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ISLAMABAD: Reacting to concerns voiced by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) on harassment and arrests ahead of general elections in Pakistan, the Foreign Office on Wednesday reaffirmed its commitment to foster an inclusive democratic process, uphold the rule of law and protect human rights as well as fundamental freedoms guaranteed in its Constitution.

“Pakistan is fully committed to fostering an inclusive democratic process, uphold the rule of law and protect human rights and fundamental freedoms guaranteed in its laws and Constitution. Security plans have been finalized to hold the elections on 08 February 2024 as per the electoral laws of Pakistan,” said Foreign Office spokesperson Mumtaz Zahra Baloch.

The spokesperson’s remarks come while responding to media queries on a statement made by the OHCHR in which UN Human Rights High Commissioner Volker Türk has also urged authorities in Pakistan to ensure that parliamentary elections this week are free and fair.

“Our judicial system provides for fair trial and due process. Domestic legal remedies are available in case of any complaints in the electoral process,” Baloch further stated in her response.

Earlier on Tuesday, the Geneva-based Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights “denounced all acts of violence against political parties and candidates in the lead-up to Thursday’s vote.”

“Mindful of Pakistan’s political journey, Türk appealed to the authorities to ensure a fully free and fair vote and to recommit to the democratic process and an environment that promotes and protects human rights,” according to a statement of the OHCHR.

In the statement, OHCHR spokesperson Liz Throssell pointed out that there have been no less than 24 reported instances in which armed groups have staged attacks against members of political parties.

“OHCHR also voiced concern over the pattern of harassment, arrests and prolonged detentions of leaders and supporters of the Pakistan Tehreek e Insaf (PTI) party, which is headed by former Prime Minister Imran Khan,” the statement read.

It added that multiple legal cases have been brought against Mr Khan, which have disqualified him as a candidate and sentenced him to long prison terms.

“We expect the higher courts will carefully review these conclusions in line with applicable due process and fair trial rights and Pakistan’s wider international human rights obligations; all eligible parties must be able to compete fairly,” Throssell said.

Referring to women and minorities, she maintained: “The election is also a reminder of the barriers faced by women and minority communities in Pakistan, particularly the Ahmadis.”

Despite 22 per cent of seats in the National Assembly being reserved for women, Throssell added that some political parties appear to have not met the legal quota of having five per cent women candidates on their party lists.

“Separate voter lists – as is the case for the Ahmadis – expose them to harassment and violence despite the equal rights guaranteed to minorities in Pakistan’s constitution,” she said.

“Elections are an important moment to reaffirm the country’s commitment to human rights and democracy and to ensure the right to participation of all its people, including women and minorities,” OHCHR spokesperson further stated.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2024

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