Category Archives: Event

Secretary-General’s remarks at International Conference on 40 Years of Hosting Afghan Refugees in Pakistan, 17 February 2020


As-salam alaikum.

We come together to recognize a remarkable story of solidarity and compassion.

It is important to do so for many reasons, not least because it is a story that is sorely lacking in much of our world today.

For forty years, the people of Afghanistan have faced successive crises.

For forty years, the people of Pakistan have responded with solidarity.

That generosity now spans across decades and generations.

This is the world’s largest protracted refugee situation in recorded history.

This is also a story that is close to my heart.

In my previous life as UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Pakistan was a familiar destination.

During most of my period as High Commissioner, Pakistan was the number one refugee-hosting country on earth.

For more than three out of every four years since 1979, either Pakistan or Iran have ranked as the world’s top refugee hosting country.

Even though major conflicts have since unfortunately erupted in other parts of the globe and the refugee population has soared, Pakistan today is still the world’s second largest refugee-hosting country.

On every visit here, I have been struck by extraordinary resilience, exceptional generosity and overwhelming compassion.

I saw solidarity not just in words – but in deeds.

This generous spirit is fully in line with what I regard as the most beautiful prescription for refugee protection in world history.  It is found in the Surah Al-Tawbah of the Holy Quran:

“And if anyone seeks your protection, then grant him protection so that he can hear the words of God.  Then escort him where he can be secure.”

This protection should be accorded to believers and non-believers alike in a remarkable example of tolerance many centuries ago before the 1951 Refugee Convention that defines in a modern concept the refugees and the protection they deserve.

I saw that compassion play out in real time here in Pakistan.

And it was grounded in vision.

We have seen many innovative policies take root here:  biometric registration, access to the national education system, health care and inclusion in the economy.

Despite Pakistan’s own challenges, these initiatives have made a big difference.

Indeed, many have been recognized as a global model of good practice.

Some of those progressive policies have inspired elements of the Global Compact on Refugees.

We have been proud to work with you to support Pakistani host communities and Afghan refugees.  We have done so through integrated humanitarian and development actions across the country – alleviating the burden on Pakistan’s national public service system and helping Afghans sustainably reintegrate back home.

But we must recognize that international support for Pakistan has been minimal compared to your own national efforts.

As we look to the challenges ahead, the global community must step up.

On the one hand, we mark 40 unbroken years of solidarity.

But we also despair at 40 broken years of hostility.

The Afghan conflict drags on and on – and we see the deep impact of the protracted nature of conflict, poverty and forced displacement.

We know the solution lies in Afghanistan.

I hope the signals of a possible pathway for peace will lead to a better future for the people of Afghanistan.

I see with us Ambassador Khalilzad.  And I want to strongly encourage to pursue the way of peace.  And you can count, and the Afghan people can count, on the United Nations to support the efforts for peace.

We don’t seek any protagonism.  We are here only to serve the Afghan people [who] need and deserve, finally, peace and prosperity in full respect of their human rights.

I want to reaffirm that the preferred durable solution for refugees has always been voluntary repatriation in safety and dignity to their country of origin.  This is also true for Afghan refugees.

Our efforts on return and reintegration – led in large measure by UNHCR – are aligned with the Afghanistan National Peace and Development Framework.

We are working together on a region-specific Support Platform to assist voluntary repatriation and sustainable reintegration of refugees in Afghanistan, while providing help to refugees and their host communities in both Pakistan and Iran.

Our aim is to galvanize more resources and more investments, widen the circle of partners and forge stronger linkages between humanitarian, development and peace investments.

Youth empowerment must be a special focus.

We need a renewed commitment. We need to make sure that there is not only a strong movement for peace but that peace leads to effective reconstruction, creating the conditions for a successful return and reintegration of Afghan refugees.

Working towards solutions for the Afghan people is not just a sign of solidarity; it is in the world’s best interest.

Afghans now constitute the largest group of arrivals in Europe, exceeding for the first time the arrivals from Syria.

Returns to Afghanistan, as we have said, have hit a historical low.

Afghanistan and its people cannot be abandoned.

Now is the time for the international community to act and deliver.

Our ability to succeed will be a litmus test for the Global Compact on Refugees – its promise of greater responsibility-sharing with countries that have shouldered the burden until now.

Peace efforts leading to intra-Afghan negotiations will pave the way, but sustainable peace and security hinges on better integrating our work on humanitarian, development and peace efforts.

Done right, this work can be a model for the rest of the world.

We must be realistic.  We know big challenges lie ahead.

But the message of this conference – and the presence of so many senior Government officials from all over the world – is a testament of hope and commitment to a new partnership for solidarity and a better future for the people of Afghanistan and Pakistan and for the world.


اقوام متحدہ

سیکریٹری جنرل

پاکستان میں افغان مہاجرین کی میزبانی کے چالیس سال مکمل ہونے پر منعقدہ

بین الاقوامی کانفرنس کے اعلیٰ سطحی اجلاس میں تاَثرات:

یکجہتی کے لیے ایک نئی شراکت داری

پاکستان، 17 فروری، 2020ء

جناب وزیر اعظم، محترم وزرا، معزز حاضرین، خواتین اور حضرات، السلام علیکم!

ہم یکجہتی اور ہمدردی کی ایک حیرت انگیز داستان کا اعتراف کرنے کے لیے اکٹھے ہوئے ہیں ۔ ایسا کرنا بہت سی وجوہات کے باعث ضروری ہے، نہ کہ صرف اس لیے کہ یہ ایک ایسی داستان ہے جو ہماری دنیا میں کم ہی دکھائی دیتی ہے ۔ چالیس سال سے افغان عوام کو یکے بعد دیگرے بحرانوں کا سامنا کرنا پڑا ہے، اور چالیس سال سے ہی پاکستانی عوام ان سے اظہار یکجہتی کررہے ہیں ۔ یہ فراخ دلی اب دہائیوں اور نسلوں تک پہنچ چکی ہے ۔ معلوم شدہ تاریخ میں یہ دنیا کی سب سے طویل عرصے کو محیط ہجرت کی صورتحال ہے ۔ یہ ایک ایسی داستان بھی ہے جو میرے دل کے قریب ہے ۔ میری سابقہ زندگی میں اقوام متحدہ کے ہائی کمشنر برائے مہاجرین کے طور پر پاکستان میرے لیے ایک جانی پہچانی منزل تھا ۔ بطور ہائی کمشنر میرے دور میں ، پاکستان دنیا میں مہاجرین کی میزبانی کرنے والے ممالک میں سر فہرست تھا ۔ 1979ء کے بعد سے ہر چار سال میں سے تین سے زائد بار، پاکستان یا ایران دنیا میں مہاجرین کی میزبانی کرنے والے ممالک میں سب سے آگے تھے ۔

اگرچہ اس کے بعد بدقسمتی سے دنیا کے دیگر حصوں میں بڑے تنازعات پھوٹ پڑے اور مہاجرین کی آبادی بڑھ گئی، لیکن آج بھی پاکستان مہاجرین کی میزبانی کرنے والا دنیا کا دوسرا سب سے بڑا ملک ہے ۔ ہر دورے پر یہاں مجھے حیرت انگیز صلاحیت، غیر معمولی فراخ دلی اور بے حد ہمدردی دکھائی دی ۔ یہاں میں نے یکجہتی صرف الفاظ ہی نہیں بلکہ عمل میں بھی دیکھی ۔ یہ فراخ دلی مکمل طور پر اس عمل کے مطابق ہے جسے میں عالمی تاریخ میں مہاجرین کے تحفظ کا سب سے خوبصورت حل سمجھتا ہوں ۔ یہ حل قرآن پاک کی سور ۃ التوبہ میں بھی ملتا ہے، جس میں کہا گیا ہے کہ ’’اور اگر کوئی تم سے پناہ مانگے تو اسے تحفظ دو تاکہ وہ خدا کا کلام سن سکے ۔ پھر اسے وہاں لے جاوَ جہاں وہ محفوظ ہوسکے ۔ ‘‘

برداشت کی ایک حیرت انگیز مثال پیش کرتے ہوئے مسلمانوں اور غیرمسلموں کو یکساں طور پر دیا جانے والا یہ تحفظ 1951ء کے اس مہاجر کنونشن سے کئی صدیاں پہلے دیا گیا تھا جس میں وضاحت کی گئی کہ مہاجرین کون ہیں اور وہ کس تحفظ کے مستحق ہیں ۔ میں نے پاکستان میں اس ہمدردی کو حقیقی زندگی میں دیکھا ۔ اور یہ آنکھوں میں بس گئی ۔ ہم نے یہاں بہت سی جدید پالیسیوں کی بنیاد پڑتے دیکھی جن میں بائیو میٹرک رجسٹریشن، قومی نظام تعلیم تک رسائی، طبی سہولیات کی فراہمی اور معیشت میں شمولیت شامل ہیں ۔ پاکستان کے اپنے مسائل کے باوجود، ان اقدامات نے بہت فرق پیدا کیا ۔ ان میں سے کئی اقدامات اچھے رواج کے عالمی نمونے کے طور پر تسلیم کیے گئے ۔ ان میں سے کچھ ترقی پسند پالیسیاں عالمی معاہدہ برائے مہاجرین کی بعض شقوں کے لیے بنیاد بھی بنیں ۔

پاکستانی میزبان گروہوں اور افغان مہاجرین کی مدد کے لیے آپ کے ساتھ کام کرتے ہوئے ہمیں فخر محسوس ہوتا ہے ۔ ہم نے یہ کام پورے ملک میں مربوط انسان دوست اور ترقیاتی اقدامات کے ذریعے کیا ، جس سے پاکستان کے قومی عوامی خدمت کے نظام پر بوجھ کو کم کیا گیا اور افغان مہاجرین کو اپنے وطن میں پائیدار طور پر واپسی میں مدد دی گئی ۔ لیکن ہمیں یہ تسلیم کرنا ہوگا کہ آپ کی اپنی قومی کاوشوں کے مقابلے میں پاکستان کو دی گئی بین الاقوامی حمایت بہت کم رہی ہے ۔ اور جبکہ ہم مسائل کی طرف دیکھتے ہیں تو عالمی برادری کو آگے بڑھنا چاہیے ۔ ایک طرف، ہم مسلسل یکجہتی کے 40 سال مکمل کررہے ہیں ۔ لیکن ہم عداوت کے 40 شکستہ برسوں پر مایوس بھی ہیں ۔ افغان تنازعہ چلتا ہی چلا جارہا ہے اور ہم تنازعے، غربت اور جبری بے گھر ہونے کے گہرے اثرات دیکھ رہے ہیں ۔ ہم جانتے ہیں کہ اس کا حل افغانستان میں ہی موجود ہے ۔ مجھے امید ہے کہ امن کے ممکنہ راستے افغان عوام کو بہتر مستقبل کی طرف لے کر جائیں گے ۔

میں دیکھ رہا ہوں کہ امریکہ کے خصوصی ایلچی برائے افغان مفاہمت زلمے خلیل زاد ہمارے ساتھ موجود ہیں ۔ اور میں امن کی راہ پر گامزن ہونے کی بھر پور حوصلہ افزائی کرنا چاہتا ہوں ۔ اور آپ اور افغان عوام امن کوششوں کی حمایت کے لیے اقوام متحدہ سے اعتماد کرسکتے ہیں ۔ ہم یہ نہیں چاہتے کہ ہمیں مرکزی کردار سمجھ کر اہمیت دی جائے ۔ ہم صرف افغان عوام کی خدمت کرنا چاہتے ہیں جو اپنے انسانی حقوق کے مکمل احترام میں امن اور خوشحالی کے مستحق ہیں ۔

میں دوبارہ اس بات کی تصدیق کرنا چاہتا ہوں کہ مہاجرین کے لیے ترجیحی پائیدار حل سلامتی اور وقار کے ساتھ اپنے وطن میں رضاکارانہ طور پر واپس جانا ہی ہے ۔ یہی بات افغان مہاجرین کے لیے بھی ہے ۔ افغان مہاجرین کی واپسی اور انضمام کے سلسلے میں ہماری کوششیں ، جو بڑے پیمانے پر یو این ایچ سی آر کے ذریعے کی گئی ہیں ، افغانستان کے قومی امن اور ترقی کے عملی خاکے سے جڑی ہوئی ہیں ۔ ہم پاکستان اور ایران میں موجود مہاجرین اور ان کے میزبان گروہوں کو مدد فراہم کرتے ہوئے مہاجرین کی افغانستان میں رضاکارانہ وطن واپسی اور پائیدار بحالی میں مدد دینے کے لیے علاقائی سپورٹ پلیٹ فارم پر مل کر کام کر رہے ہیں ۔ ہمارا مقصد زیادہ وسائل اور سرمایہ کاری کو متحرک کرنا، شراکت داروں کے دائرے کو وسیع کرنا اور انسان دوست، ترقیاتی اور امن کی سرمایہ کاری کے مابین مضبوط روابط استوار کرنا ہے ۔

نوجوانوں کو با اختیار بنانے پر خصوصی توجہ دینی ہوگی ۔ ہمیں ایک نئے عزم کی ضرورت ہے ۔ افغان عوام کے مسائل کے حل کے لیے کوشش کرنا صرف یکجہتی کی علامت ہی نہیں بلکہ یہ دنیا کے بہترین مفاد میں ہے ۔ افغان باشندے اب یورپ میں آنے والا سب سے بڑا گروہ ہیں ، اور پہلی بار ان کی تعداد شامی باشندوں سے بڑھ گئی ہے جبکہ افغانستان واپسی تاریخ کی کم ترین سطح پر آگئی ہے ۔ افغانستان اور اس کے عوام کو چھوڑا نہیں جاسکتا ۔ اب وقت آگیا ہے کہ عالمی برادری آگے بڑھ کر کام کرے ۔ کامیابی کی ہماری صلاحیت عالمی معاہدہ برائے مہاجرین سے متعلق ہمارے لیے امتحان ہوگی – جس میں وعدہ کیا گیا ہے کہ اپنے کندھوں پر مہاجرین کا بوجھ اٹھانے والے ممالک کے ساتھ مل کر زیادہ سے زیادہ ذمہ داری میں شریک ہوا جائے گا ۔ باہمی افغان مذاکرات کی طرف لے جانے والی امن کوششیں راستہ ہموار کریں گی، لیکن پائیدار امن اور سلامتی ہماری انسان دوست، ترقیاتی اور امن کی کوششوں سے متعلق ہمارے کام کو بہتر طور پر ہم آہنگ کرنے پر منحصر ہیں ۔ اگر یہ کام ٹھیک سے کرلیا گیا تو یہ باقی دنیا کے لیے نمونہ ثابت ہوسکتا ہے ۔ ہمیں حقیقت پسند بننا چاہیے کیونکہ ہمیں بڑے چیلنجوں کا سامنا ہے ۔ لیکن اس کانفرنس ، اور پوری دنیا کے بہت سے اعلیٰ سرکاری عہدیداروں کی یہاں موجودگی، کا پیغام یکجہتی کے لیے ایک نئی شراکت داری، اور افغانستان، پاکستان اور ہماری دنیا کے عوام کے بہتر مستقبل کے لیے امید اور وابستگی کا منشور ہے ۔ شکریہ

Remarks by the Secretary-General at Stakeout with Pakistan Foreign Minister, Shah Mehmood Qureshi – Islamabad, 16 February 2020

It is a pleasure to be back in Pakistan – a country deeply committed to multilateralism and the United Nations.

This is my first visit as Secretary-General of the United Nations, but as High Commissioner for Refugees, I had the opportunity – I was fortunate — to be able to visit this country several times.  

 And as I said this afternoon in the conference on sustainable development and climate change, what I’ve seen — the generosity and solidarity with the Afghan people — has created a love affair between the [Pakistani] people and myself. 

I would like to thank the Government of Pakistan and Prime Minister Imran Khan personally for inviting me, as well as Foreign Minister Qureshi for his strong support of the United Nations. 

I have a full agenda, but there is a common thread to all my events and meetings here.  

It is simply this: to recognize Pakistan’s outstanding generosity and solidarity over many decades and to highlight its place in confronting some of the biggest global challenges our world faces today.

I strongly believe it is time for the world to step back and look at Pakistan through a wider frame.

One of the main purposes of my visit is to spotlight the real Pakistan — with all its possibility and potential.

It is deeply rooted in Pakistani culture — from the vision of Muhammad Ali Jinnah … to the philosophy of Allama Iqbal … to the music of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan.

From the courageous example of Malala Yousafzai … to the giving spirit of Abdul Sattaar Edhi … to the visual artistry and advocacy of Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy.

And, of course, on better days, we also see it from the bats of the Pakistan cricket team — both the men’s and women’s teams, I might add! 

Here in Pakistan, we see solidarity in action.  

Pakistan is today the world’s second largest host of refugees – and for decades, it was the first.  

I look forward to taking part tomorrow in a conference marking Pakistan’s four decades of support for Afghan refugees.  

For 40 years, despite Pakistan’s own challenges, Pakistan has sheltered and protected Afghan refugees with limited support from the international community.  

I can testify to this.  Having served as High Commissioner for Refugees, I always found in Pakistan a reliable and generous partner.  

One can only imagine how much worse the plight of Afghans would be, and how much more unstable the region might be, without Pakistan’s stellar example of hospitality and compassion.  

The United Nations will continue to support Pakistan, and I call on other countries to support Pakistan and indeed show similar leadership in sharing this responsibility in this region and around the world.

As we look to issues of peace and security, the United Nations is profoundly grateful for the dedication and commitment of Pakistan’s peacekeepers.  

Pakistan has consistently been one of the world’s top contributors to UN peacekeeping, with more than 4,000 men and increasingly women serving today in nine missions around the globe.

I also appreciate the Government’s strong support for the Action for Peacekeeping initiative, and for its commitment to continue to improve the effectiveness of our operations. 

Foreign Minister Qureshi and I discussed regional security in South Asia. 

With respect to Jammu and Kashmir, I am grateful for the work of the United Nations Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan.   UNMOGIP will continue to monitor the ceasefire at the Line of Control in accordance with its mandate.  And today I was happy I could inaugurate the new premises of their headquarters.  

I am deeply concerned about the increase in tensions that we have witnessed last year. 

I have repeatedly stressed the importance of exercising maximum restraint and taking steps to de-escalate, both militarily and verbally, while reiterating my offer to exercise my good offices, should both sides ask.

Diplomacy and dialogue remain the only tools that guarantee peace and stability, with solutions in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations and the resolutions of the Security Council.  

Simultaneously, when we see situations of discontent and unrest, it is of utmost importance to ensure full respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. 

Turning now to Afghanistan, I am following closely the important efforts to bring peace to the country. 

Achieving a comprehensive settlement to the conflict is essential for saving lives and advancing sustainable development. 

It is my hope that discussions will be productive in leading to a reduction in violence, especially violence that harms civilians. Reducing violence is critical to build confidence and support for a peace process that leads to a lasting political settlement and a permanent ceasefire. 

Such conditions would contribute to enabling the peaceful return of displaced persons and refugees to their homes.

I want to reaffirm that the preferred, durable solution for refugees has always been voluntary repatriation in safety and dignity to their country of origin.  This is also true for Afghan refugees.  

Through its support to the ongoing peace efforts and building the necessary regional consensus, Pakistan continues to play a crucial role in realizing this potentially historic opportunity for peace. 

The United Nations remains committed to supporting an inclusive and Afghan-led peace process that upholds the human rights of all citizens and leads to a sustainable peace in Afghanistan. 

During my visit to Pakistan, I also look forward to visiting the newly opened Kartarpur Corridor connecting two key Sikh pilgrimage sites.  

This is a welcome symbol of interfaith harmony, a unique experiment in cross-border ties, showing Pakistan’s commitment to peace.

The climate crisis is another key challenge of common concern — and once again, Pakistan is on the frontlines as one of the most vulnerable countries on the planet.  

I welcome Pakistan’s ambition to take concrete action with the “ten billion tree tsunami” campaign and many other initiatives.

For my part, I will continue pressing for action to limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees, which means to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.

It means more ambition by all – more ambition on mitigation, adaptation, resilience and finance.  Major emitting countries and industrial sectors have a particular responsibility to lead the way.

And it means a successful UN Climate Conference – COP26 – later this year in Glasgow and I count on Pakistan’s strong commitment to that.

Finally, I would like to recognize Pakistan’s commitment to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the world’s framework for eliminating poverty, achieving gender equality, protecting the environment and building a fair globalization that works for all.  

Pakistan was in the global lead in integrating the Sustainable Development Goals into its own national development agenda.  

This is yet another example of the commitment and vision that we need to see more of around the world.  I look forward to the rest of my visit and engaging with the leadership and people of Pakistan. 

The United Nations family is strongly committed to helping the country advance prosperity and peace for all. Thank you.

Q: Excellency, my question, I will also ask, as Foreign Minister Qureshi has mentioned –  I also refer to your statement of 8 August of last year, in which you reaffirmed the United Nations’ principled position on the Kashmir dispute.  I wish to know what practical steps would you and your office take for the solution of this issue.  And secondly, we are about one and a half months into the year 2020 and there have been more than 287 ceasefire violations along the Line of Control. I wish to know what’s stopping the United Nations to ensure that its military observers are given a hassle-free and free access to the Line of Control, as this may lead to a big conflict in the region.  Thank you so much.

SG: Thank you very much.  First of all, from the beginning, I have offered my good offices in relation to the situation, and of course, good offices can only work when accepted by both sides.  On the other hand, I believe that there was an important contribution to clarifying what has happened by the report that was mentioned of the Human Rights High Commissioner.  On the other hand, it is clear that we have taken a position about the need for Security Council resolutions to be implemented and for effective de-escalation and dialogue linked to that, with another very important condition, which is full respect for human rights and [fundamental] freedoms in Jammu and Kashmir. 

In relation to the ceasefire, I visited UNMOGIP. We believe that UNMOGIP should have full freedom of movement; it has on the Pakistani side – we hope that this will also be achieved on the other side, and we will be strengthening its equipment capacity in order to better be able to implement its mandates.

Q: I am the correspondent from China, Xinhua news agency. And my question is, four Pakistani citizens have been infected by the novel coronavirus epidemic in China have already been cured and discharged three days ago.  And as we know, Chinese government and people have been making an all-out effort to fight the global coronavirus disease, with notable outcomes.  So how do you evaluate those measures? And in terms of the high, top leaders commanding and mobilization of the whole country, do you think that China offers a useful reference to the other countries and whole world in handling such a big public health threat?  Thank you so much.

SG: First of all, in relation to the Pakistanis in China, I believe that the Government has been in close contact with the World Health Organization and that the government has acted in line with the principles defined by the World Health Organization in that regard.  In relation to the situation in itself, it’s of course a huge challenge. I believe that the response has been a very strong and very impressive response. Obviously, in a situation as complex as this, it is always difficult to ave a quick solution. And the Chinese Government was the first to mention that there were a few limitations and the shortcomings. But I think that the effort that is in place is a gigantic effort. And we are very confident that efforts that that effort will allow for the progressive reduction of the disease.

Q: First of all, most welcome, Mr Secretary-General, to Pakistan. I am Faisal Raza Khan from 92 News. My question is that, as honourable Foreign Minister has said, would you agree to that early repatriation of Afghan refugees, vis-à-vis to the peace process?  Do you think early repatriation would help a successful peace and reconciliation process in Afghanistan?  Thank you.

SG:  I think it’s very Important to respect the principles – I mean, the principles that have always been principles shared between the Government of Pakistan and the UNHCR, have been the principle of voluntary repatriation in safety and dignity.  What we believe is this is the moment in which we need to create an important “pull effect” in Afghanistan, through peace and through reconstruction, the creation of jobs, the creation of opportunities, making the roadmap that was described by the Minister a roadmap to allow for a phased programme of return of the Afghans to be entirely successful. I think now, the biggest effort to be made is in Afghanistan, and I appeal to the international community to massively support Afghanistan, both to reach peace and then, based on peace, to do an effective reconstruction of the country to create the conditions for not only the well-being of the Afghan people in Afghanistan, but for the effective repatriation of refugees from Pakistan and Iran.

Q: Thank you so much, sir.  Pakistan has lost billions of dollars fighting the war on terror, in an attempt to make this world a better place to live.  And how do you see Pakistan’s effort to counter the menace of trans-national terrorism?  And would you or your office play a role, an active role in convincing – because there are some countries who are not fully convinced at Pakistan’s efforts to counter the menace of terrorism, would your office be playing a role to convince or convey to those countries that, yes, Pakistan has done enough?  How do you see that?  Thank you.

SG: Well, I can testify, I came once to Islamabad and Islamabad was a military camp. And the Taliban was very close… the Pakistani Taliban were very close to Islamabad. They had overrun the Swat Valley and they were even a little bit further south. And I have to say that to be today in Islamabad, a family duty station for UN staff, and to compare with the past and to know what in between has been done in the territories that were FATA, and now, I believe, are integrated into Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and to see that administration is being put in place and to see that there is an intense program of development, that I believe that one has to recognize that the efforts that Pakistan has made to fight terrorism are absolutely remarkable and that they were very successful and everybody should support Pakistan to, I would say, consolidate these enormous efforts that I could witness myself. As I said, I’ve been here in the worst phase of the problem. And it’s very rewarding to come back and see how different these things are.

Q: Thank you. Mr. Secretary-General, there is another global issue that is Islamophobia and why the West fears Islam and the Muslims? And it is to be noted that Turkey, Iran, Pakistan and Malaysia have taken a joint initiative to counter this Islamophobia. We were there at UNGA when you also spoke about this in your speech in last year, UNGA session.  How do you view these efforts?  And what further support you will extend to this initiative by Pakistan?….

SG: Well, Islamophobia is absolutely intolerable, as any other form of intolerance that we see today, be it against migrants or refugees that sometimes are attacked by populist politicians, or other forms of religious hatred of all kinds. So, it is for me absolutely evident that we need to fight Islamophobia very strongly.  Hate speech is one of the most important instruments of Islamophobia. And we have launched recently, led by our Special Representative against genocide, we have launched a global UN initiative against hate speech, which I believe goes perfectly in line with the initiative that you have just mentioned. And at the same time, we are totally committed in our action around the world, to fight against all forms of populism that try to use Islamophobia and other forms of hatred as a tool to win votes, which is totally unacceptable. It is unacceptable that people try to win power dividing the people.  This is against all democratic principles. And I think it’s our duty to preserve interfaith dialogue, to preserve harmony among religions. And I believe that my visit tomorrow to the corridor of Kartarpur will be the symbol of that dialogue and that tolerance.


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.

Climate Action Summit – September 23rd

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International Day of Commemoration in memory of the victims of the Holocaust

On 28 January 2019 the United Nations in Pakistan observed the International Day of Commemoration in memory of the victims of the Holocaust by screening the video message of the United Nations Secretary General António Guterres and thematic documentary film “Who Will Write Our History”.

Mr. Guterres said the hatred that led to the Holocaust is “not only strong, it’s getting worse” The UN Resident Coordinator, Neil Buhne, said UN staff members, had to remember that a keyreason for the creation of the United Nations was to take collective action to prevent the horrors recurring again that led to the events in the film.