International obligations

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In this age of globalisation, nations are voluntarily giving up a part of their legislative sovereignty to supranational entities like the European Union (EU) and global agencies like the UN. In the former case, the legislatures of member states may be ceding as much as 80 per cent of their legislative rights to the European Parliament, although the figure varies widely from country to country.
A country doesn’t have to be a part of an entity like the EU to experience this aspect of globalisation. There are several other ways in which states depart from the classical concept of sovereignty. Countries are frequently entering into bilateral and multilateral treaties, accords and conventions which bind them to the terms of such agreements.
Such treaties also create agencies and mechanisms to monitor the compliance of individual countries with the treaties. There are legal, social and economic consequences for lack of compliance, some of which may be serious and damage the violating state’s vital interests.
Pakistan has also not been immune to this global trend. Over the years, Pakistan has signed hundreds of bilateral treaties, accords and agreements with about 100 countries. There are about 60 multilateral treaties and conventions signed with various international entities mostly under the UN and its various agencies.
All these treaties bind us to certain obligations but multilateral treaties and conventions are much more demanding in terms of their compliance, monitoring of progress and periodic reporting. Based on the degree of compliance, various countries adopt measures to support or not support a country like Pakistan in its quest for diplomatic and economic cooperation. Human rights have been traditionally one major category of agreements against which progress made by developing countries like Pakistan is closely monitored.
Lately and especially after the apocalyptic events of 9/11, the risks to international financial systems through money laundering and terrorist financing have assumed much greater importance, and this is where the Financial Action Task Force and the Asia Pacific Group on Money Laundering have become a part of everyday discourse in Pakistan. The FATF has identified Pakistan as a jurisdiction with deficiencies related to its performance regarding the anti-money laundering and countering terrorism financing regime and has placed the country on the so-called grey list.
The United Nations Convention Against Corruption is another such multilateral convention signed by Pakistan against which reports on progress on compliance are regularly sought and monitored under a mechanism coordinated by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crimes.
In Pakistan, all such treaties are signed and ratified by the executive. Many countries subject such treaties to ratification by their legislatures but it is not the case in Pakistan. A number of attempts have been made by various legislators to subject international treaties to ratification by parliament but so far no Pakistani government has warmed to the idea.
Senator Raza Rabbani of the PPP had introduced a private member’s bill back in 2007 to provide for parliamentary ratification of international treaties. PTI’s Shireen Mazari as MNA had introduced a similar bill in 2013, and in 2018, Senator Raza Rabbani again moved such a bill. Since international treaties carry serious foreign policy and economic implications for the country, it may not be a bad idea to provide for some degree of parliamentary scrutiny of such treaties.
Pakistan is said to be included among the states that follow the ‘dualist theory’ where provisions of international treaties cannot be invoked in domestic courts without a national law. Parliament thus remains relevant, rather important, when it comes to the operationalisation of international treaties. A measure of this importance is the fact that 13 or more than one-fourth of the 51 acts passed by parliament since August 2018, when the present National Assembly and PTI government were sworn in, are meant to give effect to one international treaty or the other.
Most of these acts were passed to satisfy the conditionalities of the FATF so that the country could be taken off the ‘grey list’. It is quite likely that some more laws will be passed by parliament in the days to come as Pakistan, though complying on most counts, has been found ‘deficient’ in one of the 27 points of the FATF action plan.
Pakistan had also agreed to pass or amend almost half-a-dozen laws to meet the conditionalities of the IMF programme. Since the latter seems to be on the back-burner at the moment, we don’t see much legislative activity on this front but parliament may soon be considering the bills some of which have already been introduced by the government.
There are two important points which the ruling coalition and parliament need to give serious consideration to when dealing with legislation in general and legislation relating to international treaties in particular. Delay in drafting the necessary legislation and passing it through parliament is not only detrimental to the public interest, it also damages our international standing.
A case in point is the recently passed Torture and Custodial Death (Prevention and Punishment) Bill, 2021, that was introduced by Senator Sherry Rehman some 17 months ago. It still has to go through the National Assembly and if it takes this long even there, the human suffering and reputational damage will only aggravate — especially as Pakistan had signed the UN Convention Against Torture 11 years ago.
Second, while legislation needs to be expedited, parliament and its committees need to do justice to the process of scrutiny of bills. The recent passage of the Elections (Amendment) Bill, 2021 without any debate in the National Assembly despite some obvious legal infirmities is not the example that the government and parliament should follow. A balance between proper scrutiny and speed needs to be struck.