance on the path to achieving the SDGs.

I must also highlight the huge contribution that Pakistan has made – and continues to make – to the UN. 

Pakistani men and women have served the cause of peace from the earliest years of UN peacekeeping. Today, 5,000 Pakistani troops, police and military experts are deployed around the world. 15% of them are women. This is one of the largest contributions, by any country, to international peace and security. It is a clear demonstration of Pakistan’s belief in the UN Charter.

One very visible display of UN peacekeeping work is in Kashmir. The UNMOGIP – the United Nations Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan – has been observing the ceasefire in Kashmir since (1949.

The UN is by Pakistan’s side in promoting good governance and human rights. We are partnering with the Ministry of Human Rights to build capacities for protecting fundamental rights. We are steadfast partners of the National Human Rights Commission, the National Commission on the Status of Women and provincial commissions – supporting their vital monitoring and reporting.

I cannot speak of human rights without speaking of Kashmir.

UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, has expressed the United Nations’ deep concern about the current situation. Allow me also to quote the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet:

“[….] It is important that the people of Kashmir are consulted and engaged in any decision-making processes that have an impact on their future.”

I echo their words. It is vital to ensure that the needs and rights of all Kashmiri people are protected and respected.

Coming back to good governance as an integral part of the human rights agenda, I must commend the first-ever provincial elections in the newly Merged Districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The UN will spare no effort to support the districts’ reform agenda. Our work with the Government and partners in the Merged Districts is one of the best examples – anywhere in the world – of the ‘new way of working’ to bridge the humanitarian-development divide.

Today is a day of celebrating our past and planning for our future. We know that 64% of Pakistan’s population is under the age of 30. We know that it is a mammoth task to ensure that this young, expanding and rapidly urbanizing population has the education, skills and well-being they need to compete in a competitive global economy. Youth empowerment initiatives like Kamyab Jawan are a strong step in the right direction. Such programmes are vital for harnessing Pakistan’s demographic dividend and unlocking its immense potential.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The UN stands with you.

For over 70 years, we have worked side by side for a more sustainable, peaceful, and prosperous Pakistan. Together, we can build a future free from poverty and deprivation. A future in which the fruits of development are equitably shared. A future in which progress is measured both by richness of the economy, and by the richness of human lives. A future in which no one is left behind.

I must thank all of our partners in Pakistan for working with us to achieve this brighter future for all.

Thank you again to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, for hosting the UN Day event 2019. And thanks to Serena for kindly supporting the arrangements.

Thank you all for celebrating UN Day with us.

Aap sab ka bohot shukria.

Opening remarks by Knut Ostby, UNRC, a.i at Asma Jahangir Conference 2019: Roadmap for Human Rights

Excellencies, Honourable Justices, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,

It is a privilege to join you on this auspicious occasion. Allow me to express my appreciation to the AGHS Legal Aid Cell, the Asma Jahangir Foundation, Pakistan Bar Council and all the sponsors for organizing this conference.

At the United Nations, we remember Asma as a “human rights giant”. For over 40 years, she defended human rights with courage, eloquence and integrity. She stood up for everyone, everywhere – for women, children and religious minorities; for bonded labourers and the disenfranchised.

In 1996, as a journalist for the Norwegian newspaper, Aftenposten, my wife interviewed Asma. She spoke with genuine pain when they discussed the plight of abused women, of prisoners. Wasn’t it hard to dedicate her life to fighting for them? No. Although – for her children’s sake – she wished she did not always have to spend so much time away from home. “One day,” she said, “they will hopefully understand why it was necessary.”

We know they have understood. We all understand. That is why we are here, at this conference today, with Asma’s children as our hosts. Defending human rights has never been more necessary.

Pakistan has made progress, but there is still much to do.

Human rights are enshrined in the Constitution. Punjab’s Human Rights Policy and the Transgender Persons Act are impressive strides. Pakistan has ratified major international human rights treaties. As part of the UN Human Rights Council, Pakistan has pledged to cooperate with the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the special procedures – a system of which Asma was a leading member.

We commend Pakistan’s strong commitments.

Yet, challenges remain. Millions of children are out of school. Maternal and infant mortality rates are high. Malnutrition is rampant. Women, minorities and activists face violence and discrimination. There are concerns that laws may be misused to target dissent. Extremist groups threaten freedom of expression with intimidation and attacks.

More must be done to uphold human rights –to translate promises on paper into change on the ground.

I cannot speak of human rights today without speaking of Kashmir.

UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, has expressed the United Nations’ deep concern about the current situation. Allow me to quote the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet:

“I […] urge the Governments of India and Pakistan to ensure that human rights are respected and protected [….] It is important that the people of Kashmir are consulted and engaged in any decision-making processes that have an impact on their future.”

Last June, the Office of the High Commissioner released its first UN report on human rights in Kashmir. It focuses on Indian Administered Kashmir – the deaths, arrests and serious barriers to civil liberties. It also notes challenges in Pakistan Administered Kashmir – restrictions on freedom of expression, representation and peaceful assembly.

It is vital to ensure that the needs and rights of all Kashmiri people are respected and protected.

Like previous speakers, I recall the words of former Secretary-General, Kofi Annan. “We will not enjoy development without security, we will not enjoy security without development, and we will not enjoy either without respect for human rights.”

His words speak to the heart of the United Nations. 74 years ago, the UN Charter established the three pillars of the UN system: peace and security, development, and human rights. These pillars guide the UN’s work in Pakistan. They guide the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Pakistan was one of the first countries to embrace the agenda and its Sustainable Development Goals. It committed to leave no one behind, and to reach those farthest behind, first.

Pakistan can only achieve its commitment by prioritizing human rights.

Across Pakistan, the UN is working to advance the SDGs with partners at all levels – the Government, civil society, academia, the private sector and communities.

Human rights are the cornerstone of the United Nations Sustainable Development Framework our framework for cooperation with the Government of Pakistan. We are partnering with the Ministry of Human Rights to build capacities for protecting basic rights. In March, the UN Human Rights Council adopted the outcome of Pakistan’s third Universal Periodic Review. We are steadfast partners of the National Human Rights Commission, the National Commission on the Status of Women and provincial commissions – supporting their monitoring and reporting. Initiatives like UNDP’s Decentralization and Local Governance project are working to assist more responsive and accountable service delivery.

Civil society is a major partner in these efforts.

Asma called Pakistan’s civil society “dynamic and daring”. I agree with her. Civil society is at the forefront of pushing for reform. It defends the values of democracy, tolerance and participation.

Unfortunately, civil society is under immense pressure around the world. Civic space is shrinking. Restrictions are limiting the ability of non-governmental organizations to operate. Detentions, arrests and censorship are on the rise globally.

The UN has sounded a call to protect the space needed by civil society. As former Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, put it, “Confident nations are those that see civil society as an indispensable partner in working for the betterment of society.”

I believe Pakistan is a confident nation. To carry out the Government’s development programmes, authorities need civil society’s support. To provide this support, civil society needs the Government to create an enabling environment – so that they can function effectively, and without constraints.

Above all, we need to work together. Governments can put the conditions in place for a people led-process, but they cannot achieve development alone. People must organize themselves – empower themselves – to achieve sustainable development. Civil society must be the agents of change who nurture this empowerment.

The United Nations stands with you in this.

We are committed to working with Pakistan’s civil society to uphold the human rights of all persons, without discrimination.

Excellencies, Honourable Justices, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,

The task before us is not easy. Asma knew this. She once remarked, “who said our work was supposed to be easy?” What goal worth fighting for is ever easy?

This session is about Asma’s legacy – about speaking truth to power. Trust me when I tell you this is the truth: Security, development and human rights – unless all these causes are advanced together, none will succeed at this work.

Let us work together to make sure that all these causes succeed in Pakistan.

Asma’s presence gave people strength. Let her legacy give us the strength to battle on.

Thank you.