BRUSSELS: A monitoring mission of the European Union (EU) would visit Pakistan next week to review progress on 27 core conventions Pakistan had signed under the Generalised Scheme of Preferences Plus (GSP+) facility. The delegation would include officials from Directorate General of Trade, Directorate General of Employment of the European Commission and European External Action Service. The European officials would convey their reservations in the light of Biennial Report of January 2018 on Pakistan, and would meet key ministries as well as representatives of civil society and human rights organisations to assess the current state of implementation on commitments Pakistan had made under the international law. The under-discussion biennial report stated that Pakistan underwent its 3rd Universal Periodic Review on November 13, 2017, where 117 delegates raised concerns related to, inter alia, the death penalty, freedom of religion or belief, freedom of opinion and expression and issues of discrimination and violence against women and minorities. A copy of report obtained by Daily Times further stated that freedom of expression had come under further strain during the last two years. “There is an increased pressure on print and broadcast media to suppress any critical coverage, using intimidation tactics, discrete pressure and selectively applying a media code of conduct.” The EU had also showed concerns over the current judicial system of the country stating in the report that the right to a fair trial remained a major concern, stemming from weaknesses of the judicial system. “A large backlog of cases resulting in defendants spending years in jail before their case is heard continues to be a problem. Poor defendants also continue to have inadequate access to legal representation, and allegations of corruption and intimidation of courts, undermining the course of justice, also continue.” “In 2017, social media also came under pressure, with legal grounds offered by new cybercrimes law enacted in August 2016. A campaign against ‘blasphemy on social media’ was launched, in which the allegation of blasphemy was effectively used to suppress public opinion online. The Human Rights Committee recommended Pakistan in its report to ensure that criminal laws are never improperly used against journalists or other dissenting voices and that all reported cases of harassment, disappearances and killings of human rights defenders are promptly and thoroughly investigated and prosecuted,” the EU report asserted. The report appreciated the government for establishing a system of Treaty Implementation Cells (TICs) at federal and provincial levels, tasked with coordinating the implementation of treaty obligations between different ministries and departments, yet noting that the TICs had still to catch up with the given tasks after establishing their responsibilities. The mission would also meet human rights activists and mainstream democratic leaders, while also discussing their observations/reservations with relevant ministries. GSP+ programme offers Pakistan exceptional trade concessions for promise of improving human rights and democratic conditions in the country, making Europe the biggest trade partner of Pakistan. Around three-quarters of all EU imports from GSP+ programme come from Pakistan and almost 82 percent EU purchases are textiles and clothing products, which serve as the backbone of Pakistan’s textile industry. EU spokesperson confirmed the arrival of European monitoring mission in Pakistan on October 18, 2018. “The GSP+ monitoring mission will take place on October 18 – 25,” the spokesperson said. The spokesperson added that the key issues to be discussed with Pakistani authorities were those included in the biennial report of January 2018 on GSP+ (Commission and European External Action Service Joint Staff Working Document SWD (2018) 29 final), submitted to the European Parliament and the Council. “Both the report and the forthcoming monitoring mission will assess progress made by Pakistan on implementation of 27 international conventions under the GSP+ facility. Besides representatives of government, the mission also envisions meetings with other stakeholders concerned with the implementation of these conventions,” the spokesperson asserted. Published in Daily Times, October 16th 2018.