Under a huge baobab tree in Sudan’s Nuba mountains, I met Sebila, a 27-year-old mother of three. In March last year, her village had been attacked by Sudanese ground troops and bombed by government war planes. The assault forced Sebila and many other villagers to flee deeper into rebel-held territory.

She was just back in the village for the day with her children, two toddlers in tow and carrying a baby, to dig up sorghum she had buried. Sebila said food here is scarcer than it has been for years, because of poor rains and conflict fighting. “It’s exhausting, trying to feed them all [my family],” Sebila said of her children.

Aid obstruction in the rebel-held territories of Sudan’s South Kordofan and Blue Nile has been in force for nearly six years, and has had a devastating impact on the communities here. For Sebila – and all the women living across these territories – it has meant no access to contraception. “Every year, I give birth,” she told me. “It would be better if I could space it [out].” But Sebila cannot space her babies out, or have any control of her body. Like all women living in rebel-held territory here, she has zero access to contraception.

 In the Nuba Mountains, South Kordofan, access to family planning and maternal healthcare is severely limited by blocks on humanitarian supplies.

© Goran Tomasevic/Reuters

It has also meant a severe lack of maternal healthcare. There is no local midwife, and Sebila lives five hours’ drive from a hospital, in a region where cars are a rare luxury. Women told me of waiting hours for transport while in obstructed labour, or being held propped up, bleeding and falling in and out of consciousness, between two men on the back of a motorcycle to reach a hospital. Multiple and closely-spaced births can carry serious health risks for both mother and infant, and can be life-threatening without proper treatment.

Yet there is no coordinated international aid effort under way in the Nuba mountains. Funds are in place, but both the government and the rebel group are preventing supplies getting in. The conflict has left already-stretched health services in the region in a pitiful state. Most facilities are little more than a table with some basic medicines, and there are only five doctors and one blood bank for perhaps close to a million people.

Despite many rounds of peace talks since fighting began in 2011, the Sudanese government and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army-North have failed to agree on how to allow aid – needs-based and impartially delivered – into the affected areas. Instead they are still arguing about whether aid can come through a third country, or, as the government insists, only from inside Sudan. Some aid groups have found ways to provide occasional help, unauthorised by the government but supported by the rebels, but this is no substitute for the large-scale effort needed. 

This has very serious consequences for reproductive health. None of the women I met in the Nuba mountains had any access to family planning. One clinic provides a three-month injectable contraception, but local rebel regulations require women to get their husband’s permission first. Despite evidence that gonorrhoea and syphilis are on the rise and hepatitis B common, condoms are scarce. Most of the women I met had never seen a condom, let alone any other form of contraception.

It is also feared that the number of women and girls dying in childbirth in the rebel-held areas of Southern Kordofan – already much higher than other states in Sudan – is rising yet further. And two major aid efforts, including a UN polio vaccination campaign for children, have failed.

Sudan has a long history of aid obstruction going back to the start of the conflict: denying travel permits; rejecting visas; blocking work permits; and expelling aid workers. Meanwhile, citing mistrust of the government, the rebels have still not agreed to an offer by the US to provide aid via Khartoum, and have instead called for yet more negotiations. 

Although aid saves lives, and warring parties in conflict have an obligation to allow the delivery of humanitarian assistance to civilians, preventing it from reaching people is rarely punished. The UN security council briefly threatened punitive action against Sudan in 2012, but never acted. The health crisis unfolding in the Nuba mountains should prompt a change of tack. The UN security council, the African Union and the EU should investigate and consider travel bans and asset freezes on rebel and government leaders found to have deliberately blocked such deliveries. 

International aid is often a lifeline to civilians trapped in conflict. And it would help women like Sebila to access contraception, avoid risky childbirth, and feed their children.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Sarah Jamal Ahmed, a 24-year-old sociologist who was one of the activists during the 2011 uprising in Sanaa, stands by posters of dead protesters posted in the streets.

© 2012 Panos/Abbie Trayler-Smith

The revolution made us proud to be there on the front line and men were forced to accept us. But now there are some who think it is time for women to go home.

—Salwa Bughaighis, lawyer and human rights activist, Benghazi, Libya, July 2012[i]

In 2011, women were at the forefront as the Arab Spring erupted in Libya, organizing and demanding their rights to have a voice in their country’s future. The ensuing civil war resulted in the former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi being toppled.  In the transitional period following that armed conflict women organized as voters and candidates in preparation for elections, documented human rights abuses, and worked to ensure any new constitution would enshrine women’s rights.

The revolution made us proud to be there on the front line and men were forced to accept us. But now there are some who think it is time for women to go home.

Salwa Bughaighis

Lawyer and human rights activist, Benghazi, Libya, July 2012

Iman and Salwa Bughaighis—sisters and human rights activists—were among the key organizers of the first demonstrations against Gaddafi in Benghazi in February 2011. “The revolution was an earthquake to the cultural status of women in Libya,” Iman told Human Rights Watch.

But the space for women’s political participation soon began to shrink. As the wrangling intensified over power and the future of Libya, women found themselves facing significant obstacles to their full participation in the country’s transitional processes, and even targeted for violence. On June 25, 2014, following threats, unidentified gunmen murdered Salwa Bughaighis in her home in Benghazi. One month later, on July 17, unidentified assailants shot dead Fariha al-Barkawi, a former lawmaker, in the eastern city of Derna.[ii] Both crimes are among hundreds of apparently politically motivated killings in post-Gaddafi Libya that remain uninvestigated and unprosecuted.

On the eve of Libya’s first democratic national election, Haja Nowara held a vigil in the square outside the courthouse in Benghazi, where she had spent many evenings supporting the revolution since early 2011. “I have waited my whole life for tomorrow, which will be a new day for Libya,” said Nowara, who would be voting for the first time in her life. “We sacrificed a lot to get here.”

© 2012 Samer Muscati/Human Rights Watch

In its treatment of women and girls in wartime and in the post-war transition, Libya is sadly unexceptional.  Throughout history, women and girls have often been targeted in wartime for violence, especially sexual violence.  And they have also been denied the ability to participate in conflict prevention and post-conflict resolution efforts. Governments and non-state armed groups did not pay attention to the use of rape as a weapon of war, nor to the exclusion of women from crucial decision-making on conflict resolution and prevention, until women themselves mobilized for recognition and action.

This document sets out the commitments that the international community has since made to women and girls affected by armed conflict and outlines the major disappointments and gaps in implementation in three distinct but interconnected areas: participation; protection and assistance; and accountability. It also makes recommendations to governments, to all parties to armed conflicts, and to the UN on how to turn the promises made to women and girls in these three areas into reality.

Security Council Resolution 1325

After sustained advocacy efforts from women’s civil society organizations, the United Nations Security Council, in 2000, adopted Resolution 1325 on women, peace and security.[iii] It was the Security Council’s first dedicated resolution that recognized the specific risks to and experiences of women in armed conflict and women’s central role in maintaining international peace and security. Resolution 1325 elucidated states’ obligations to women and girls in situations of armed conflict, including ensuring that women are involved in all aspects of conflict prevention, conflict resolution, and post-conflict rebuilding. As broadly understood, the women, peace and security agenda acknowledges the linkages between participation, protection and assistance, and accountability, and the centrality of these issues to broader human rights concerns.

Angelina, 20, from Koch county, was spared in May when members of government aligned militia abducted three women and a teenage girl who she was hiding with. “When I fled [my village], I felt very tired and I sometimes would fall and have to use my arms to pull myself forward on the ground,” said the 20-year-old who has a physical disability. “I arrived [at the UNMI SS camp] three weeks after the attack. My whole body was swollen.” 

© 2015 Samer Muscati/Human Rights Watch

This groundbreaking resolution and the subsequent resolutions on women, peace and security elaborate the responsibilities of all parties to ensure the meaningful “participation of women in all levels of decision-making” in institutions and mechanisms for the prevention, management, and resolution of armed conflict, calling on all actors in peace talks to increase women’s participation in negotiations, and to ensure women’s rights are addressed in peace agreements.[iv] The resolutions remind all parties to armed conflicts of their obligations under international law, particularly civilian protection in armed conflicts, and call for states to end impunity for crimes of gender-based violence in armed conflicts. They urge the UN and governments to take steps to increase the number of women throughout the justice sector, and in armed forces. In these resolutions, the Security Council also states its intention to ensure it incorporates women, peace and security in its own work, including through consulting with civil society.

The resolution has given women around the world increased attention and legitimacy in their work in areas of armed conflict. Since the resolution’s adoption in 2000, many governments have begun to recognize that women’s roles in peace processes are not negotiable add-ons, but fundamental to sustainable and implementable peace accords. Security Council resolutions and commitments by UN member states have recognized conflict-related sexual violence as a tactic often ruthlessly deployed in war, and have expanded international prevention and response efforts. Governments and international bodies have introduced new policy frameworks, including additional Security Council resolutions, on women, peace and security at the national, regional, and multilateral levels. The UN is starting to collect data on a range of protection and participation aspects—from sexual violence in armed conflicts to women in peace talks—allowing policymakers and program implementers to begin to track where there has been success and where problems persist.

Much Work Remains

The remaining challenges are many. There is a lack of concerted, high-level leadership willing to spend political capital at key policy moments, such as in Security Council negotiations and in peace talks. There is insufficient and irregular funding, particularly for grassroots organizations working on women’s local-level peacebuilding and service provision.[v] Despite the improvement in data collection, there remains a lack of timely and disaggregated information for policymakers on women and girls in crisis situations, accompanied by a lack of analysis and recommendations for policymakers on appropriate action to take.[vi] Despite the heightened risk of violence faced by lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) individuals and women with disabilities in situations of armed conflict, specific measures for them are rarely incorporated into policy and programming, often leaving these populations out of decision-making processes and unable to access services.

Sexual violence during Nepal’s 10 year conflict between Maoists and government forces has remained largely undisclosed. 

©2014 Arantxa Cedillo for Human Rights Watch

The UN Security Council, despite six subsequent resolutions on women, peace and security, often fails to bring these issues into its work on crisis situations. Despite the Security Council members’ meeting with women civil society representatives on its 2013 visit to the Great Lakes region, the subsequent report on the mission contained no substantive analysis or recommendations on women’s rights and concerns.[vii] Briefings from senior UN officials often lack specific information on women’s rights violations, on the inclusion of women in peacemaking efforts, and on the levels of women’s participation in security reform. Use of sanctions and other tools at the Security Council’s disposal are similarly haphazardly applied with respect to women, peace and security.[viii]  The Security Council rarely takes advantage of information on perpetrators to hold them to account and prevent future violations. For example, despite evidence of widespread crimes of sexual violence committed by Sudanese forces in Tabit in Darfur in 2014, the Security Council has not adopted a strong response.[ix] 

With women’s rights high on their rhetorical agenda, practical support among donor countries lags. It is rare, for example, that donors make women’s rights and women’s participation in decision-making a priority in political engagement with conflict-affected countries. Too often, including in countries such as Afghanistan and Somalia, officials assert it is not the right time to push for women’s rights, that security is somehow a prerequisite for women’s rights rather than inextricably linked with them, or that they do not have the leverage to act.[x]

For women and girls living in situations of armed conflict, participation, protection and assistance, and accountability for gender-based crimes remain a distant promise. As detailed in the following sections, it will take strong action backed by persistent political will for the potential of the women, peace and security agenda to be realized.

Nigerian girls in a refugee camp near Lake Chad in Chad. 

© 2015 Samer Muscati/Human Rights Watch

Participation

When Afghan women were asked their definition of security, we used the word “amnyat wa masuniat,” by which we mean a comprehensive feeling of safety when engaged in daily public and social life. The success of peace agreements must be gauged by real, measurable security improvements for women and for all members of the community, not just that a peace agreement has been signed. Excellencies, peace is a process, not an event. We look to you as Member States, including members of the Security Council, to ensure that women are consistently appointed as mediators and negotiators, and that our rights are fundamental to peace processes and outcomes.

—Statement by Orzala Ashraf Nemat, Afghan civil society representative and women’s rights advocate, delivered in the UN Security Council on behalf of the NGO Working Group on Women, Peace and Security, New York, October 28, 2011[xi]

Despite years of rhetoric on the importance of women’s participation in Afghanistan peace processes, no women have been included in over 20 known rounds of informal talks between the international community and the Taliban. In talks between the Afghanistan government and the Taliban, women were present on two occasions.[xii] In most situations of armed conflict and post-conflict, women have few channels and face formidable obstacles to participating in conflict prevention, conflict-resolution, and political processes such as elections and constitutional reform.

The success of peace agreements must be gauged by real, measurable security improvements for women and for all members of the community, not just that a peace agreement has been signed. Excellencies, peace is a process, not an event. We look to you as Member States, including members of the Security Council, to ensure that women are consistently appointed as mediators and negotiators, and that our rights are fundamental to peace processes and outcomes.

Statement by Orzala Ashraf Nemat

Afghan civil society representative and women’s rights advocate, delivered in the UN Security Council on behalf of the NGO Working Group on Women, Peace and Security, New York, October 28, 2011

Women have little representation in formal peace talks. Available UN and academic data show that women are rarely present in these negotiations, and specific rights and concerns of women and girls are rarely reflected in peace agreements. One study of peace processes from 1992-2011 shows that only 4 percent of signatories to peace agreements have been women, and only 18 out of 300 peace agreements signed between 1998 and 2008 addressed any aspect of women’s rights and concerns.[xiii] Women struggle to have their voices heard, but examples of greater women’s involvement are gradually increasing. In Colombia, for example, women are present as permanent members of the negotiation delegation, and a sub-committee on gender in the negotiations was established in 2014, and women’s rights are discussed in the substantive talks. This happened after concerted pressure from civil society organizations, supported by UN Women.[xiv] Despite these gains, however, women’s civil society organizations have not been afforded a formal role in the Colombia negotiations.

Those facilitating formal peace talks often fail to recognize women’s work in community-level peace efforts.  When the opportunity to engage in formal peace talks arose in the 2014 Geneva II talks, Syrian women mobilized. With support from international nongovernmental organizations, UN member states, and the UN, women met behind closed doors with the Security Council, held consultative meetings to draft consolidated demands, and worked with women peacemakers from Ireland, Guatemala, and Bosnia-Herzegovina on strategies for engaging in the peace process.[xv] But when they met with the UN special envoy to Syria, Lakdhar Brahimi, he did not stay to hear their concerns and recommendations. “Mr. Brahimi, we are already building peace in Syria,” the women said, although Brahimi, effectively the chief mediator of Syria’s peace process, had already left the meeting. “We can help you if you let us.”[xvi]  Brahimi’s successor, Staffan de Mistura, has consulted with Syrian women’s groups, despite the stalling of the formal peace process.

Two activists working with the Association for Crisis Assistance and Development Co-operation (WADI), a German-Iraqi human rights group supporting Yezidi women and girls who escaped ISIS. WADI has three mobile units that visit women and girls in camps and settlements. It is seeking funds to build a center for training courses and social activities.

©2015 Samer Muscati/Human Rights Watch

Women should have seats at all decision-making tables, and women’s rights and concerns should be included in the outcomes of conflict negotiations. For example, women's rights should be reflected in humanitarian access agreements, human rights agreements, ceasefires, ceasefire monitoring, and in disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration (DDR) efforts agreed to by parties to a conflict. They should also be integrated throughout security sector reforms, including the vetting of armed and security forces, justice, reparations, and in relief and recovery programs.[xvii] Women’s participation is also the key to ensuring their protection and minimizing risks in displacement settings. This includes in the design of refugee and internally displaced person (IDP) camps so that women and girls are not placed at further risk in those settings.[xviii] Targeted efforts need to be made to ensure that the diversity of women’s perspectives is reflected in all aspects of conflict resolution and peacebuilding. For example, women with disabilities face unique challenges and can share their problem-solving approaches in conflict resolution and peacebuilding efforts.

Women human rights defenders often face risks, particularly in times of armed conflict. Even when women can legally conduct their work, they may face physical assault, sexual violence, and threats far greater than their male counterparts. Human Rights Watch has documented physical attacks, death threats, threatening phone calls, sexual harassment and assault, rape, and threats against children of activists in armed conflicts, all of which can create a chilling environment in an effort to silence these women.[xix] In the 2015 Sudan elections, for example, National Intelligence and Security Service officers arrested Dr. Sandra Kadouda, a prominent political and human rights activist, on April 12 as she drove to an anti-elections event at the National Umma Party headquarters in Omdurman. The authorities held her for three days at an unknown location, and then freed her on April 15, visibly bruised and with injuries to her shoulder, credible sources reported.[xx]

Women should also have the opportunity to participate in security forces without facing discrimination or harassment.  Women often are subject to hostile work environments that dissuade them from staying in or even joining police and military services. In Afghanistan, for example, despite efforts to increase their numbers, women have remained about 1 percent of the Afghan police over the last several years.[xxi] In addition to a lack of the most basic toilet and changing room facilities, women in the Afghan police face abuse and sometimes assault, including sexual assault, by male colleagues. Despite multiple reports of such incidents, these crimes often go unpunished, and government officials, including the minister of interior, have denied that abuses against women officers are a problem.[xxii]

Recommendations to Governments, Parties to Armed Conflict, UN agencies, and the UN Secretariat

  1. Implement national-level policies, including National Action Plans, on UN Security Council Resolution 1325, to ensure the full and meaningful participation of women in all peace and security discussions, including in all peace processes and transitional justice mechanisms. All parties involved in peace negotiations, including mediators and facilitators, should act to ensure women’s rights and concerns are a priority in negotiations and are integrated throughout any agreement. All discussions should benefit from the full engagement of civil society organizations, including women’s rights groups, women from marginalized populations, such as ethnic and religious minorities, and women with disabilities.
     
  2. Safeguard women’s security and support women’s participation in post-conflict elections, referendums and constitutional drafting, and reform processes. This includes promotion and protection of women candidates, voters, election workers, and women’s human rights defenders.
     
  3. Protect women’s human rights defenders. Governments should monitor threats and attacks against women's human rights defenders and provide protection as requested in a manner that allows them to continue their work.
     
  4. Strengthen recruitment and retention strategies for women in the security sector, including by addressing cultural and practical barriers that women face, by providing specific training and facilities, and ensuring women have equal opportunities for responsibility and advancement.
  5. Ensure women’s leadership and protection in displacement settings. Encourage and facilitate women’s representation in the leadership of camps and centers for the internally displaced and refugees. UN agencies should consult with women and girls, including those with disabilities, to ensure camp designs are accessible, safe, disability-inclusive, and provide equal access to food distributions, sanitation facilities, health—as well as reproductive health—services, education, and vocational training for women and girls.

A female election worker helps an elderly voter at a polling station in Benghazi. The electoral law rightly allowed people with “special needs” to bring assistants. However, barriers remain to ensure the right to political participation for women and men with disabilities.

© 2012 Samer Muscati/Human Rights Watch

Protection and Assistance

The government should give us proper shelter with a fence and an entrance. Police should secure the camp and manage who comes and goes. The worst thing is that the rapes push us into poverty because afterward we cannot do the same work or carry heavy loads. We need money for our kids to live. The government should do something or kids will die of hunger.

—Farxiyo, who was raped in an IDP camp, Mogadishu, Somalia, August 2013[xxiii]

No one has offered me one-on-one counselling of any kind. I’d be interested in receiving professional counseling to help me process my experiences if it was available.… I have trouble sleeping at night, and only sleep a few hours at a time. When I sleep, I often see my parents and siblings in front of my eyes, especially the image of my brothers being forced to kneel on the road, and my mother’s face.

—Narin (pseudonym), 20-year-old woman from Sinjar who escaped captivity and sexual abuse by ISIS fighters, Dohuk, Iraq, January 2015[xxiv]

In armed conflicts around the globe, combatants frequently target women and girls for abuse. National armies and non-state armed groups use sexual violence as a tactic in war in violation of international law.  Conflict-related sexual violence can include rape, abduction, forced prostitution, forced marriage, sexual slavery, and forced pregnancy. 

Women and girls face multiple abuses in war, in addition to conflict-related sexual violence, including: forced displacement; the targeting and punishment of women because of their own activism or activism by male relatives; the drive towards early, forced, and child marriages because of instability and a lack of security for girls and younger women; an increase in domestic violence and sexual violence committed by civilians; lack of access to food, shelter, and health care; the interruption of education; and sexual exploitation and trafficking, to name but a few.

The government should give us proper shelter with a fence and an entrance. Police should secure the camp and manage who comes and goes. The worst thing is that the rapes push us into poverty because afterward we cannot do the same work or carry heavy loads. We need money for our kids to live. The government should do something or kids will die of hunger.

Farxiyo, who was raped in an IDP camp, Mogadishu, Somalia, August 2013

For example, Human Rights Watch has documented the abuse faced by Syrian women activists and other civilians.[xxv] Some of these women have long histories of activism while others began participating politically only after the beginning of uprisings against the Syrian government. Some were targeted or arbitrarily detained for their work, such as Jelnar, who used her pharmaceutical credentials to smuggle medications between neighborhoods. Several of them experienced torture, sexual assault, physical abuse, or harassment as a direct result of their activism, like Layal, who was detained by government forces for assisting the internally displaced. Others became household heads following their husbands’ detention or death, such as Zeinab, who lost her husband and son in separate incidents at the hands of government forces.

In Sudan’s ongoing armed conflicts, Sudanese government forces and allied militias have committed rape and other sexual violence against women and girls on numerous instances. For example, Sudanese military forces engaged in the mass rape of more than 200 women and girls in the town of Tabit, Darfur, in late 2014, restricted access to the town for UN and international investigators, peacekeepers, and humanitarian agencies, and threatened residents with reprisals if they spoke about their ordeals. Government authorities fostered a climate of fear in Tabit that deterred many women and girls from seeking medical care at clinics and hospitals.[xxvi]  

Adequate protection measures are vital to ensuring the safety of women and girls, but when attacks do happen, service provision is vital for survivors. In Nigeria, numerous victims and witnesses interviewed by Human Rights Watch expressed concern about the lack of security force presence in areas particularly vulnerable to attack by Boko Haram, notably in towns and villages in Borno State. Victims, witnesses, community leaders, and analysts told Human Rights Watch that government security services could have done more to prevent attacks by ensuring the adequate presence and arming of military personnel, and by responding more quickly and effectively to reports of attacks once in progress. Survivors of Boko Haram attacks received virtually no necessary psychosocial and medical services, and none of the rape survivors interviewed by Human Rights Watch had any information about how and where to access post-rape care.[xxvii]

Manal Ameer, 33, pictured here with her two daughters, was among the first to vote in Benghazi. She said she had learned about the election process through television advertising and had researched candidates via the Internet.

© 2012 Samer Muscati/Human Rights Watch

In northern Iraq, the extremist group Islamic State (also known as ISIS) has carried out systematic rape and other sexual violence against Yezidi women and girls since August 2014. Human Rights Watch documented a system of mass abduction, organized rape and sexual assault, sexual slavery, and forced marriage by ISIS forces.[xxviii] Many of the women and girls remain missing, but survivors who escaped to the Kurdish Region of Iraq need psychosocial support and basic humanitarian assistance. These survivors require specialized and expert psychosocial services in their present locations to aid their recovery and their reintegration into their communities. Few have received these.

Women and girls in displaced populations are at increased risk of sexual and gender-based violence, and of becoming victims of sex and labor trafficking.[xxix] Humanitarian crises often mean that women and girls are placed at greater risk of violence, with specific measures such as camp design and humanitarian relief necessary. Human Rights Watch research has found that women and girls with disabilities were frequently abandoned or left behind in crises, condemning them to face isolation, neglect, and abuse in post-conflict settings.[xxx] Despite commitments from governments and the UN, prevention efforts, access to services, and holding perpetrators accountable all remain extremely weak, and in some cases, non-existent.

Women displaced by armed conflict often find it difficult to access necessary long-term protection and humanitarian assistance. In Colombia, in an example that highlights the complexity of long-term access to assistance, Lucia fled her community in Antioquia with her husband and six children when an armed group threatened her son for refusing to join their ranks in 2010. Lucia’s husband had physically abused her and this became worse after the family fled to Medellín. Despite trying to access humanitarian assistance for herself and her children directly, the government agency never responded to her case. [xxxi]

No one has offered me one-on-one counselling of any kind. I’d be interested in receiving professional counseling to help me process my experiences if it was available.… I have trouble sleeping at night, and only sleep a few hours at a time. When I sleep, I often see my parents and siblings in front of my eyes, especially the image of my brothers being forced to kneel on the road, and my mother’s face.

Narin (pseudonym)

20-year-old woman from Sinjar who escaped captivity and sexual abuse by ISIS fighters, Dohuk, Iraq, January 2015

Women with disabilities in displacement settings also face discrimination on the basis of gender, disability, and poverty, and thus need particular measures to address protection concerns.[xxxii] Lack of mobility and communication barriers, for example, mean women with disabilities are at particular risk of sexual violence. This discrimination, as well as more general social stigma, prevents them from realizing their rights to accessible information, and accessing health care and other government services. In a displacement camp in Northern Uganda, Charity, a woman with a physical disability, recounted her experience: “People told me I should just die so others can eat the food: ‘You are useless. You are a waste of food.’”[xxxiii]

In line with their obligations under international humanitarian law—the laws of war—parties to armed conflicts should take all feasible measures to protect civilians under their control from attack, including protecting women and girls from sexual and other gender-based violence.[xxxiv]  International human rights law also applies during armed conflict, and provides protections to women and girls against sexual violence and other abuses, including domestic violence.[xxxv] States have obligations to investigate credible allegations of war crimes and other serious human rights abuses and prosecute those responsible.

International humanitarian and human rights law prohibit acts of sexual violence. International humanitarian law sets out protections for civilians and other non-combatants during both international and non-international armed conflicts.[xxxvi] It implicitly and explicitly prohibits both state armed forces and non-state armed groups from committing rape and other forms of sexual violence.[xxxvii]

International human rights law also contains protections from rape and other forms of sexual abuse through its prohibitions on torture and other ill-treatment, slavery, forced prostitution, and discrimination based on sex.[xxxviii]  The Convention on the Rights of the Child contains additional protections for children.[xxxix]

Recommendations to Governments, Parties to Armed Conflicts, UN agencies, and the UN Secretariat

  1. Comply with international humanitarian law and human rights law prohibitions of rape and other forms of sexual violence, sexual slavery, cruel treatment, and other abuses. All parties to armed conflicts should issue clear, public orders to all forces under their control to end and appropriately punish all abuses, including crimes of sexual and gender-based violence.
     
  2. Governments providing military and other security assistance should ensure that such support does not encourage or facilitate abuses against women, and that it provides a basis for promoting greater respect for women’s rights.  Compliance with international human rights standards should be a factor in evaluating the continuation of such support. Governments should vet recipients of this assistance to exclude units or individuals when there is credible information they have been involved in serious violations of human rights.
     
  3. Ensure that survivors of sexual violence and other gender-based violence have access to essential medical and psychological care, as well as available economic and social support. Humanitarian aid should include access to the full range of sexual and reproductive health services that respect the confidentiality and rights of survivors, including for pregnancy, termination of pregnancy, and injuries resulting from sexual violence, with specific measures taken to ensure these services are accessible for women with disabilities.
     
  4. Make women’s and girls’ protection and access to assistance a priority in displacement settings, including through consultation, promoting women’s leadership, camp and shelter design, registration and distribution systems, security measures, and recruitment and training of female security staff.
     
  5. Ensure all parties to armed conflicts grant UN agencies and independent humanitarian organizations unfettered access to civilians and communities in need of assistance. The media and human rights groups should also be provided access to conflict areas.
     
  6. Governments and the UN should highlight women’s participation, protection, and assistance concerns at the highest levels, including by conducting high-level visits to areas where serious abuses have been reported and raising the issues with senior government officials, donor governments, and regional and international bodies. Security Council members should press all parties to armed conflicts to meet all international law obligations.
     
  7. The UN Security Council and concerned governments should impose arms embargoes on state armed forces and non-state armed groups implicated in widespread or systematic serious human rights abuses, including those targeting women and girls. The Security Council should require states to suspend all military sales and assistance, including technical training and services, to these abusive actors until meaningful steps are taken to end such violations and appropriately punish those responsible. Travel bans and asset freezes should also be imposed on individuals responsible for serious abuses, with appropriate due process protections.

“For three months, I had a feeling that one of us was going to die,” said Maha, 28 (left), of the young activists group in which she participated. In November, 2012, she and fellow members of the group had just finished a peaceful protest outside a mosque in Aleppo, when government shelling struck the site, killing her husband of only a few weeks. Her sister Nuha, 23 (right), also an activist, was kidnapped by pro-government militia while on her way to work in Damascus in August 2012 and held for 23 days. 

©2014 Samer Muscati/Human Rights Watch

Accountability

We want these people punished. We just don’t have the reach or the power. If I did, we would have dealt with it a long time ago. We need support.

—Husband of Nandita (pseudonym), who was raped in 2001 because her husband was a Maoist combatant, Nepal, April 2014[xl]

Perpetrators of abuses in armed conflicts rarely face justice and, by all accounts, are even less likely to when responsible for sexual violence against women and girls. In November 2012, in Minova, Democratic Republic of Congo, Congolese army soldiers raped at least 76 women and girls when nearby Goma fell to the M23 rebel group.[xli] The crimes created an outcry at the national and international level. Strong international pressure was brought on the Congolese authorities to pursue justice. The UN threatened to suspend support by the peacekeeping mission MONUSCO to the Congolese army unless those responsible were brought to justice. The UN Security Council and donor governments raised the need for accountability for the crimes in Minova in multiple statements and in meetings with Congolese authorities. High-profile visits to the area by the Congolese minister of justice, the wife of President Joseph Kabila, UK Foreign Minister William Hague, and UN refugee agency special envoy Angelina Jolie, raised attention to the issue.

Three years after the attacks, accountability, services, and security are still insufficient. Despite considerable efforts by Congolese authorities and international partners to ensure judicial proceedings in the case, including by providing for the participation of numerous victims and effective protection of victims and witnesses, the verdict did little to achieve justice. Out of 39 soldiers and officers brought to trial, only 2 rank-and-file soldiers were convicted of rape.  All mid-ranking officers present in Minova at the time of the crimes and brought to trial were completely acquitted. No high-level officers were even charged.[xlii] 

The Minova case illustrates the difficulties of ensuring accountability for conflict-related sexual violence. Congolese authorities and international partners have made considerable efforts to increase accountability for sexual violence in Congo over the past several years, resulting in a few trials involving charges of rape as a war crime or a crime against humanity, and dozens of proceedings and convictions for rape as an ordinary crime. Investigating and proving sexual violence in judicial proceedings remains a complex matter and further efforts are needed.

We want these people punished. We just don’t have the reach or the power. If I did, we would have dealt with it a long time ago. We need support.

Husband of Nandita (pseudonym), who was raped in 2001 because her husband was a Maoist combatant, Nepal, April 2014

Women and girls who suffer rights abuses in armed conflicts, including sexual violence, face tremendous barriers in obtaining redress. Regular police and court functions may be in disarray. They may not wish to seek avenues for justice out of fear of retaliation or marginalization in their communities and homes. They may lack the financial or logistical means to access courts and legal assistance. National judicial systems often lack expertise in handling vulnerable victims of sexual violence during investigations and prosecutions. Physical protection and psychological assistance may be lacking. There may be strong resistance to or lack of resources for reforming the security apparatus in the immediate and long-term aftermath of an armed conflict. Disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration programs often neglect to address female combatants and women euphemistically called “bush wives,” or women who are associated with armed groups, often forcibly. Women with disabilities have particular difficulty accessing redress or justice mechanisms, including physical barriers in entering police stations and courtrooms, communication barriers, or questioning of the credibility of their testimony if they have a psychosocial or intellectual disability.

Even when international peacekeeping forces are in place to bring stability to conflict-riven regions, they are sometimes perpetrators themselves. Although the UN has a “zero tolerance” policy on sexual exploitation and abuse, accountability for these crimes remains a concern.[xliii] For example, in the past decade, there have been allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse in peacekeeping missions in the Central African Republic, Haiti, Somalia, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The persistent lack of transparency on these cases makes it very difficult to help victims seek justice. With the UN historically providing few specifics on allegations of abuse, and few countries that contribute troops and police to UN operations providing information on investigations and prosecutions, the scope of the problem is unclear. In one of the few cases in which public information is available on accountability for UN peacekeepers, a Pakistani peacekeeper charged with sexually assaulting a Haitian boy was convicted, and faced a one-year sentence upon conviction.[xliv]

A woman prisoner looks out a window in Parwan prison north of Kabul, Afghanistan, in February 2011.The woman was convicted of moral crimes after a man from her neighborhood raped her. She later gave birth in prison.

© 2011 Farzana Wahidy

When crimes of sexual violence are committed as part of armed conflict, they can be prosecuted as war crimes. States have an obligation to investigate alleged war crimes committed by members of the armed forces and other nationals, and prosecute those responsible.[xlv] Non-state armed groups also have an obligation to prevent war crimes and should investigate and appropriately punish perpetrators.[xlvi] Those acts of sexual violence committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack against a civilian population may amount to crimes against humanity. The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC) specifies that acts of rape, sexual slavery, enforced prostitution, forced pregnancy, enforced sterilization, or any other form of sexual violence of comparable gravity can constitute war crimes or crimes against humanity.[xlvii]

Aside from their direct criminal responsibility for crimes committed, for instance, by issuing orders that subordinates carry out, commanders and other superiors may be criminally liable for failing to prevent or punish crimes committed by their subordinates.[xlviii]

International human rights law also enshrines the right to an effective remedy, which obligates the state to prevent, investigate, and punish serious human rights violations.[xlix] State should also provide reparations to victims of human rights violations, such as compensation for damages.[l] The UN has reaffirmed these principles specifically in relation to eliminating violence against women.[li]

Recommendations to Governments, UN agencies, and the UN Secretariat

  1. Ensure comprehensive, credible, and impartial investigations into sexual and gender-based violence and appropriately and fairly prosecute those responsible. This should include independent investigations into all allegations against members of armed forces, including peacekeepers, that respect the confidentiality and rights of survivors.
     
  2. Ensure accessible judicial processes that adhere to international fair trial standards for grave international crimes, including sexual and gender-based violence. This should include providing specialized training to investigators, prosecutors, and judges on the proper handling of such cases.  Adequate protection measures and psychological support should be available, before, during, and after trials, including, but not limited to, relocation measures for victims and their households. Judicial mechanisms should also be accessible for women with disabilities, including by facilitating access to police stations and courts, ensuring access to documentation, and relevant training for law enforcement and the judiciary.
     
  3. Strengthen independent institutions capable of responding to sexual and gender-based violence and supporting survivors. Governments should create accessible and safe channels to report rape, assault, and other abuses and issue clear, public orders to all security forces to end any harassment, intimidation, and arbitrary arrests of those who speak out or seek to enforce their rights. Reporting mechanisms should be fully inclusive and provide specific accommodations for women and girls with disabilities. Governments should ensure proper and timely investigations and prosecutions that respect the rights of the survivor.
     
  4. Enact security sector reform to provide vetting of police and other security personnel, ensure recruitment, hiring, and training of female security personnel, and provide training for prosecutors, as well as judges and defense lawyers, on respecting women’s rights in the justice system, including handling crimes of sexual violence. Identify and exclude individuals from the security forces who are under investigation, have charges pending against them, or have been subjected to disciplinary measures or criminal convictions for sexual violence or other serious abuses.
     
  5. Press for accountability and justice, including through the UN Security Council, General Assembly, and Human Rights Council. When national level efforts fail or are inadequate, pursue alternative paths to justice, such as independent commissions of inquiry, the use of universal jurisdiction, and when applicable, referrals to the ICC. In accordance with the ICC prosecutor’s newly adopted Policy Paper on Sexual and Gender-Based Crimes, the ICC should continue to ensure that these crimes are the focus of special attention in ICC proceedings.[lii]
     
  6. Ensure reparations programs meet international standards and include specific consideration for women and girls. Consult with local women’s rights groups and women from communities affected by armed conflict in determining and distributing reparation packages.
     
  7. Protect women’s rights in national laws and ensure they meet international standards. This includes ratifying the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) with no reservations, or removing any existing reservations to CEDAW. National laws should guarantee equality before the law, protection from violence, and freedom from discrimination, including on the basis of sex, gender, pregnancy, disability, and marital status. Consistent with international standards, sexual violence and other gender-based violence crimes should be included in the criminal code. Ensure accountability when these laws are violated.
     
  8. Institute measures to ensure accountability, including by raising public concern and urging relevant actors, including troop-contributing countries, to carry out immediate investigations when there are substantial grounds to believe that peacekeepers have committed serious human rights abuses or war crimes, including sexual exploitation and abuse.
 

[i] Human Rights Watch, A Revolution for All: Women’s Rights in the New Libya, May 2013,  https://www.hrw.org/report/2013/05/27/revolution-all/womens-rights-new-libya, p. 11.

[ii] “Libya: Extremists Terrorizing Derna Residents,” Human Rights Watch news release, November 27, 2014,  https://www.hrw.org/news/2014/11/27/libya-extremists-terrorizing-derna-residents.

[iii] United Nations Security Council, Resolution 1325 (2000), S/RES/1325 (2000) http://www.un.org/en/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=S/RES/1325(2000) (accessed July 21, 2015).

[iv] United Nations Security Council, Resolution 1820 (2008), S/RES/1820 (2008) http://www.un.org/en/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=S/RES/1820(2008) (accessed  July 21, 2015); United Nations Security Council, Resolution 1888 (2009), S/RES/1888 (2009) http://www.un.org/en/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=S/RES/1888(2009) (accessed July 21, 2015); United Nations Security Council, Resolution 1889 (2009), S/RES/1889 (2009) http://www.un.org/en/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=S/RES/1889(2009) (accessed July 21, 2015); United Nations Security Council, Resolution 1960 (2010), S/RES/1960 (2010) http://www.un.org/en/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=S/RES/1960(2010) (accessed July 21, 2015); United Nations Security Council, Resolution 2106 (2013), S/RES/2106 (2013) http://www.un.org/en/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=S/RES/2106(2013) (accessed July 21, 2015); United Nations Security Council, Resolution 2122 (2013), S/RES/2122 (2013) http://www.un.org/en/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=S/RES/2122(2013) (accessed July 21, 2015).

[v] According to the 2014 Secretary-General’s report on women, peace and security, data compiled by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development shows that “only 0.35 per cent of aid allocated to conflict, peace and security activities [was] marked as having a gender focus.” United Nations Security Council, Report of the Secretary-General on women and peace and security,  S/2014/693, September 2014, http://www.securitycouncilreport.org/atf/cf/%7B65BFCF9B-6D27-4E9C-8CD3-CF6E4FF96FF9%7D/s_2014_693.pdf (accessed July 17, 2015).

[vi] Based on data from: NGO Working Group on Women, Peace and Security, “Mapping Women, Peace and Security in the UN Security Council: 2012-2013,” December 2013, http://womenpeacesecurity.org/media/pdf-2012-13_MAP_Report.pdf  (accessed July 8, 2015); and Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, PeaceWomen, “Report Watch,” undated, http://www.peacewomen.org/security-council/report-watch (accessed July 8, 2015).

[vii] United Nations Security Council, Sixty-eighth year, 7045th meeting, October 21, 2013, http://www.un.org/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=S/PV.7045 (accessed July 8, 2015).

 [viii] Based on data from: NGO Working Group on Women, Peace and Security, “Mapping Women, Peace and Security in the UN Security Council: 2012-2013”; Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, PeaceWomen, “Report Watch”; and Security Council Report, “Cross Cutting Report: Women, Peace and Security,” April 2014,   http://www.securitycouncilreport.org/atf/cf/%7B65BFCF9B-6D27-4E9C-8CD3-CF6E4FF96FF9%7D/cross_cutting_report_2_women_peace_security_2014.pdf  (accessed July 8, 2015).

[ix] Human Rights Watch, Mass Rape in North Darfur: Sudanese Army Attacks against Civilians in Tabit, February 2015, https://www.hrw.org/report/2015/02/11/mass-rape-north-darfur/sudanese-army-attacks-against-civilians-tabit.

[x] Heather Barr, “A seat at the table in Afghanistan,” Washington Post, May 1, 2015, http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/a-seat-at-the-table-in-afghanistan/2015/05/01/fd930e26-ef41-11e4-8abc-d6aa3bad79dd_story.html (accessed July 16, 2015).

[xi] Statement by Orzala Ashraf Nemat at the UN Security Council Open Debate on Women, Peace and Security, October 28, 2011, http://womenpeacesecurity.org/media/pdf-Statement_OpenDebate_Oct2011.pdf (accessed July 16, 2015).

[xii] Oxfam “Behind Closed Doors: The risk of denying women a voice in determining Afghanistan’s future,” November 24, 2014, https://www.oxfam.org/sites/www.oxfam.org/files/file_attachments/bp200-behind-doors-afghan-women-rights-241114-en.pdf (accessed July 16, 2015).

[xiii] See UN Women, “Women’s Participation in Peace Negotiations: Connections between Presence and Influence,”  October 2012, http://www.unwomen.org/~/media/headquarters/attachments/sections/library/publications/2012/10/wpssourcebook-03a-womenpeacenegotiations-en.pdf (accessed July 20, 2015); and United Nations Security Council, Report of the Secretary-General on Women and Peace and Security, S/2011/598, September 29, 2011, http://www.un.org/en/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=S/2011/598 (accessed July 27, 2015); S/2012/732, October 2, 2012, http://www.un.org/en/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=S/2012/732 (accessed July 27, 2015); S/2013/525, September 4, 2013, http://www.un.org/en/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=S/2013/525 (accessed July 27, 2015); and S/2014/693, September 23, 2014, http://www.un.org/en/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=S/2014/693 (accessed July 27, 2015). See also, Christine Bell and Catherine O’Rourke, Women and Peace Agreements 1325 Dataset, Distributed by University of Ulster, Transitional Justice Institute, 2010 http://www.transitionaljustice.ulster.ac.uk/tji_database.html (accessed July 20, 2015).

[xiv] “Women take the reins to build peace in Colombia”, UN Women press release, May 28, 2015, http://www.unwomen.org/en/news/stories/2015/5/women-build-peace-in-colombia (accessed July 16, 2015).

[xv] Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, “Innovative WILPF Conference Gathers Syrian And Bosnian Women’s Rights Activists,” February 21, 2014,  http://www.wilpfinternational.org/innovative-wilpf-conference-gathers-syrian-and-bosnian-womens-rights-activists-2/ (accessed July 16, 205); Cynthia Enloe, “Day I of the Syrian Women’s Peace Talks in Geneva: Prelude to the Official Syrian Peace Talks,” Women’s Action for New Directions,  January 20, 2014, http://www.wandactioncenter.org/2014/01/30/guest-author-cynthia-enloes-report-from-the-syrian-peace-talks/ (accessed July 16, 2015).

[xvi] “He Left Before Syria’s Women Could Speak,” Human Rights Watch Dispatch, December 19, 2013, https://www.hrw.org/news/2013/12/19/dispatches-he-left-syria-s-women-could-speak (accessed July 16, 2015).

[xvii] UNSCR 1888, Operative Paragraph 17; UNSCR 1820, Operative Paragraph 10; United Nations Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration Resource Centre (UNDDR), Integrated Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration Standard, “5:10, Women, Gender and DDR,” August 2006, http://unddr.org/uploads/documents/IDDRS%205.10%20Women,%20Gender%20and%20DDR.pdf (accessed 21 July 2015).

[xviii] United Nations Security Council, Resolution 1325, Operative Paragraph 12.

[xix] “UN Human Rights Council: Call to Recognize the Status of Women's Human Rights Defenders,” Human Rights Watch Oral Statement during the Annual Day of Discussion on Women's Human Rights, June 26, 2012, https://www.hrw.org/news/2012/06/26/un-human-rights-council-call-recognize-status-womens-human-rights-defenders.

[xx] “Sudan: Surge in Detention, Beatings, Around Elections,” Human Rights Watch news release, April 28, 2015, https://www.hrw.org/news/2015/04/28/sudan-surge-detention-beatings-around-elections.

[xxi] “Afghanistan: Urgent Need for Safe Facilities for Female Police,” Human Rights Watch news release, April 25, 2013, https://www.hrw.org/news/2013/04/25/afghanistan-urgent-need-safe-facilities-female-police.

[xxii] “Afghanistan: Surge in Women Jailed for ‘Moral Crimes,’” Human Rights Watch news release, May 21, 2015, https://www.hrw.org/news/2013/05/21/afghanistan-surge-women-jailed-moral-crimes.

[xxiii] Human Rights Watch, “Here, Rape is Normal”: A Five-Point Plan to Curtail Sexual Violence in Somalia, February 2014, https://www.hrw.org/report/2014/02/13/here-rape-normal/five-point-plan-curtail-sexual-violence-somalia.

[xxiv] “Iraq: ISIS Escapees Describe Systematic Rape,” Human Rights Watch news release, April 14, 2015, https://www.hrw.org/news/2015/04/14/iraq-isis-escapees-describe-systematic-rape.

[xxv] Human Rights Watch, “We are Still Here”: Women on the Front Lines of Syria's Conflict, July 2014, https://www.hrw.org/report/2014/07/02/we-are-still-here/women-front-lines-syrias-conflict.

[xxvi] “Sudan: Soldiers, Militias Killing, Raping Civilians,” Human Rights Watch news release, December 14, 2014, https://www.hrw.org/news/2014/12/14/sudan-soldiers-militias-killing-raping-civilians; “Sudan: Mass Rape by Army in Darfur,” Human Rights Watch news release, February 11, 2015, https://www.hrw.org/news/2015/02/11/sudan-mass-rape-army-darfur.

[xxvii] Human Rights Watch, “Those Terrible Weeks in their Camp”: Boko Haram Violence against Women and Girls in Northeast Nigeria, October 2014, https://www.hrw.org/report/2014/10/27/those-terrible-weeks-their-camp/boko-haram-violence-against-women-and-girls.

[xxviii] “Iraq: ISIS Escapees Describe Systematic Rape,” Human Rights Watch news release, April 14, 2015, https://www.hrw.org/news/2015/04/14/iraq-isis-escapees-describe-systematic-rape.

29 United Nations Security Council, Report of the Secretary-General on women and peace and security,  S/2014/693, p. 19.

[xxx] Human Rights Watch, “As if We Weren’t Human”: Discrimination and Violence against Women with Disabilities in Northern Uganda, August 2010, https://www.hrw.org/report/2010/08/26/if-we-werent-human/discrimination-and-violence-against-women-disabilities-northern.

[xxxi] Human Rights Watch, Rights Out of Reach: Obstacles to Health, Justice, and Protection for Displaced Victims of Gender-Based Violence in Colombia, November 2012, https://www.hrw.org/report/2012/11/14/rights-out-reach/obstacles-health-justice-and-protection-displaced-victims-gender, p. 5.

[xxxii] World Bank and World Health Organization, “World Report on Disability,” 2011, http://whqlibdoc.who.int/publications/2011/9789240685215_eng.pdf (accessed July 21, 2015), p. 8.

[xxxiii] Human Rights Watch, “As if We Weren’t Human.”

[xxxiv] See International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Customary International Humanitarian Law (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2005), rule 22, citing Protocol I, art. 58(c) and rule 93 (prohibiting rape and other forms of sexual violence).

[xxxv] The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) prohibits torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment (art. 7) and protects women’s right to be free from discrimination based on sex (arts. 2(1) and 26). ICCPR, adopted December 16, 1966, G.A. Res. 2200A (XXI), 21 U.N. GAOR Supp. (No. 16) at 52, U.N. Doc. A/6316 (1966), 999 U.N.T.S. 171, entered into force March 23, 1976; Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, adopted December 10, 1984, G.A. res. 39/46, annex, 39 U.N. GAOR Supp. (No. 51) at 197, U.N. Doc. A/39/51 (1984), entered into force June 26, 1987, arts. 2 and 16; Rome Statute, arts. 7 and 8. The UN Human Rights Committee has stated that governments violate their treaty obligations not only when state actors are responsible for the action, but also when the state fails to take necessary steps to prevent violations caused by private actors. The committee’s General Recommendation No. 31 to the ICCPR notes that governments must “take appropriate measures or … exercise due diligence to prevent, punish, investigate or redress the harm caused by such acts by private persons or entities.” The Committee against Torture requires governments to prevent and protect victims from gender-based violence and rape by exercising due diligence in investigating, prosecuting, and punishing perpetrators—even private actors—of rape and sexual assault.

[xxxvi] See four Geneva Conventions of 1949 and their two Protocols Additional of 1977. Other sources of international humanitarian law are the 1907 Hague Convention and Regulations, decisions of international tribunals, and customary law.

[xxxvii] Article 3 common to the four Geneva Conventions of 1949.

[xxxviii] The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment; Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), adopted December 18, 1979, G.A. res. 34/180, 34 U.N. GAOR Supp. (No. 46) at 193, U.N. Doc. A/34/46, entered into force September 3, 1981.

[xxxix] Convention on the Rights of the Child, G.A. res. 44/25, annex, 44 U.N. GAOR Supp. (No. 49) at 167, U.N. Doc. A/44/49 (1989), entered into force Sept. 2, 1990, arts. 2, 34, 37, 43.

[xl] Human Rights Watch, Silenced and Forgotten: Survivors of Nepal’s Conflict-Era Sexual Violence, September 2014, https://www.hrw.org/report/2014/09/23/silenced-and-forgotten/survivors-nepals-conflict-era-sexual-violence.

[xli] The United Nations has documented at least 135 victims in this case. The United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) and Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), “Report of the United Nations Joint Human Rights Office on Human Rights Violations Perpetrated by Soldiers of the Congolese Armed Forces and Combatants of the M23 in Goma and Sake, North Kivu Province, and In and Around Minova, South Kivu Province, From 15 November to 2 December 2012,” May 2013, p. 4,  http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Countries/CD/UNJHROMay2013_en.pdf (accessed July 8, 2015).

[xlii] “DR Congo: War Crimes by M23, Congolese Army,” Human Rights Watch news release, February 5, 2013, https://www.hrw.org/news/2013/02/05/dr-congo-war-crimes-m23-congolese-army; “Revealed: how the world turned its back on rape victims of Congo,” The Guardian, undated, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/jun/13/rape-victims-congo-world-turned-away (accessed July 8, 2015).

[xliii] United Nations General Assembly, “Fifty-ninth session, Agenda item 77, Comprehensive review of the whole question of peacekeeping operations in all their aspects,” March 24, 2005 http://www.un.org/en/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=A/59/710 (accessed July 8, 2015); United Nations Secretariat, Secretary-General’s Bulletin, “Special measures for protection from sexual exploitation and sexual abuse,” October 9, 2003, https://cdu.unlb.org/Portals/0/PdfFiles/PolicyDocC.pdf (accessed July 8, 2015); Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS), “Evaluation Report: Evaluation of the Enforcement and Remedial Assistance Efforts for Sexual Exploitation and Abuse by the United Nations and Related Personnel in Peacekeeping Operations,” May 2015, https://oios.un.org/page?slug=evaluation-report (accessed July 23, 2015).

[xliv] Somini Sengupta, “Allegations Against French Peacekeepers Highlight Obstacles in Addressing Abuse,” New York Times, May 25, 2015, (accessed July 8, 2015), http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/26/world/europe/allegations-against-french-peacekeepers-highlight-obstacles-in-addressing-abuse.html.

[xlv] The obligation of states to prosecute grave breaches of international humanitarian law is outlined in each of the Geneva Conventions.

[xlvi] ICRC, Customary International Humanitarian Law, pp. 591-93, 607-10.

[xlvii] Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (Rome Statute), U.N. Doc. A/CONF.183/9, July 17, 1998, entered into force July 1, 2002. The Rome Statute is the treaty creating the ICC. Command responsibility is an established principle of customary international humanitarian law and has been incorporated into the Rome Statute.

[xlviii] Rome Statute, art. 28.

[xlix] See UN Human Rights Committee, General Comment 31, Nature of the General Legal Obligation on States Parties to the Covenant, U.N. Doc. CCPR/C/21/Rev.1/Add.13 (2004) , para. 15. See also, Updated Set of Principles for the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights through Action to Combat Impunity (“Impunity Principles”), U.N. Doc. E/CN.4/2005/102/Add.1, February 8, 2005, adopted by the UN Commission on Human Rights in Resolution E/CN.4/2005/81, April 15, 2005, principle I; Basic Principles and Guidelines on the Right to a Remedy and Reparation for Victims of Gross Violations of International Human Rights Law and Serious Violations of International Humanitarian Law, adopted December 16, 2005, G.A. res. 60/147, U.N. Doc. A/RES/60/147 (2005), principle 11.

[l] UN Human Rights Committee, General Comment 31, para. 16.

[li] UN Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women, December 20, 1993, G.A. res. 48/104, 48 U.N. GAOR Supp. (No. 49) at 217, U.N. Doc. A/48/49 (1993).

[lii] International Criminal Court, Office of the Prosecutor, Policy Paper on Sexual and Gender-Based Crimes, June 2014, http://www.icc-cpi.int/iccdocs/otp/OTP-Policy-Paper-on-Sexual-and-Gender-Based-Crimes--June-2014.pdf (accessed July 8, 2015).

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Liesl Gerntholtz is the executive director of the women's rights division. She is an expert on women's rights in Africa and has worked and written extensively on violence against women and HIV/AIDS in Southern Africa. Her work at Human Rights Watch has included documenting access to safe and legal abortion in Ireland and sexual and gender-based violence in Haiti in the aftermath of the earthquake.

Before joining Human Rights Watch, Liesl worked for some of the key constitutional institutions promoting human rights and democracy in a post-apartheid South Africa, including the South African Human Rights Commission and the Commission on Gender Equality.  A lawyer by training, she was involved in high-profile, strategic human rights litigation to promote women and children's rights, including a case that changed the definition of rape in South Africa.

NPR Interview - Women's Rights In The Age Of The Arab Spring

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Indonesia said it will stop administering “virginity tests” to female aspiring civil servants as part of its admission process. The country’s Home Affairs Minister Tjahjo Kumolo announced this change—which will affect women working in government offices—on the heels of Human Rights Watch research that documented this degrading practice in the admission process for another branch of the Indonesian government, the National Police force.

Human Rights Watch found that the testing included the invasive “two-finger test” to determine whether female applicants’ hymens are intact. Minister Kumolo said that it was “illogical” to recruit a student based on her virginity and noted that a woman’s hymen could be torn due to sports, exercise, or other accidents. 

Rumors about these tests have circulated for decades, but Human Rights Watch brought the issue into the national spotlight by gathering concrete testimony from eight  current and former police women and applicants as well as police doctors, a police recruitment evaluator, a National Police Commission member, and several prominent women’s rights activists. The women we interviewed described the examination as frightening, humiliating, and extremely painful.  

Virginity tests are a form of gender-based violence, cannot be administered to men, and are inherently degrading and discriminatory. Moreover, these tests have been widely discredited by the scientific community and the World Health Organization. For years, Human Rights Watch has been pushing for an end to this practice and documenting cases of abusive testing in Indonesia and several other countries including Egypt, India, and Afghanistan

Ending virginity tests for Institute of Public Administration applicants is an important step forward, but much remains to be done.  Recently, the municipal government of Indonesia’s city of Jember in east Java proposed forcing female high school students to pass a virginity test before they could receive their diploma. This time, however, officials quickly back-pedaled from the proposal.

Indonesia’s National Police and the Indonesian Armed Forces have yet to follow the Institute of Public Administration’s lead. Despite Human Rights Watch’s findings, police officials continue to deny administering virginity tests, claiming that the female recruits are simply undergoing a required “medical examination.” Human Rights Watch’s research has also revealed that the military—the air force, the army, and the navy—has for decades also extended the “virginity test” requirement to female recruits as well as the fiancées of military officers prior to marriage.

Indonesia's police and military need to abolish virginity testing and make sure their recruiting stations across the country stop using it as well.

 

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

 

Summary

“Shabana,” a pseudonym, has been working for more than eight years at a Lahore garment factory with about 500 workers, manufacturing for a Pakistani brand. The conditions, she says, are harsh and there is always the risk of being fired:

There is no written contract and the only proof of employment is a card. The factory management marks the attendance of the workers themselves and signs everybody out after nine hours so that if the record is ever inspected, it would appear that the management is complying with the law. In truth, we work longer hours and there is not even sick leave. Salary is deducted if someone is unwell even for a day. There is no maternity leave. Any woman who becomes visibly pregnant is told to leave.

There are currently millions of workers like Shabana in Pakistan’s garment industry who are victims of exploitation and abuse. In recent years, these invisible workers have on rare occasions been part of the national conversation, sadly, almost always for wrong and often tragic reasons.

For example, in May 2017, countrywide protests by workers of Khaadi, a leading Pakistani apparel brand, spotlighted the serious and widespread problems in Pakistan’s garment sector. The protests began when Khaadi fired 32 workers for demanding their rights under Pakistani law. Worker grievances included arbitrary dismissal of dozens of workers, unsanitary working conditions, extremely long working hours, and salary below the statutory minimum wage. A month later, after Khaadi struck a deal with union leaders, some workers withdrew their complaints. However, a year later, according to a labor activist, several of the workers’ grievances are yet to be addressed.

Five years earlier, on September 12, 2012, Pakistan witnessed the worst industrial disaster in its history when a fire at the Ali Enterprises garment factory in Karachi killed at least 255 workers and injured more than 100. Investigations found a series of irregularities and an almost complete absence of fire and safety mechanisms. According to surviving workers, the management made no immediate efforts to rescue the workers and instead attempted to save their merchandise first.

The fatal fire at Ali Enterprises, which was primarily supplying to KiK Textillien, a German brand, also highlighted serious defects in the auditing and certification process. A certificate was issued to the factory by RINA Services S.p.A, an Italian inspection company, just 22 days before the deadly fire, finding that the factory complied with all the necessary fire and safety mechanisms and labor laws. RINA, the auditing company, had issued similar certificates to over 100 factories in the country.

Based on interviews with more than 141 people, including 118 garment workers from 25 factories, union leaders, government representatives, and labor rights advocates, this report finds that Pakistan’s government has failed to apply the lessons on labor rights protection and safety it should have learned following the Khaadi protests and deadly fire at Ali Enterprises. As a result, workers in Pakistan’s garment factories continue to experience labor abuses that go unaddressed.

While the scope of the research is limited given the vast scale of the apparel industry in Pakistan, it nonetheless points to a trend of widespread poor working conditions, identifies key concerns voiced by workers and labor rights advocates, and details the failure of inspection mechanisms to enforce compliance with applicable labor laws and regulations.

We did not specifically focus in this research on international clothing brands, but about 20 percent of Pakistan’s factories produce ready-made garments for the international market. Such companies have an obligation to ensure that workers’ rights are protected throughout their supply chains.

According to some estimates, Pakistan’s garment industry employs 15 million people, some 38 percent of the manufacturing labor force. But a combination of lack of job security that make it easier to dismiss and control workers, poor government labor inspection and enforcement, and aggressive tactics against independent unions, make it difficult for workers to assert their rights.

While most factories cater to the domestic market, some make garments for well-known United States and European retail companies. The larger factories are part of the organized sector of the industry and supply international apparel brands. The bulk of the manufacturing, however, takes place in the informal economy, operating in small, unregistered shops, and unmarked buildings. These small factories produce for domestic brands, both registered and unregistered.

The working conditions in smaller factories are usually worse than those in larger ones that are more likely to be inspected, particularly if supplying to international brands. Owners of the smaller factories are more likely to refuse to pay the statutory minimum wage and use short-term oral contracts. However, Human Rights Watch found violations of labor rights including forced overtime, denial of leave, and short-term unwritten contracts even in large Pakistani factories.

Labor Rights Abuses

Lack of accountability for poor working conditions in garment factories is at the center of troubled industrial relations in Pakistan. Violations of workers’ rights are a problem in nearly all these factories and include practices contrary to both Pakistani law and codes of conduct that Western retailers insist, often in production contracts, that their suppliers follow.

Workers, many of them women, told Human Rights Watch that they experience physical as well as verbal abuse, sometimes of a sexual nature, as well as forced overtime, denial of paid maternity leave, medical leave, and failure to pay the statutory minimum wages. Workers also said they faced pressure not to take toilet breaks, and some said they were denied clean drinking water. A worker from a Karachi factory said:

I was fired when I had an infection and high fever and took two days off after filling in a leave form. When I came back to work, I was not allowed to enter and was told that I had been terminated. Anyone who becomes ill is fired. That is the general rule. A woman who had an ulcer in her stomach requested a few days off for an operation, but instead of being granted medical leave, she was fired.

Another worker in Karachi told Human Rights Watch:

There is no maternity leave. Pregnant women are ‘left’ [an industry term for termination] and now whenever a woman worker becomes pregnant, she leaves the job herself to avoid the indignity of being fired.

Some of the smaller factories sometimes employ children, including as young as 13, to avoid paying minimum wage and overtime. Human Rights Watch spoke to nine children working in garment factories, all of them producing for the domestic market. None of the children had a written contract. The management can avoid giving them an employment contract or other benefits because workers under the age of 18 do not have a national identification card (NIC), which is often used as a pretext for denying official wages. Children sometimes accompany their parents, in most cases the mother, to the factory, and end up working without a formal contract. Wahab, 17, from Karachi who has been working since age 14 said:

The managers swear at us, sometimes for no reason. There is no employment contract, no social security cards, and no medical leave. They tell us, ‘You have no right to a leave or higher salary because you have no NIC.’

Factories can also misuse government benefits. On December 1, 2018, there was a protest at a training institute for garment workers in Lahore which is run by a major Pakistani brand. Workers said that the company was abusing government incentives to set up such training institutes. The state pays the management 2,000 rupees (US $2) for every worker trained.  Workers alleged that in practice the establishment operates as a factory, extracting free labor, and so they stopped work and gathered outside the factory manager’s office demanding salaries. Bilal, one of the workers at the training institute said:

The company has shown this unit as a training institute in official records. However, there is no training conducted here. It is a factory. The government inspection teams are complicit. People who have been shown as “trainees” are all experienced garment workers.

Home-Based Workers

In a conservative society like in Pakistan, women do not always join a formal work force but try to supplement their income by working at home. Many garment factories producing for Pakistani brands use home-based workers on a per order or seasonal basis. While there is no official data on the number of women employed in this way, a 2014 study by the International Journal of Social Work and Human Services Practice estimated that approximately 77 to 83 percent of the women employed in Pakistan’s informal economy are home-based workers.

Human Rights Watch spoke with 23 women in Lahore and Karachi engaged in seasonal home-based work for garment factories in surrounding areas. According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), home-based workers in Pakistan produce primarily for the domestic market. The women whom Human Rights Watch interviewed did not know the name of the contracting factory, let alone the brand for which they were producing. Instead, middlemen employ the women mostly to trim extra thread from stitched garments, embroider, make button holes, or package garments into plastic bags. One woman, a home-based garment worker for the past 20 years, told Human Rights Watch:

The work is given to us by a contractor who is our only point of contact. The payment varies from 2 to 4 rupees per piece [2 to 4 US cents]. At times, the contractor does not tell us the rate before production and says, ‘We will discuss the rate once you have finished the order.’ We cannot bargain because if we do then the contractor will not give us the order the next time.

Union-Busting

Labor rights activists complained of union-busting by many large factories. Factory managers often keep workers on short-term contracts to discourage their participation in union activities, refusing to give them permanent status despite years of employment, dismissing or harassing union representatives to prevent them from forming independent unions, and encouraging pro-management unions.

Factory owners manipulate the labor law to create obstacles for the workers to register trade unions. One of the primary instruments for this is registering fake or “yellow” unions consisting of chosen or non-existent employees, making it close to impossible for workers to register real unions; legal requirements for registering a union are particularly hard to meet, including having one-fifth of the total labor force of the factory as union members.

On the rare occasion that workers in a factory manage to successfully unionize, factory owners and managers have used bribes, and threatened or used actual violence to intimidate and suppress them.

For example, on July 6, 2010, unknown gunmen shot and killed prominent labor leader Mustansar Randhawa and his brother in the Faisalabad district of the Punjab. Randhawa was a leader of the Labor Qaumi Movement (LQM), a labor union seeking to organize workers of the textile and power loom sector in the industrial district. He was killed soon after he announced a strike to demand a wage hike. Workers protested his killing, and demanded increased wages. Police used force against the protesters, several of whom were injured, and arrested more than 100. Subsequently, six leaders of the LQM were arrested and charged under the anti-terrorism law for allegedly attempting to burn down a factory during the strike. In November 2011, an anti-terrorism court sentenced the six trade union leaders to life imprisonment.

In March 2012, 12 trade union leaders in Karachi were charged under the anti-terrorism law for “extortion.” Six of them were arrested and beaten in custody. In May 2012, they were released on bail. The court finally acquitted them in August 2014 after a trial that included more than 100 court appearances.

In December 2017, labor rights activists told Human Rights Watch that they were facing threats from security agencies for exposing abuses and campaigning for compliance with labor laws. According to many union leaders, the factory owners often try and bribe workers to back down from demands. One union leader told Human Rights Watch:

We had successfully organized a strike and the factory had come to an almost complete halt. We were demanding that our contracts should be regularized, and our workers be made permanent employees. I was invited by the management to ‘negotiate.’ They insisted that I come alone. They offered me a car and 300,000 rupees [US$3,000] to convince the workers to end the strike.

International Apparel Companies

While most of the production in Pakistan’s garment industry is for the domestic market, several factories also manufacture for well-known international brands and export to the United States, United Kingdom, European Union, and China.

Workers in some of these factories also have complained of exploitative labor conditions. For example, workers in one factory in Hafizabad district supplying international brands told Human Rights Watch that the factory management has attempted to intimidate and harass workers associated with independent unions. In response to a letter from Human Rights Watch, the factory said that the management encourages all workers to join unions and has never used illegal means to prevent workers from doing so. The factory management also provided the details of the three registered unions in the factory. Workers denied these claims, saying that the factory management obstructs attempts to register independent unions and threatens union members with involuntary dismissals.

International brands have a responsibility to promote respect for workers’ rights throughout their supply chains, including both direct suppliers and subcontractor factories. While a number of brands assert that they require adherence to a rights-respecting code of conduct among their suppliers, there are gaps in enforcement particularly due to a combination of a lack of supply chain transparency, need for due diligence over their purchasing practices, and bolstering access to workers’ grievance redress.

Ensuring Accountability

International human rights and labor law obligate Pakistan’s government to ensure that workers’ rights are respected, and that they have access to redress when abuses occur.  Labor departments in each of the four provinces are tasked with enforcing laws to monitor working conditions and have powers to initiate enforcement action. But to date, Pakistan’s labor inspection mechanism has been wholly ineffectual, and the subject of numerous corruption allegations.

In 2017, according to one estimate, there were 547 labor inspectors for over 350,000 factories around the country. Of these only 17 were women—a particularly glaring omission given that women form 30 percent of the workforce in the textile sector, according to one estimate by the media house Geo, and face exceptional discrimination at every stage of the employment process, including during hiring, promotion, and dismissal. Factories seldom make reasonable workplace accommodations to address the needs of women workers, particularly of pregnant women. Most women are employed as contract labor in low-paid and low-skilled roles. One trade union leader told Human Rights Watch:

In Karachi, there are only two women labor inspectors for the entire city (which has 70 percent of the country’s industry) out of a total of around 200 to 225 labor inspectors. Women workers are extremely reluctant to talk about sexual harassment and their other personal problems with a male government official.

The primary responsibility for protecting the rights of workers rests with Pakistan’s government. While Pakistani law falls short of international standards including ILO conventions, rigorous enforcement of existing domestic law would still go a long way in protecting rights of workers. But all too often labor inspectors and other authorities are overstretched, or complicit, and let abuses persist.

Factory owners also need to commit to reform. There is much more the government, the All Pakistan Textile Mills Association (APTMA) and the Pakistan Readymade Garments Manufacturers & Exporters Association (PRGMEA) can do to ensure compliance with worker protection provisions, and to sanction companies that abuse worker rights. However, many factory owners carry considerable political clout in Pakistan, which affects the extent to which they are held to account for violating workplace rights, and health and safety provisions.

International and domestic companies that manufacture clothes and other products from Pakistan factories also have a responsibility to ensure that worker safety and rights are maintained throughout their supply chains. Many factory conditions described in this report not only violate Pakistan’s labor law, but also violate the standards that international brands and retailers insist that their suppliers follow.

Under the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, owners and the companies that buy their products also have responsibilities to prevent human rights violations occurring in factories and should take remedial action should abuses occur. All businesses, regardless of their size or where they are based, should “avoid causing or contributing to adverse human rights impacts through their own activities, and address such impacts when they occur.” They should also “seek to prevent or mitigate adverse human rights impacts that are directly linked to their operations, products or services by their business relationships, even if they have not contributed to those impacts.” Many national and international companies with business activities in Pakistan are not meeting these responsibilities.

Key Recommendations

  • The Pakistan federal and provincial governments should revise all relevant labor laws to ensure they are in line with key international labor standards. The Industrial Relations Act, 2012 and the provincial laws fall short of ILO standards ratified by Pakistan, including Convention No. 87 on Freedom of Association and Convention No. 98 on the Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively.
  • The Pakistan federal government should carry out effective and impartial investigations into workers’ allegations of mistreatment, including beatings, threats, and other abuses, and prosecute those responsible.
  • The Pakistan provincial governments should develop and implement a plan to increase the number of government labor inspectors, improve their training, establish clear procedures for independent and credible inspections, and expand the resources at their disposal to conduct effective inspections.
  • International and domestic companies manufacturing in Pakistan should publicly disclose and update supplier factory lists; join collective brand initiatives; and take steps to develop grievance redress procedures for all workers, incorporating workers’ freedom of association as a core part of all binding and non-binding brand agreements.

 

Methodology

Human Rights Watch conducted most of the field research for this report in Pakistan from June 2017 to December 2018. Interviews were conducted in Lahore city and Hafizabad district in Punjab province and Karachi city in Sindh province as these areas have many garment factories.

Given the vast scale of the apparel industry in Pakistan, the scope of the research cannot be comprehensive, but it indicates the trend of poor working conditions and identifies key concerns voiced by workers and labor rights advocates.

We interviewed 112 factory workers, including 22 women and 9 children under age 18, the legal minimum age of work in Pakistan. Of the 24 garment factories examined, workers estimated that 16 employed between 300 and 5,000 workers. The smallest factory we researched employed about 70 workers. In addition, we also interviewed 23 women who were home-based garment workers. Among those interviewed there were 37 workers from 17 factories involved in efforts to form trade unions.

Of the 24 factories, 13 produced for both domestic and international apparel brands and 11 produced only for domestically owned brands. This report does not focus on any one brand. Apparel companies that publicly disclose their supplier factory lists create more avenues for workers’ voices to reach them than brands that do not. Without publicly disclosed supplier factory information that is regularly updated, the onus is on workers to accurately collect and provide label information, further delaying or thwarting their access to remedies.

All worker interviews were conducted in person in Urdu or Punjabi, with some follow-up interviews conducted by telephone. The interviews took place after their factory workday, during the lunch hour, or on their day off. The interviews were conducted in local offices of nongovernmental organizations, garment workers’ homes, or in other places that workers identified as safe. No interviews were conducted in the presence of workers’ employers, such as factory managers or other administrative staff.

Workers in the Pakistan garment industry fear losing their jobs if they publicly complain about poor working conditions and violations of labor rights. As this report shows, some workers also face the threat of serious physical and verbal abuse. For this reason, we have withheld names using pseudonyms. Since we met workers who are still employed by the factories they discuss, we have also chosen not to publish the names of those factories.

The exchange rate of the Pakistan rupee against the United States dollar has been approximated to correspond with the rate prevailing at the time of the research at 100:1.

Before each interview we informed the interviewee of its purpose and asked whether they wanted to participate. No incentives were offered or provided to those we interviewed.

Finally, this report does not delve into the challenges posed by auditing for social and labor compliance in the garment industry. Human Rights Watch is engaged in ongoing research on this issue.

 

I. Pakistan’s Garment Industry

The textile and garment sectors are important components of Pakistan’s manufacturing industry. The International Labour Organization (ILO) estimated that the Garments, Textiles and Footwear sector in Pakistan employed 4.2 million people in 2014-15.[1] The garment and textile sector contributes up to 8.5 percent of Pakistan’s GDP and about 70 percent of total exports.[2]

Pakistan’s economy relies significantly on its garments and textiles exports, with its key markets being the United States, United Kingdom, and China.[3] According to the latest available World Bank data, in 2016 the export of textiles and garments to these three countries was worth US$288 million, $139 million, and $100 million respectively.[4] Other important export markets included Germany, Belgium, Netherlands, France, and Italy, as well as some Asian countries.[5]

The European Union is Pakistan's largest trading partner, receiving almost 30 percent of total exports in 2016, worth more than $3.5 billion, comprising mostly garments and textiles.[6] The EU and Pakistan signed a cooperation agreement in 2004, and Pakistan has benefitted from the EU's Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) since July 2008.[7]

Pakistan is a key manufacturing destination for many US and European apparel brands.[8] The garment industry in Pakistan caters to many Pakistani labels as well, some of which are exported to the Gulf Council Countries and other regional markets.[9]

The garment industry in Pakistan broadly operates on three levels: small, medium and large-scale units.[10] Most of the factories in the garment sector have 50 machines or fewer.[11] The larger factories are part of the organized sector of the industry and supply international apparel brands. However, the bulk of the manufacturing takes place in the informal economy, operating in small, unregistered shops, and unmarked buildings.[12] These small factories produce for domestic brands—registered and unregistered.[13]

Small enterprises dominate the garment industry and are often owned by individuals, employing almost 84 percent of the workforce of the industry, whereas large enterprises employ less than 5 percent. Many of the individually owned small firms are not registered with the government.[14] While in terms of revenue, it is the larger enterprises that dominate, workers reported abuses from across the sector.

Poor Labor Rights Protections

Pakistan’s various labor laws and regulations do not adequately protect workers in the garment and textile industry and constitutional safeguards are often not enforced.

Pakistan’s constitution provides safeguards to workers against exploitation and discrimination.[15] It prohibits forced labor and using children under the age of 14 in factories.[16] It guarantees the right to choose a profession and form associations, and ensures non-discrimination.[17] The constitution also includes non-binding principles that  commit to just and humane working conditions, ensuring that women and children are not employed in employment unsuitable for their age or gender, and provide maternity benefits to women workers.[18]

Pakistan has a complex maze of laws for the protection of labor rights. Since 2010, provincial legislatures have been tasked solely with developing legislation governing labor laws within their provinces. The federal legislature can pass labor laws governing factories and businesses that have branches spread across more than one province (locally known as “trans-provincial” businesses).

At the federal level, the laws include the Factories Act, 1934; the Industrial Relations Act, 2012; the Industrial and Commercial Employment (Standing Orders) Ordinance 1968; the Workman Compensation Act, 1923; Payment of Wages Act, 1936; and Employees’ Social Security Ordinance, 1965.[19]

These federal laws apply unless they are superseded by provincial legislation. For example, Sindh’s many provincial laws replace the federal laws, including the Sindh Factories Act, 2015, the Sindh Terms of Employment (Standing Orders) Act, 2015, and the Sindh Industrial Relations Act, 2013. Similarly, in Punjab, the Punjab Industrial Relations Act, 2010, for example, replaces its respective federal counterparts.

Not all legislation applies uniformly to every factory or establishment manufacturing garments. Their applicability varies according to the number of workers each establishment employs.[20]

The minimum wage rate in Pakistan is legislated periodically by the provincial governments. However, according to a 2017 study published by the ILO, 54 percent of workers in the garment, textile, and footwear industry were paid less from 2014-15 than the statutory monthly minimum wage.[21]

Dangerous Factories

On September 12, 2012, Pakistan suffered the worst industrial disaster in its history when a fire at the Ali Enterprises garment factory in the largest designated industrial area or special economic zone of Karachi, called SITE, killed at least 255 workers and injured more than 100.[22] Three separate investigations by the police, Federal Investigating Agency (FIA) and a judicial commission found a series of irregularities and almost a complete absence of fire and safety mechanisms.[23] There were no escape routes, firefighting equipment or fire alarms and the staff had no basic fire and safety training.[24] Investigations concluded that the exit doors were locked from the outside by the factory management. An illegal wooden mezzanine floor contributed to the rapid spread of the fire. According to survivors, the management made no immediate efforts to rescue the workers and instead attempted to save their merchandise first.[25]

Investigations found that the factory was not registered with the Labor Department and therefore had never been inspected by the government.[26] The Sindh Building Control Authority, the government body responsible for enforcing the building regulations, claimed to have no jurisdiction over the factories in the SITE industrial area.[27]

KiK Textillien, a German garment brand was the primary buyer of Ali Enterprise garments, purchasing approximately 75 percent of the total production at the time of the fire.[28] The deadly fire at Ali Enterprise highlighted serious defects in the auditing and certification process. The Social Accountability 8000 program (SA-8000) certificate was issued to the factory by RINA Services S.p.A, an Italian inspection company. The SA-8000 is a widely accepted certification standard that measures social performance in key areas to hold organizations accountable in fair treatment of workers across industries and geographical regions.[29] The SA-8000 certificate to Ali Enterprise was issued on August 21, just 22 days before the fire and certified that the factory complied with all the necessary fire and safety mechanisms and labor laws.[30] Subsequent investigation by Social Accountability International (SAI) found that no inspection had taken place and the certificate was false.

The Ali Enterprise factory fire was not an isolated incident. On the same day, September 12, 2012, a fire in a footwear factory in Lahore killed 25 workers and injured dozens.[31] According to officials, a generator inside the factory caught fire and ignited chemicals stored nearby. The factory was illegally constructed in a residential neighborhood and did not have proper fire and safety mechanisms. Most victims of the Lahore fire were under the age of 25.[32]

On November 5, 2015, Rajput Polyester, a four-story factory in Lahore’s Sundar Industrial estate, collapsed, crushing to death at least 23 workers and injuring several more.[33] Although not linked to the garment industry, the accident exposed risky factory conditions. According to a worker, as many as 50 shift workers had been sleeping in a section of the building at the time of the collapse, including children as young as 12, even though the Factories Act of 1934 prohibits the employment of children under 14 years in any factory.[34]

The factory owner was adding a new floor to the building, ignoring advice from the building contractor and pleas from workers to stop the extension after cracks appeared in the walls following an earthquake, just two weeks before the collapse. The workers held a protest three days before the collapse, drawing attention to the cracks in the structure. However, they resumed work after being threatened with termination.[35] Most of the workers were employed informally and thus denied social security, pension, and other benefits.[36] News articles from 2015 reported that many factories in the Sundar Industrial Estate had plaques on the walls saying that the government officials were not allowed to enter.[37]

Recent Flashpoints

In April 2017, CCTV footage of the owner of a well-known garment factory that produced for local brands in Karachi verbally and physically abusing workers inside the factory went viral on social media and subsequently on the mainstream media. The videos show the owner punching and slapping male and female workers, and beating them with a stick.[38] The chief minister of Sindh province, Murad Ali Shah, directed the Labor Department to file a report and take immediate action against the factory owner.[39] The report of the investigation has not been made public at time of writing, and no action had been taken.

Countrywide protests in May 2017 by workers of Khaadi, a leading Pakistani apparel brand, spotlighted the serious and widespread problems in the garment sector.[40] Workers’ grievances included arbitrary dismissal of dozens of workers, unsanitary working conditions, extremely long working hours, and salary below the statutory minimum wage.[41]

Workers said that the dispute began when Khaadi fired 32 workers for demanding the minimum wage. As media focus on the standoff increased, more examples of worker rights violations began to surface. Workers alleged that one worker was not granted medical leave and was forced to complete his shift even though he was visibly ill and “couldn’t even stand.” The condition of the worker worsened on returning home and he died within hours of returning home.[42] Trade union representatives claim a woman worker attempted suicide after she was penalized severely for taking an unscheduled lunch break.[43] Khaadi denied these allegations and claimed that the protesting workers were employees of a third-party vendor, TexMark and not of Khaadi.[44] The protesting workers said that they had been employed by Khaadi and not by a third party, with the understanding that they will become permanent employees after three months.[45] Labor rights experts said that Khaadi’s attempt to deny responsibility by passing the blame on third-party contracts violated Pakistani and international labor laws.[46] In June 2017, Khaadi and the National Trade Union Federation (NTUF) reached an agreement where Khaadi committed to comply with labor laws.[47] Several workers and union members withdrew their complaints following a deal with the management. However, according to a rights activist, many grievances of the workers remained unaddressed at the time of writing.[48]

 

II. Labor Rights Abuses in Pakistan

Despite domestic laws and international labor rights standards, workers in Pakistan’s garment factories—frequently producing items for well-known international clothing brands—often experience a range of labor abuses.

Irregular Hiring Practices and “Contract” Labor

In Pakistan, the employment relationship between a factory and its workers is governed by the Industrial and Commercial Employment (Standing Orders) Ordinance, 1968.[49] While this law applies in Punjab, it has been replaced in Sindh by the Sindh Terms of Employment (Standing Orders) Act, 2015.[50]

The law applies to all establishments employing 20 or more workers and classifies workers in six categories: permanent, probationers, badlis (replacements), temporary, apprentices, and contract (short-term) workers.[51] Human Rights Watch interviewed workers from 24 factories that fall within the regulatory ambit of these laws since all of them employed between 70 and 5,000 workers.

Pakistani law requires that the workers should be provided a written employment letter explaining the terms and conditions of the service at the time of hiring, promotion and transfer, irrespective of how these workers are classified.[52] It also requires that the wage rates paid to different categories of workers and work should be posted on factory notice boards.[53]

In case of termination on the grounds of misconduct, a one-month notice is mandatory for permanent employees.[54] The notice, in writing, should state the reason for dismissal.[55]  Those dismissed without notice must be paid a month’s wages. Although there is no specific provision for “just cause” dismissal, the requirement of written termination letter allows the labor court to inquire into whether there is a valid reason for dismissal.[56]

Nasir Mansoor, the general secretary for the National Trade Union Federation (NTUF), told Human Rights Watch that many factory employers routinely flout the law, including denying protections by hiring only a small number of permanent staff:

The factory management makes social security and pension payments for around 10 percent of the workers. The purpose of making some payments is to claim to international sourcing brands that social security and pension payments are being made. However, they do not issue social security cards to even those 10 percent, and hence almost no worker has any documentation or proof of social security. All of this is done by paying bribes to the concerned government officials.[57]

These benefits also apply to a “permanent workman,” defined under Pakistani law as one who is employed on work of a permanent nature likely to last more than nine months and has satisfactorily completed a probationary period of three months.[58] According to the law, a contract worker is one who works for a specific period for a remuneration to be calculated on piece rate.[59] The hiring of workers on contract basis is allowed if there is a production order, which cannot be completed in time by the permanent workers alone and employing temporary workers for a specified period is necessary.[60] Instead, Human Rights Watch research found that workers are frequently employed on verbal or short-term contracts, but used effectively as permanent workers.

Absence of Written Contracts or Hire Letters

In fact, in most of the 24 factories from where we interviewed workers, we found that factory managers hire workers without formal written contracts, who are ironically called “contract workers.” Many workers whom Human Rights Watch interviewed said they were working on short-term contracts that were repeatedly orally renewed for a period of more than nine months, implying that these workers would in fact be permanent workers.

Use of Labor Contractors

In many cases, hiring is often outsourced to a thekadar (contractor). Pakistan garment industry experts say factories increasingly hire workers through such labor contractors in an effort to absolve factories from any direct responsibility to ensure worker rights.[61]  The Pakistan Industrial and Commercial Employment (Standing Orders) Ordinance, 1968, and its provincial counterparts declare the “establishment of a contractor” as a separate establishment, making it easier for both the factory and the labor contractor to bypass legal sanctions.[62]

Labor activists told Human Rights Watch workers repeatedly hired through labor contractors have a lower likelihood of redress and are at a greater risk of arbitrary dismissals.[63] In this way, they said, factories also dispose of their mandatory obligations to pay medical benefits, pension, social security, paid leave, sick leave or holidays. In the absence of written contracts and registration, workers are too scared to complain when factory managers exploit or ill-treat them, for fear of losing their jobs.[64]

Many factory owners are able to avoid paying statutory minimum wage by employing workers through a third-party contractor. In such cases, labor experts said the factory does not show these workers on its payroll and directs worker wages to be paid through the labor contractor, successfully bypassing scrutiny.[65]

Piece-Rate Wage Workers

It is also common practice in the garment and textile sector to hire workers on piece-rate wages, irrespective of whether the worker is permanent or hired on a contract basis. Human Rights Watch interviewed workers from 13 factories supplying international brands and 11 factories supplying local brands who said that the bulk of workers in the factory earn on a piece-rate basis.

The wage of the worker depends on the number of clothes they stitch, which may even, on occasion, pay more than the fixed minimum wage. However, this adds to worker insecurity because it takes away the guarantee of a fixed income.[66] It can also be used as disciplinary measure to enhance productivity. The payment is tailored in a manner that a worker will only be paid for 26 days in a month, even though workers often work during the Sunday holiday.[67]

It also allows the management to sidestep legal requirements when they a fire a worker, since they have no appointment letter. In some cases, the workers are issued factory identity cards. However, often the cards do not state the name of the company and hence do not constitute proof of employment.[68] Akbar Khan, a worker at a factory in Karachi who was hired on a year-long contract and had been working in the factory for six years, told Human Rights Watch:

I do not have a written contract or an appointment letter. The hiring process is that once the vacancies in the factory are advertised, people gather outside and their names, national identification, and years of work experience are noted, and then those who are hired are allowed inside the gate.[69]

In Karachi, workers from two factories supplying Pakistani and international brands who spoke to Human Rights Watch said that there was ethnic and religious discrimination in the hiring process. Karachi has a diverse population including majority Urdu-speaking refugees from India from the 1947 partition, and a host of minority Sindhi, Pashtun, and Baloch communities leading to ethnic tensions and violence for several decades.  Muhammad Asad, a Sindhi worker at one of the factories said that he was repeatedly hired on 12-month contracts without any written appointment letter.

I have been working at a factory for the past four years. There is no real hiring process. The factory gives us a paper which needs to be signed from the local police station as character verification. The factory management then asks to fill in a form which they keep, and we are not given anything in writing. The form has a religion column and they also ask about ‘ethnicity.’ The management has told us that they don’t want to hire Sindhi workers. [70]

The absence of a written contract or appointment letter makes it very difficult for workers to prove employment status in case of unfair and arbitrary dismissal. According to Ali Hussain, a worker who had worked in a factory producing for international brands in Lahore for four years, and was repeatedly hired on year-long contracts:

The only proof of our employment is a factory employee card that is given to us. Before the end of every year they cut our cards signifying an end to the employment and issue a new card so that each year our employment starts afresh, and we are not eligible for the yearly bonus.[71]

This lack of job security affects the ability of workers to take medical leave. Several workers whom Human Rights Watch interviewed said that factory owners often choose to replace non-permanent employees who are ill rather than grant medical leave. Hashim Ahmed, from a Karachi factory that was supplying international brands, was hired on year-long contracts and worked in the factory for three years, which he said produces for international brands. He told Human Rights Watch:

I had an infection and high fever and took two days off after filling in a leave form. However, when I came back to work, I was not allowed to enter and told that I had been terminated. Anyone who becomes ill is fired; that is the general rule. A woman who had a stomach ulcer requested a few days off for an operation. Instead of being granted medical leave, she was fired.[72]

The non-permanent employee status affects the ability of the workers to demand rights and benefits guaranteed under law. Farkhanda, a worker employed through oral year-long contracts for four years at a factory supplying Pakistani brands, said:

In [2015], in the stitching department, four women workers protested the non-payment of bonus. The workers were told that there is no payment, and if they bring it up again, they will be fired.[73]

The non-compliance with the law exists mainly because relevant government offices responsible for the enforcing these laws are inefficient and corrupt to varying degrees.

Nazir, a worker at a factory supplying international brands in Hafizabad district, Punjab described the methods employed by factory management to get around the requirement of firing workers via a written order specifying the reasons for the dismissal:

There used to be no employment contracts and workers were fired verbally. When workers brought cases before the labor court, the court has ordered that the workers be given employment contracts. Factory management has found a way of continuing to arbitrarily fire workers. Sometimes workers are required to sign a blank paper at the time of employment and whenever the management desires to fire that worker, they print the resignation on that paper and put on a date. For those workers who have not signed blank papers, the management threatens and tortures [with beatings] them till they resign.[74]

Asif, another worker at the same factory, also described how the factory management obtains forced resignations:

The factory management has made torture chambers inside the security office of the factory and has hired retired police and security forces personnel as ‘security guards.’ Anyone who refuses to resign is taken to the security office and beaten until they resign. They sometimes point guns at the workers as well. A couple of months ago, when a worker refused to do forced overtime, he was locked inside the security office for two days.[75]

The legal requirement to serve a termination notice to the worker informing of the reasons for firing is commonly disregarded. Hamid Ali, a worker in a garment factory in Karachi supplying international brands narrated his experience:

I was fired today after three years. I was appointed as a helper and am now a sewing machine operator. I oversee the entire line and fulfil the production target. The security guard told me that I can’t enter and told me no reasons for firing me. Once an in-charge/supervisor protested the firing of a few employees and he was fired immediately.[76]

Violating Regulations on Minimum Wage and Overtime

Pakistan’s labor law stipulates that “no adult worker shall be allowed or required to work in a factory for more than 48 hours in a week; if the factory is seasonal, 50 hours a week and if the work is of continuous nature, he may work for 56 hours in a week.”[77] Work hours are limited to nine a day (10 hours in the case of seasonal work).[78]

The law permits children between the ages of 14 to 18 to work, but only for five hours a day.[79] The Factories Act, 1934, is applicable to all the precincts employing 10 or more workers. The law makes provisions for one weekly holiday and if that is not given, a compensatory holiday as soon as possible.[80] These federal regulations apply to factories in the Sindh and Punjab regions, and remain mostly substantively unchanged by their respective provincial labor laws, including the Sindh Factories Act, 2015.

Forced Overtime

Workers and labor activists interviewed said that workers in the garment industry routinely work beyond the stipulated nine hours a day. Factory owners are required to pay overtime for the extra hours. Overtime rates differ depending on whether the work is performed on a week day, a weekly day off (typically Sunday), or on a public holiday.[81]

Given the low levels of minimum wage, and the fact that many factories do not pay even the stipulated minimum wage, many workers are left with no choice but to earn overtime. However, most workers Human Rights Watch interviewed also said that overtime was seldom genuinely voluntary: they feared retaliation, including dismissal, if they refused. Akbar Khan, a worker in a factory in Karachi, told Human Rights Watch:

I was fired last Sunday for not working overtime. I have not received a termination letter. On Monday, when I went to work, my name was listed with the security guard at the gate and he told me that I had been ‘gate stopped.’ Gate stopped is the most fearful term in the garment industry since it means that you have been fired and are no longer allowed to enter the factory. My standard shift is nine hours and I am paid 14,000 rupees [$140/a month]. The management wants us to do overtime, meaning we stay in the factory from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. However, the factory pays us only half the overtime amount since according to law no worker can be made to work overtime exceeding 52 hours a month.[82] But every worker in the factory does more than 100 hours of overtime a month.[83]

The absence of a written contract and a formal appointment letter makes workers vulnerable to retaliation for refusing to work overtime. One worker said:

We are called in to work every Sunday to do overtime and anyone who refuses or is unable is ‘gate-stopped.’ I do not have a written contract or an appointment letter, so I can’t risk being gate stopped.[84]

Another worker, Adnan Ali, who was fired for not doing overtime on a Sunday told Human Rights Watch:

I started as an operator in the factory and then became a supervisor after four years of employment. Two weeks ago, I did a double shift on Saturday from 9 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. and had fever on Sunday and couldn’t go to work. On the next Monday, I was ‘gate-stopped.’ They put pictures of employees who are fired at the gate so that they don’t enter. This was the first time that I did not go on a Sunday in six months and I was fired.[85]

Apart from threats of job termination, workers from four factories told Human Rights Watch that another tactic used by factory managers to compel them to work overtime is by refusing to provide timely transportation. Often the workers are hired from distant localities or the factory is located outside the city, which leaves workers dependent on factory transport when they work late into the night.

Khalid, a worker at a factory in Pindi Bhattian, Hafizabad district of Punjab manufacturing for some international brands, told Human Rights Watch:

The shift is supposed to be 8 hours, but in practice it goes on for a minimum of 12 hours. The night shift is supposed to end at 1 a.m. but at that time the only transportation available is the factory bus. The transport charge is deducted from our salaries and the factory is obligated to provide transport. However, the management tells us that the buses will leave only at 5 a.m. and we have no choice but to work until then.[86]

Denying Wages and Benefits

Every factory in the country is required to register its workers with the provincial social security institution and the Employees Old-Age Benefits Institution (EOBI).[87] The factory must provide all its workers—irrespective of how they are classified—with social security and EOBI cards. However, many workers interviewed by Human Rights Watch were not registered with either, although they said the employee contributions were being deducted from their monthly payouts.[88]

Some factories use “contract workers” to bypass government regulations on mandatory minimum wage and benefits, including health and pension. Contract workers that Human Rights Watch spoke with said that their salary is paid in cash and the record maintained informally, without registration with any government department. Rehana, a garment worker in a factory in Karachi, was hired without a written contract. Each contract lasted six months and was subsequently renewed orally. She said:

I have been working at this factory for the past eight years. There are 12 women and around 100 men who work at the factory. I work on cropping the [extra thread from] clothes. It is a 12-hour shift with one half-hour break for lunch. My salary is around 9,000 rupees [$90] per month. I know that the payment is below the government minimum wage, but who will hear our complaint? If I protest to the manager, I will be fired in a heartbeat.[89]

Usman Ali, 22, joined a factory owned by one of Pakistan’s largest apparel brands as a tailor in December 2015 and was told that he would become a permanent employee after three months and would then be entitled to available benefits.[90] Yet his employment status was never changed, and instead, he said, production targets kept increasing without a corresponding salary rise. In April 2017, he requested a leave for a few days to take his school-leaving examination. The factory management refused leave and said he could quit instead. Usman said: “I couldn’t lose my job as I have to support my family. Therefore, I decided to stay at work and abandon my studies.”[91]

Workers who are employed at a “per piece” or target-based arrangements are even more vulnerable, and salaries are routinely deducted for failing to achieve unrealistic targets. Hashim told Human Rights Watch:

The manager deducts our salaries for failing to complete impossible targets. Each production line has a target of completing 2,500 pieces per day and if the target is missed, the salary of the entire production line is deducted. On many occasions, salary is deducted without giving any reasons and if someone asks for the reason, they are threatened with dismissal.[92]

For many workers, the only chance of completing the production targets is by working overtime and on holidays. According to Hashim: “On average I do six-seven nights per week which means an 18-hour shift from 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 a.m. Any worker who refuses is fired.”[93]

Given that the per piece rate is extremely low, in addition to achieving the production target, many workers are compelled to work long hours to make a livable salary, in most cases below the statutory minimum wage. One worker told Human Rights Watch:

The fixed salary per month is 2,500 rupees [$25] along with the “per piece” rate of 1.5 rupees per piece [1.5 US cents]. In a minimum 12-hour shift [for a month], that means 9,000 rupees [$90]. We must work on most Sundays since the targets are impossible to meet otherwise. We are only allowed to take one 15-minute break [in a shift].[94]

Workers told Human Rights Watch that in an effort to circumvent labor inspectors or brand auditors, some factory managements forged or coerced employees to “sign out” after the legally permissible shift even as work continued. Shabana, a worker in a factory in Lahore told Human Rights Watch:

I have been working in this garment factory for eight to nine years. The shift is 12 hours from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. and the [monthly] salary is 7,000 rupees [$70]. There is no written contract and the only proof of employment is a card. The factory management marks the attendance of the workers themselves and signs everybody out after nine hours so that if the record is ever inspected, it would appear that the management is complying with the law. In truth, there is even no sick leave and salary is deducted if someone is unwell even for a day. There is no maternity leave. Any woman who becomes visibly pregnant is told to leave.[95]

Women workers from factories in Karachi and Lahore, who are forced to work overtime in the evenings, also said they have difficulties travelling back home due to lack of transport and security concerns. In some of the factories, the standard shift exceeds the legally permissible nine hours. According to a worker in Karachi:

I have been working in garment factories for the past 15 to 16 years since I was 12 years old. I do stitching work and I am paid about 14,000 rupees [$140]. My normal work shift is 12 hours from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. with a 30-45 minute lunch break in the afternoon, but I always work extra hours. There is no overtime payment for extra time [beyond the 12-hour shift]. The management says that there is no overtime because the payment is based on production targets and not hours.[96]

Lack of Breaks or Medical Leave

Pakistani labor law requires that each worker be given a rest interval of an hour after six hours of work or at least half-an-hour after five hours.[97] If the work day extends beyond eight-and-a-half hours, the worker must be given at least two intervals each of half an hour.[98]

Several workers told Human Rights Watch that the factory management deny adequate breaks to the workers on grounds of “productivity.” They complained that they are even denied breaks to drink water or use toilets. Rehana, a worker in a garment factory producing for Pakistani brands in Karachi said:

I work on cropping the clothes. It is a 12-hour shift with one half-hour break for lunch. The managers do not even allow bathroom breaks and swear at us if we ask for one.[99]

One worker at a factory in Karachi said she had developed kidney problems because of the restrictions on toilet breaks to only twice in a day.[100] Raza, a worker in Hafizabad district, Punjab said:

We are allowed a lunch break for half an hour and two short bathroom breaks. If anyone asks for an additional bathroom break, the managers verbally abuse him and mock him for having a weak bladder. The only way to cope is to not drink water except for at lunch.[101]

The production targets are often unrealistically high and act as a deterrent from taking sufficient breaks. One worker at a factory in Lahore told Human Rights Watch:

The production target of 50 to 60 pieces per hour is almost impossible to meet. Taking breaks means falling short of the target and that means a reduction in salary.[102]

Many workers are not granted medical leave and are afraid of taking a day off for the fear of losing their jobs.

Unsanitary Conditions

Many of the workers complained about unsanitary conditions in the factories in Lahore, Karachi, and Hafizabad district, including dirty drinking water, substandard food, no provision of medical assistance, and overcrowding. A worker from a factory manufacturing for the local market in Karachi said:

There are 300 to 400 workers in the factory crammed in a small space. The factory is filthy, and the cleaning is done rarely. There is no clean drinking water in the factory. If any worker complains about feeling ill or nauseous, the managers give us a painkiller, deduct the cost of the medicine from our salary, and tell us to get on with the work.[103]

Workers also complained of substandard food produced in unhygienic conditions. Rasheed Hasan, a worker at a factory in Lahore producing for a local brand said: “Lunch is almost inedible. The management does this so that workers eat less and hence save them money.”[104]

Factories are required to provide clean drinking water and adequate numbers of toilets to the workers.[105] However, a common complaint is dirty drinking water and toilets. One worker told Human Rights Watch, “While the manager’s office has a water dispenser with a filter, we are forced to drink ‘saline water.’”[106] Asif, a sewing machine operator in a garment factory in Karachi said:

The water provided to us is khara (saline-heavy) and the bathrooms are very dirty. When we requested the management to fix these issues, we were told that we can go home, and this is a take it or leave it arrangement. We don’t have a proper cafeteria to eat and hundreds eat in one tiny, cramped room. It is suffocating.[107]

Some of the larger factories also provide accommodation to workers. But these are often crammed spaces and are subjected to many restrictions. Ghulam Abbas, who works at a large factory in Hafizabad district of Punjab, described the living conditions:

It is virtually a curfew. The workers are not allowed to leave the factory even after work hours because the management does not want them mingling with the locals. The workers living in the factory quarters are those hired from far off cities. The factory management does not hire locals because they fear unionization and collective action. Each room has 18 charpais [jute beds] and there is barely space to put one’s foot down. In some rooms there are bunk charpais and hence there are 36 people in one room. It is difficult to even breathe. The food is worse than jail and it is mostly water with some pulses.[108]

 

III. Workplace Discrimination and Challenges for Women Workers

Women workers are exceptionally disempowered and discriminated against in the garment industry in Pakistan. Many women are employed as contract, piece-rate, non-unionized workers in low-paid and low-skilled roles. According to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2016, Pakistan ranks 143rd out of 144 countries in the gender inequality index, only above Yemen.[109]

Sexual Harassment at the Workplace

In recent years, Pakistan has enacted a number of provincial laws guaranteeing protection against workplace harassment. Sindh province passed an anti-harassment law in 2010 and Punjab province in 2012.[110] However, women’s rights activists have criticized the poor implementation of these laws.[111] Most workers interviewed by Human Rights Watch were unaware of these legal protections and mechanisms of redress in cases of harassment.

Poor infrastructure also exacerbated problems for women. For example, labor laws require employers to provide for separate toilets for women.[112] However, female workers from four factories supplying Pakistani brands interviewed by Human Rights Watch complained about not having separate bathrooms for men and women and that it had increased their concerns about the risk of sexual harassment. Activists said, poor enforcement of laws guaranteeing protection from sexual and workplace harassment, job insecurity, as well as the fact that there are no awareness programs to inform women workers of their rights, means that very few women report cases of sexual harassment. A researcher working on harassment in the workplace told Human Rights Watch:

Sexual harassment of women is disturbingly common in almost all Pakistani workplaces including garment factories. Most of these cases are never reported because of fear of reprisal, societal attitudes, and a lack of mechanisms to report. For example, under Pakistani law, all companies are supposed to display and circulate a code of conduct on sexual harassment in English and Urdu. In the overwhelmingly majority of factories that is not implemented. Hence, most women workers do not even know that they have a right to complain against sexual harassment.[113]

Women from two factories supplying international brands and five factories supplying Pakistani brands from Sindh and Punjab reported factory managers routinely reprimanding them using sexualized threats or other ways aimed to be derogatory and humiliating.[114] For example, Faiza, a 21-year-old worker at a factory in Karachi supplying international brands, said the management was harsher on women when it came to breaks:

If a woman worker asks for a bathroom break, the managers mock her and ask if she is ‘having her period.’ This is very embarrassing, particularly when they ask this in front of male workers. The only way to avoid this embarrassment is to not ask for a bathroom break.[115]

Maternity Leave and Child Care

Pakistani law provides women workers employed in any factory, industrial or commercial establishment the right to three-month paid leave during pregnancy and child birth. The woman is entitled to maternity benefit if she has worked “for a period of not less than four months immediately preceding the day on which she is delivered of a child.”[116]

Workers from three factories supplying international brands and seven factories supplying Pakistani brands, asserted that in practice there is no maternity leave since pregnant women are either fired or themselves leave the job for a few months.[117] Fehmida, who has worked for 11 years in her factory that supplies local brands said she witnessed several pregnant workers fired in her Karachi factory over the course of her employment even though these women had worked for extended periods and were entitled to paid maternity leave under the law. She said:

There is no maternity leave. Pregnant women are ‘left’ [an industry term for termination] and now whenever a woman worker becomes pregnant, she leaves the job herself to avoid the indignity of being fired.[118]

Employers are obligated by law to establish daycare centers and Pakistani labor law requires that anyone employing more than 50 women provide a separate room for children under the age of six.[119] No such provision was made in any of the factories where Human Rights Watch interviewed workers, who estimated that the factories employed more than the threshold number of women needed for the factory to develop such centers. In the absence of alternate caregiving arrangements, children sometimes accompany their mothers to the factory and end up working. Bisma, 13, said:

I have been working in this factory for the past two years. I am paid 150-200 rupees [$1.50 to $2] a day. I work at the factory because my mother and father both work in garment factories and cannot leave me alone in the house.[120]

According to labor union leaders, many of the larger factories have medical dispensaries in the premises, but they often are not stocked with essential medicines.[121] Several do not have a supervising pharmacist. Zubaida, a worker in a factory in Lahore said:

If a worker complains about being unwell, she is told to go and rest in the factory dispensary. The factory dispensary is ill-equipped, and salary is deducted for any time spent there.[122]

Gendered Impact of Forced Overtime

Forced overtime poses specific additional challenges for women. Because household labor and caregiving work is gendered in Pakistan, women workers often juggle employment with primary caregiving and housekeeping responsibilities at home.

Labor law exempts women from being compelled to work in factories before 6 a.m. and after 7 p.m. unless it is with their consent and the employer provides transportation, in which case, work till 10 p.m. is permissible.[123] Shabana, a worker in a factory producing for international apparel brands in Lahore told Human Rights Watch:

I have been working in this garment factory eight to nine years. The shift is 12 hours from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. and the salary is 7,000 rupees [$70] per month. There is no written contract and the only proof of employment is a card. The factory management marks the attendance of the workers themselves and signs everybody out after nine hours so that if the record is ever inspected, it would appear that the management is complying with the law. In truth, there is no sick leave and salary is deducted if someone is unwell even for a day. There is no maternity leave. Any woman visibly pregnant is told to leave.[124]

Women workers who are forced to work overtime in the evenings also said they have difficulties travelling back home due to lack of transport and security concerns.[125] However, in most factories where research was conducted by Human Rights Watch, factories were not only forcing women to do overtime against their wishes, but also did not organize transport as they are required to do under the law. A worker in a Karachi garment factory supplying local apparel brands said:

My standard shift is from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. The factory does not provide transport for the workers and the management ignores our request of at least letting the women workers leave early in the evening because of transport issues. They ignore us or even threaten to fire us. We face harassment in the vans returning from work at night from men who pass lewd remarks and sometime press against us.[126]

Outsourcing to Home-Based Women Workers

Human Rights Watch found that some garment factories producing for domestic brands use home-based workers for special orders or on a seasonal basis. Women engaged in home-based work are not formally recognized as workers and hence are often denied the protections offered by the labor law. They are not able to join factory unions or unionize, and their work remains unregulated.

Women are more commonly employed in such subcontracted work because it provides them income with flexible working hours, letting them juggle their responsibilities at home. Older women, and those with young children, form the majority of women working as home-based workers.

Pakistan’s economic statistics do not have any classification for home-based workers. According to a 2014 estimate, in Pakistan, almost 80 percent of total labor force is engaged in the informal economy and more than 50 percent of this consists of women. Approximately, 77 to 83 percent of the women in the informal economy are home-based workers.[127]

Pakistan’s minimum wage laws have not been amended to adequately cover home-based workers. In February 2018, Sindh province passed the country’s first tripartite labor policy that extended labor law protections to home-based workers.[128] An ILO survey in Karachi in 2016 found that the average hourly wage rate across all work types is 41 rupees (39 US cents), which is about 60 percent of the current statutory minimum wage (67.50 rupees an hour).[129] However, home-based workers are paid even less. For cropping, the most common task distributed to them, home-based workers are typically paid a quarter of the minimum wage rate.[130]

Human Rights Watch spoke with 21 women in Lahore and Karachi who have been engaged in seasonal home-based work for garment factories supplying mostly for local brands in surrounding areas. The work usually becomes available when factories have rush orders with deadlines to meet.

Middlemen or contractors employ the women mostly to trim extra thread from stitched garments, embroider, make button holes, or package garments into plastic bags. Since they must rely on contractors to provide orders, these women have little or no bargaining power.

Zahida said she has been working as a home-based garment worker for the past 20 years in Karachi:

The work is given to us by a contractor who is our only point of contact. The contractor does not tell us if the garments are being made for an [international] brand or not. The payment varies from 2 to 4 rupees per piece [2 to 4 US cents]. At times, the contractor does not tell us the rate before production saying, ‘We will discuss the rate once you have finished the order.’ We can’t bargain because if we do then the contractor will not give us the order the next time.[131]

Home-based workers often have extremely long working hours. An ILO survey in Karachi found that on average, the home-based workers surveyed (and their helpers) work 12.3 hours per day, six days a week, and derive a monthly income of 4,342 Pakistani rupees ($43.42).[132] One home-based worker in Karachi said, “There are no working hours for the home-based women workers, and I work all day except the few hours of sleep and household chores.”[133]

According to another worker doing cropping as a home-based worker:

I have been working as a home-based worker since I was 6 years old. I am paid at ‘per piece’ rate. The standard rate is 80 rupees [80 cents] for 100 pieces. The average workday is a minimum of 12 hours. However, during the season with a big order it can be as long as 18 hours.[134]

The income of each home-based worker is difficult to ascertain precisely and is often overstated because almost 60 percent of home-based workers are assisted by at least one helper, mostly family members living in the same household, but earnings tend to be reported as a whole, and not broken down to reflect the contributions of each individual.[135] One home-based worker in Karachi said:

All female members of the household work together to complete the orders. Both of my daughters have been working with me for the past 10-15 years. The total income from our work is 5,000 to 6,000 rupees [$50 to $60] per month. We are the most oppressed workers because we are invisible.[136]

Shamim Bano, another garment worker who has been doing cropping work as a home-based worker for 40 years said:

I work on daily orders and sometimes it takes 18-19 hours to complete the order. It is impossible for one person to complete the order and so my daughter and two daughters-in-law work with me.[137]

 

IV. Child Labor

Children in Pakistan continue to engage in child labor, including the worst forms of child labor and bonded labor in different sectors, such as brick kilns and agriculture.[138] The increasing cost of living, particularly food and fuel prices, is a prominent factor that forces children to work rather than attend school.[139]

Human Rights Watch research found that some of the smaller garment factories producing for the domestic market sometimes employ children to avoid paying minimum wage and overtime. In the nine cases documented by Human Rights Watch, the absence of a National Identification Card (NIC) was used as an excuse by the factory management to deny an employment contract and other benefits to workers under the age of 18. In Pakistan, citizens can voluntarily apply for national ID cards only after they turn 18, making it impossible for children to have these cards. Children sometimes accompany their parents, in most cases the mother, to the factory and often work there without a formal contract.

Pakistan’s constitution provides safeguards to workers against exploitation and discrimination. These include the prohibition of forced labor, or engaging children under the age of 14 in factories.[140] The constitution’s non-binding principles of policy include a commitment to ensure just and humane working conditions, so that women and children are not employed in employment unsuitable for their age or gender.[141] Pakistani law permits children between the ages of 14 to 18 to work, but only up to five hours a day.[142]

Wahab, 17, told Human Rights Watch the management at his factory, which produces for domestic brands, prefers workers younger than 18 because they do not yet have a NIC, which hampers their access to legal remedies.[143]  He said:

I work at a factory in the SITE industrial area, Karachi. I have been working there for the past three years, since the age of 14. The managers swear at us, sometimes for no reason. There is no employment contract, no social security cards, and no medical leave. They tell us, ‘You have no right to a leave or higher salary because you have no NIC.’[144]

The lack of a NIC is commonly used as an excuse by the factory management to deny an employment contract and other benefits to workers under the age of 18. Arif, who is 16 and works in a factory producing for domestic brands in Karachi said:

I have been working at a garment factory for one year and have a regular 12-hour shift from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. My monthly salary is 8,000 rupees [$80]. The factory management calls us every Sunday, but they don’t pay me overtime because I don’t have an NIC as I am not 18 yet.[145]

Children sometimes accompany their parents, in most cases the mother to the factory, and end up working there without a formal contract.[146]

Long working hours without adequate breaks coupled with unhygienic conditions can disproportionately affect the health of child workers, sometimes resulting in serious illnesses. Zeeshan, a 17-year-old worker in the dyeing department in a garment and textile factory in Karachi, told Human Rights Watch: “In the dyeing section, it is extremely humid and it causes a very serious skin allergy. Almost all the workers have boils all over their body. Sometimes the itching is so extreme that I use a comb to scratch my body.”[147]

 

V. Union Busting

Many Pakistani garment workers involved in setting up trade unions face violence, intimidation, threats, and loss of employment. Factory owners use legal lacunas, fake unions, threats, and involuntary dismissals in efforts to stop unions from being registered. In the rare cases where unions are registered, the union leaders and members remain at risk of dismissal and reprisals.

Freedom of association is guaranteed under article 17 of the Pakistani constitution.[148] The Supreme Court of Pakistan has held that the right to form a trade union is a fundamental right and includes the right of collective bargaining. However, according to the court, the right to strike or “right to go slow” is not a constitutional right.[149] The legal anomaly of this decision is that it regards collective bargaining as the fundamental right but forbids the most effective tool to demand rights in violation of international labor rights law.[150]

Pakistan’s labor law requires registration of all trade unions.[151] All the members of a trade union must be engaged or employed in the industry. Where two or more unions are registered in a factory, every new union in the factory must have at least one-fifth of the total workers employed as its members.[152]

As of 2016, there were 945 trade unions registered in Pakistan with a combined membership of 1.8 million people, about 3 percent of the total labor force.[153] According to Karamat Ali, the executive director of Pakistan Institute of Labor Education and Research (PILER), the real percentage of unionization is “not more than 1 to 1.5 percent.”[154] Even within this small fraction of unionized labor, the majority is in the government-owned sector. Ali told Human Rights Watch:

The private sector in Pakistan does not admit to unionization as a legitimate function of industrialization. More than 60 percent of the unions are in state and public enterprises. While the textile and garment sector is the largest manufacturing sector in Pakistan, it has not had long term unionization in the sector.[155]

Fake and “Yellow” Unions

Many factory owners try and create obstacles for workers to register trade unions, primarily by registering dummy unions consisting of chosen or non-existent employees. Labor activists complained that factory owners establish these so-called yellow unions to control workers and prevent them from establishing or joining the union of their choice, often in collusion with the authorities.[156]

This makes it close to impossible for the workers to register real unions as the legal requirements for registering a second and third union in the factory are particularly hard to meet, including mandating that one-fifth of the total workforce of the factory registers as members.[157] Ghulam Abbas, a union leader for workers in a large factory manufacturing international brands, told Human Rights Watch:

The factory has around 7,000 workers. The owners managed to get two ‘pocket’ [management picked] unions registered without the knowledge of the workers. The requirement for having the third union are very stringent and requires one-fifth of the total workforce to be part of the union. We managed to get enough workers on board and get the union registered in 1997. The union membership in our factory is now around 2,000.[158]

According to Nasir Mansoor, secretary general of the National Trade Union Federation (NTUF), the registration of fake unions is pervasive in the textile and garment sector:

There are no real unions in any of the major factories. There are fake unions registered for every factory. Generally, the owners or management get two fake unions registered with the labor department because the requirements to get a union registered are difficult to meet. Mostly, the workers who are shown as the office bearers and members of the fake unions have no knowledge of it since either they are made to sign blank papers or their signatures are forged.

Also, the labor law requires workers to identify an employer before forming a union. They should go to the labor department for registration of their unions, however, the registration is only possible after informing the employers. Factory owners often fire the employees seeking to unionize and hence make it impossible for workers to form any union.[159]

According to the labor law, if a company has presence in only one province then the union is registered locally with the provincial labor department.[160] However, if the company has presence in more than one province, then the registration can be done with the National Industrial Relations Commission (NIRC) in Islamabad.[161] Many factory owners use this provision to impede the formation of trade unions. According to Mansoor:

All of this happens with the complete complicity of labor department officials who are aware of this practice but are often on the payroll [via bribes] of the factory owners. The unions for big factories have not been registered locally and are registered with the NIRC in Islamabad. Most companies show a fake manufacturing or storage facility in another province to have the union registered in Islamabad and hence the information about the union not being available to the workers.[162]

Raheel, a worker in a garment factory that manufactures for international brands, alleged:

The factory has a minimum of 2,000 workers. The factory has three trade unions on paper, however, no real one. The unions have been registered by the management in collusion with the labor department.[163]

Factory workers said that owners also use job insecurity of that workers hired through a labor contractor who can then being fired at any time, to deter workers from joining trade unions. According to Zeeshan Javaid, a worker in a factory in Karachi:

There is no employment contract and the hiring is done through a thekedar [literally, ‘contractor’ in Urdu]. There are more than 400 workers in the factory and no union. There used to be a union, but the seth [factory owner] fired all the union members one day and since then no one has dared to undertake any union activity. The managers swear at us, sometimes hit us, and anyone who complains is fired immediately and he is ‘gate-stopped’ [barred from entering the factory].[164]

Intimidation and Harassment of Independent Unions

On the rare occasion that workers in a factory manage to successfully unionize, labor rights activists allege that factory owners use violence and the threat of violence to intimidate and suppress them. Union leader Ghulam Abbas said:

Union leaders have been harassed and intimidated multiple times. The management has used the local police to have fake [criminal] cases registered against union members and workers. I have been arrested, kept in a police lock-up and tortured for calling a strike. Now any worker who is seen talking to a union leader is fired.[165]

The factory managements sometimes also use direct violence, criminal complaints, and even bring terrorism charges to intimidate and harass union leaders.

In July 2010, unknown gunmen shot dead prominent labor leader, Mustansar Randhawa, and his brother in Randhawa’s trade union office in Faisalabad district of Punjab. Randhawa was a leader of the Labor Qaumi Movement (LQM), a labor union seeking to organize workers of the textile and power loom sector in Punjab’s Faisalabad industrial district.[166] Randhawa had reportedly been receiving threats from factory owners and had announced a strike and a lock-out for a wage increase for the day he was killed.[167]

After his killing on July 6, 2010, workers postponed the lock-out and instead held a protest rally condemning his killing. Two weeks later, workers protested the refusal of the factory and loom owners to implement the 17 percent increase in wages that the government had announced in May.[168] Police use of force against the demonstrators resulted in several workers being injured and more than 100 being arrested.[169] Six  LQM leaders were later arrested and charged under the anti-terrorism law for allegedly attempting to torch a factory during the strike. In November 2011, an anti-terrorism court sentenced the six trade union leaders to life imprisonment.[170]

In March 2012, 12 trade union leaders in Karachi were charged under the anti-terrorism law for “extortion.”[171] Six of the 12 were arrested. They alleged that police beat them. In May 2012, they were released on bail, and were eventually acquitted in August 2014 after a trial that continued for more than two years and included more than 100 court appearances by the workers.[172]

Some union leaders alleged that factory owners often try and offer bribes to the workers to withdraw cases and back down from demands. For instance, a union leader at a factory in Hafizabad district, Punjab, said he turned down a bribe offer in 2015:

We had successfully organized a strike and the factory had come to an almost complete halt. We were demanding that our contracts should be regularized and our workers be made permanent employees. I was invited by the management to ‘negotiate.’ They insisted that I come alone. They offered me a car and 30,000 rupees [$3,000] to convince the workers to end the strike.[173]

 

VI. Role of Government Labor Departments

Pakistan’s government bears primary responsibility for enforcing labor rights protections. The 18th amendment to the constitution, enacted in 2010, devolved the labor ministry to the provinces.[174] As a result, it is the provincial departments that are tasked with enforcing and promoting awareness of employment standards—such as minimum wage, hours of work, public holidays—and with holding factory owners accountable. However, the authorized institutions have in large measure been unwilling or unable to do so.

Legal and Policy Framework

Instead of enforcing and monitoring rights, provincial labor departments have tended to be reactive, responding to complaints of violations and industrial disputes. The labor department often refuses to admit complaints by individual workers, requiring that they be made by the workers’ union.[175] Considering that effective unionization in private sector factories is very small, less “than one percent” according to some reports, this requirement largely makes redress from labor departments inaccessible.[176] As discussed above, factory management also often sets up fake unions that do not actually represent worker rights.

A series of government policies and regulations since 2003 have made the provincial labor departments weaker and factory managements largely unaccountable. The policy for labor inspections changed in 2003 after a military coup by Gen. Pervez Musharraf. Previously, factories were inspected once a year without prior notice. The policy was amended to require the labor department to issue a month’s notice to factory management mentioning the exact date of the inspection.[177] One former trade union leader said:

Announcing the labor department inspection date one month in advance killed the entire purpose of an inspection. The entire exercise was a sham. The factory was cleaned up for a few hours and got a clean bill of health.[178]

According to Ayub Quershi, a member of the Pakistan Trade Union Federation:

If inspections are allowed in jails where people serve time for their crimes, then why is this right denied to laborers who strive to earn by lawful means? Industrialists and entrepreneurs have been allowed to treat their laborers even worse than animals.[179]

Punjab, the country’s largest province, banned labor inspections through the Punjab Industry Policy in 2003 with the objective of “developing an industry and business-friendly environment to attract fresh investment.”[180] The ban was in response to factory owners complaining about harassment and bribery demands by labor inspectors. The ban on labor inspections was removed in 2012 following several industrial disasters in the province.[181]

A senior official of the Punjab labor department spoke to Human Rights Watch on condition of anonymity:

The fundamental problem with the labor department is the recruitment, which is mostly done as political patronage and not through a merit-based system. The political elite and the business elite are often the same people in the Punjab. Any independent inspection or monitoring is not possible as it is discouraged from the highest level of government.[182]

The 2003 Punjab ban on labor inspections was followed by a similar ban in Sindh. A former labor minister for Sindh told the media that the chief minister had expressly prohibited taking any measures against factories violating labor laws.[183] He said:

We tried to persuade the CM [chief minister] that the cases have been referred to court, and cannot be withdrawn…. Since then we stopped the inspections. How can we continue with them when the chief executive of a province asks us to stop an inquiry and withdraw the cases?[184]

Lack of Capacity

Provincial labor departments are severely underfunded and understaffed. According to an ILO study in 2016 the labor standards and inspections systems “are very weak, underfunded, lacking in modern training, and lacking in capacity to conduct effective training.”[185]

The ILO reported in 2012 that there were only 337 inspectors in the country, around one for every 250,000 workers.[186] In 2017, according to one report there were 547 labor inspectors in Pakistan for over 350,000 factories in the country. There were only 17 women labor inspectors.[187]  Nasir Mansoor, general secretary of National Trade Union Federation, told Human Rights Watch:

In Karachi, there are only two women labor inspectors for the entire city [which has 70 percent of the country’s industry] out of a total of around 200-225 labor inspectors. Women workers are extremely reluctant to talk about sexual harassment and their other problems with a male government official.[188]

Larger factories are often heavily guarded and labor inspectors are not allowed in unless the visit has been previously agreed. One trade union leader in Karachi told Human Rights Watch: “The factories are guarded more fiercely than military installations, no government inspectors are allowed in the factories.”[189]

The provincial labor department inspector often does not have the capacity or training to conduct thorough inspections and ensure enforcement of worker rights. The situation was exacerbated by a federal labor policy in 2006 introducing the concept of “one inspector, one enterprise,” making a single labor inspector responsible for all areas of labor rights in one factory.[190] Labor department officials of the Punjab and Sindh governments told Human Rights Watch that an overwhelming majority of the inspectors are not equipped to make such assessments. One former deputy director of the labor department said:

The “one inspector, one enterprise” policy made the situation worse since it expects one individual to inspect the health and safety, minimum wage, and working hour compliance and harassment complaints among many other areas. It is not reasonable to expect that all these functions can be adequately performed by a single untrained and poorly paid labor department official.[191]

Corruption

Corruption is a key issue that affects credibility of many government departments in the country. Pakistan was ranked 117th out of 180 countries in Transparency International’s annual corruption perception index 2017.[192] Allegations of widespread corruption in the labor departments are common. One factory owner in Lahore told Human Rights Watch:

I pay a monthly bribe to the labor department. An official of the labor department comes to the factory and collects the money, which is divided between department officials. They are not interested in inspections; they only want the money.[193]

Human Rights Watch gathered numerous accounts of corruption and bribery in the labor department.[194] According to trade union leaders, the labor department only conducts inspections as a “bargaining” tool—an unfavorable report is prepared and shown to the factory owner with the option of paying a bribe to have report altered.[195] One senior bureaucrat, a former head of the labor department, told Human Rights Watch:

I was astounded by the amount of wealth my subordinates—labor inspectors and directors—had amassed despite the low government salary. I attempted to hold a few accountable. But it was a futile exercise. The entire system is corrupt from the minister down to the inspector. Factory owners have practically bought off the labor department and it now serves at their will.[196]

On December 1,2018, the workers in a training institute for garment workers in Lahore stopped work and gathered outside the factory manager’s office demanding salaries. A major Pakistani brand had established the training institute in Gujju Mata area of Lahore in January 2018. Workers alleged that for the first three months, there was some “pretense of training,” but it stopped soon after and in practice, operated as a factory. According to Bilal, an employee at the training institute:

The company has shown this unit as a training institute in official records. However, there is no training conducted here. It is a factory. The government inspection teams are complicit. They come and mark fake attendances, take photographs of the ‘classrooms’ and leave. People who have been shown as “trainees” are all experienced garment workers.[197]

The government incentivizes such institutes and has paid the factory management 2,000 rupees ($20) for every worker they train. However, none of that money has reached the workers. Zia, working in the stitching department at the training institute told Human Rights Watch:

The total number of workers employed in this fake training institute is around 600-700, out of which 200 are salaried and the rest work on a daily per piece wage. None of the workers have a social security or a pension card because the establishment is not even shown as a factory. The government is obviously aware of this.[198]

In none of the factories researched by Human Rights Watch were there regular or frequent inspections by the labor department.

Shortcomings in Judicial Remedy

In the absence of a functional and efficient labor inspection infrastructure, disputes between workers and management are brought to the courts. Pakistan has a three-tiered labor judiciary: Labor Courts, Labor Appellate Tribunals, and National Industrial Relations Commission.

Traditionally, the labor judiciary was based on the principle of a tripartite adjudication system and members of the court and tribunal included representatives of the employer, workers, and the government.[199] However, the prevailing labor judicial system has abandoned the tripartite system and the adjudication is done by judges appointed by the provincial governments.[200]

The proceedings in labor courts can be lengthy and expensive. The courts are sometimes in another district and travelling to attend court hearings considering the long working hours and handful of holidays, can prove to be very difficult to workers. NIRC has only one seat in every province which means that workers must often travel hundreds of miles to file appeals and attend hearings.[201] Rashid, a worker contesting an unfair dismissal claim in the Labor Appellate Tribunal, told Human Rights Watch:

My monthly salary is 12,000 rupees [$120] and I have been contesting my dismissal for the past four years and have already spent at least 75,000 rupees [$750]. This is a fortune for me and my family. But it is an insignificant amount for the factory owners. The owners use the courts to drag the cases on forever, and bleed the workers. The judicial system is skewed in favor of the rich.[202]

 

VII. International Labor Standards

Basic human rights standards guaranteeing everyone the right to just and safe conditions of work, reasonable limitations on work hours, and fair pay as well as non-discrimination in the workplace are articulated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).[203]  These standards are enshrined as international law in treaties that Pakistan has ratified, notably the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).[204] Pakistan is also a party to many core ILO conventions, which further amplify workers’ rights.

Freedom of Association and Right to Organize

A worker’s right to organize is well-established under international human rights law, and explicitly guaranteed in the ICCPR and the ICESCR, as well as two of the core ILO conventions: ILO Convention No. 87 concerning Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organize, and ILO Convention No. 98 concerning the Right to Organize and Collective Bargaining—both of which Pakistan has ratified.[205]

These conventions, and their authoritative interpretations by the UN Human Rights Committee, the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and the ILO Committee on Freedom of Association, which examines complaints from workers’ and employers’ organizations against ILO members, obligate the Pakistan government to ensure that employers do not thwart workers’ right to union formation and participation.

The ICCPR provides that “everyone shall have the right to freedom of association with others, including the right to form and join trade unions for the protection of his interests.”[206] The ICESCR recognizes “[t]he right of everyone to form trade unions and join the trade union of his choice.”[207] As a party to the ICCPR, Pakistan is required to “take the necessary steps … to adopt such legislative or other measures as may be necessary to give effect to” the right to form and join trade unions and to ensure that any person whose right to organize is violated “shall have an effective remedy.”[208]

As a member of the ILO, Pakistan has an obligation “to respect, to promote and to realize, in good faith and in accordance with the Constitution, the principles the fundamental rights which are the subject of [the core] Conventions.” The ILO Committee on Freedom of Association has noted that ILO members, by virtue of their membership, are “bound to respect a certain number of general rules which have been established for the common good…. Among these principles, freedom of association has become a customary rule above the Conventions.”[209]

Under ILO Convention No. 87, “Workers … without distinction whatsoever, shall have the right to establish and … to join organizations of their own choosing without previous authorization” and “to elect their representatives in full freedom.”[210] Authorities should refrain from any interference that would restrict this right or impede its enjoyment.[211] States are free to prescribe legal formalities for establishing unions, but they cannot abuse this freedom by prescribing formalities that impair fundamental labor rights guarantees.[212]

The right to organize includes the right to official recognition through registration, and the conditions of registration cannot constitute a form of prior authorization before establishing a union.[213] The law should clearly specify the conditions for union registration and the grounds on which the registrar may refuse or cancel registration.[214] Government procedures that result in undue delays to registration are an infringement of workers’ right to organize.[215] If the law requires a minimum number of founder members to establish a union, states are not allowed to set the number so high that it effectively renders it impossible to set up a union.[216] In addition, Convention No. 98 guarantees that workers “shall enjoy adequate protection against acts of anti-union discrimination in respect of their employment.[217]

The ILO Committee on Freedom of Association has repeatedly underscored the importance of adequate penalties and mechanisms to ensure compliance with laws against union interference.[218]

Creating a Violence-Free, Non-Discriminatory Workplace for Women

Pakistan is party to several international conventions that protect women at work from violence and discrimination, including pregnancy-based discrimination. In addition to the ICCPR, Pakistan is a party to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, and has also ratified the core ILO Convention No. 111 Discrimination (Employment and Occupation) Convention, 1958.[219]

Women have a right to a workplace free of sexual harassment. Governments are obligated to take preventive steps and ensure access to redress.[220] Women are entitled to special protection during pregnancy to avoid work harmful to them.[221] Protection against pregnancy-based discrimination includes but is not limited to dismissal.[222]

ILO Convention No. 111 defines discrimination as “any distinction, exclusion or preference made on the basis of ... sex ... which has the effect of nullifying or impairing equality of opportunity or treatment in employment or occupation.”[223]

Contract Workers and Casual Hiring

ILO Convention No. 158 on Termination of Employment together with Recommendation No. 166 governs the use of short-term contracts. Pakistan has not ratified this convention, but it provides useful guidance.[224]

States should create “adequate safeguards” to ensure that contracts for specified periods are not used to avoid worker protection against unfair termination.[225] Fixed-term contracts should be limited to situations where the “nature of work,” the “circumstances under which it is to be effected,” or “the interests of the worker” require them.[226]

Where short-term contracts are renewed one or more times, or when they are not limited to the situations described above, states should deem them as contracts of indeterminate duration.[227]

Children’s Rights

Pakistan has ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), which states that children have a right “to be protected from economic exploitation and from performing any work that is likely to be hazardous or to interfere with the child's education, or to be harmful to the child's health or physical, mental, spiritual, moral or social development.”[228] Pakistan has also ratified relevant ILO conventions, including Convention No. 182 concerning the Worst Forms of Child Labor and Convention No. 138 concerning Minimum Age for Admission to Employment.[229]

In compliance with these conventions, Pakistan has set a minimum age for admission to work at as low as 14 and has other rules governing work by children. However, because of poor labor inspections and enforcement, Pakistani child labor provisions are frequently violated.

 

VIII. Key Responsibilities of Apparel Brands

While the Pakistani government has the primary responsibility to respect, protect, and fulfill human rights under international human rights law, businesses, including domestic and international apparel brands, also have human rights responsibilities.[230]

The basic principle that businesses have a responsibility to respect worker rights has acquired widespread international recognition.[231] The “Protect, Respect and Remedy” framework, articulated most notably in the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, reflects the expectation that businesses should respect human rights, avoid complicity in abuses, and adequately remedy them when they occur. The Guiding Principles urge businesses to exercise due diligence to identify, prevent, mitigate, and account for the impact of their activities on human rights.[232]

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) sets out norms for responsible social behavior by multinational firms, incorporating the concept of due diligence and the content of ILO core labor standards. The OECD guidelines call on enterprises to respect human rights, “avoid infringing on the human rights,” and address adverse human rights impacts of their activities. This includes conducting “human rights due diligence” and working to remedy any negative fallout they have caused or contributed to.[233] The OECD guidelines are supplemented by the 2017 OECD Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Supply Chains in the Garment and Footwear Sector.[234]

To meet their responsibility to respect human rights, businesses should have policies and processes appropriate to their size and circumstances.[235]

Disclosure

All apparel companies—domestic and international—should avoid contributing to adverse human rights impacts either through acts or omissions.[236] They should adopt good industry practice set by other apparel companies and publicly disclose their supplier factory lists.[237]

Companies that do not periodically disclose and update their supplier and subcontractor lists publicly make it more difficult to identify and remedy labor rights abuses in their supply chain. The Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights state that businesses should “seek to prevent or mitigate adverse human rights impacts” that are “directly linked to their operations, products or services.”[238] Such business relationships include “entities in its value chain.”[239] The UN Guiding Principles also say that companies have a responsibility to “know and show” that they have policies and practices to respect human rights.[240] The 2017 OECD due diligence guidance governing the garment sector notes that “increasingly enterprises—particularly those participating collaborative initiatives—are choosing to disclose: a list of their direct suppliers; the assessment findings of their suppliers; the corrective action plans of their suppliers; the grievances raised against them and how those grievances were addressed.”

The OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises state that businesses should disclose “material information … whose omission or misstatement could influence the economic decisions taken by users of information.”[241] The guidelines note that such disclosure may also cover information about their subcontractors and suppliers or joint venture partners.[242]

Key Priority Human Rights Risks and Brands Due Diligence

Both domestic and international apparel companies (brands and retailers) should carry out human rights due diligence.[243] Such due diligence should identify potential adverse human rights impacts and ways to prevent them. Human rights due diligence activity should be ongoing and not a one-time survey.[244]

The responsibility to conduct due diligence in the garment sector is twofold. Under the Guiding Principles, where businesses have large value supply chains and it is unreasonably burdensome to conduct due diligence across them all, businesses should “identify general areas where the risk of adverse human rights impacts is most significant, whether due to certain suppliers’ or clients’ operating context, the particular operations, products or services involved, or other relevant considerations, and prioritize these for human rights due diligence.”[245]

In Pakistan, Human Rights Watch research found that all apparel companies should “know and show” the steps they take to prevent and mitigate the following key human rights risks: fire and building safety; the abuse of hiring practices and use of “contract labor” to avoid paying legally due benefits; workers’ freedom of association; forced overtime and factory transportation for all workers, especially women, returning home at night from factories; and sexual harassment at the workplace.

Apparel brands should also periodically and regularly review their purchasing and pricing practices to analyze how they influence labor conditions in sourcing factories.

 

IX. Recommendations

To the Pakistan Federal Government

  • Revise the country’s labor laws to ensure they are in line with international labor standards. The Industrial Relations Act, 2012, and provincial labor laws fall short of International Labour Organization labor standards ratified by Pakistan, including Convention No. 87 on Freedom of Association and Convention and No. 98 on the Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively.
  • Ensure that workers’ rights to form unions and collectively bargain are protected. Direct police to properly investigate complaints of physical attacks and identify those responsible. Investigate all factory owners credibly alleged to have engaged in anti-union activity, and hold accountable and penalize employers found to have violated workers’ rights.
  • Periodically call for implementation reports from the provinces to oversee the implementation of all laws governing protection of worker rights including prevention of sexual harassment at the workplace.
  • Expedite the harmonization of the labor laws in order to establish minimum age for employment in accordance with international standards, notably the ILO Convention No. 138 on Minimum Age for Admission to Employment, 1973, and vigorously pursue the enforcement of minimum age standards, including by requiring employers to possess, and to produce on demand, proof of the age of all children working on their premises.
  • Develop and implement a plan to increase the number of government labor, fire, and building inspectors, improve their training, establish clear procedures for independent and credible inspections, and expand the resources at their disposal to conduct effective inspections.
  • Enact legislation to strengthen the provincial labor departments so that they have greater powers to penalize factory owners for unfair labor practices, including fines and other sanctions to deter future violations.
  • Ratify ILO Convention No. 121 on Benefits to Workers Injured in Workplace Accidents.
  • Ratify ILO Conventions No. 158 on Termination of Employment at the Initiative of the Employer; No. 183 on Maternity Protection (2000); and No. 131 on Minimum Wage Fixing (1983).
  • Establish mechanisms to monitor contractors who work with home-based workers and make factories and suppliers accountable for protecting the rights of home-based workers.

To the National Industrial Relations Commission

  • Carry out effective and impartial investigations into allegations by workers of mistreatment, including beatings, threats, and other abuses, and prosecute those responsible.
  • Investigate all credible allegations of corruption by labor inspectors and prosecute those responsible.
  • Establish an effective complaint mechanism so that workers can raise violations of safety regulations and workers’ rights without fear of retaliation.
  • Investigate all cases in which managers or owners allegedly filed fabricated criminal complaints against workers and union organizers, and drop all such charges that are unwarranted.

To the Provincial Labor Departments

  • Review, in consultation with independent unions and the ILO, all union registration procedures and eliminate unnecessarily burdensome requirements that violate ILO Convention No. 87 on Freedom of Association. Promptly address complaints lodged with the provincial labor departments and ensure that workers are able to express their concerns without intimidation by managers and supervisors.
  • Improve labor inspection methods, including via periodic monitoring, and focusing on:
    • The practice of hiring through third-party contractors and oral contracts;
    • Forced overtime and retaliatory measures for refusing overtime;
    • Complaints about working conditions for pregnant workers, including discrimination in hiring, contract renewals, promotions, and provision of reasonable workplace accommodation;
    • Denial of sick leave;
    • Child labor; and
    • Complaints of anti-union practices, including the formation of “yellow” unions.
  • Publicly and regularly disclose (e.g., every four months) the number of factories inspected, key labor rights violations found, and enforcement actions taken. The terms of disclosure should be finalized in consultation with various actors, including labor rights advocates and independent unions.
  • Ensure adequate resources for labor inspectors in each province and periodically disclose a statement of allocation and expenditure, including out-of-pocket reimbursement for factory inspectors, in order to curb rent-seeking.

To the Federal Ministry of Commerce and Trade

  • Publicly and regularly disclose (e.g., every six months) the names and number of garment and footwear factories that are registered with the ministry so that these may be cross-verified by labor rights groups and the labor departments for inspections.
  • Collect information from the provincial labor departments and publicly and regularly disclose (e.g., every four months) any actions initiated by the ministry against factories that are not compliant with Pakistan’s labor law.
  • Publicly and regularly disclose (e.g., every six months) the names of all international apparel and footwear brands sourcing from Pakistan.

To the All Pakistan Textile Manufacturers Association (APTMA)

  • Publicly support the right of workers to form trade unions and work with unions and factory owners to ensure that workers’ right to freedom of association is respected.
  • Encourage members to support the establishment of independent unions and ensure protection of both union members and leaders. Adopt and make public written policies prohibiting discriminatory action against workers, such as disciplining or dismissing workers based on pregnancy or union membership.
  • Facilitate special training programs for all members to improve implementation of laws governing sexual harassment at the workplace.
  • Encourage members to drop pending unwarranted criminal charges against labor activists and workers who have sought to organize unions.
  • Collaborate with the ILO to educate factory owners in the benefits of having independent trade unions and improved labor relations.

To Domestic and International Apparel Companies

  • Enhance workers’ access to grievance redress through multiple avenues. These should include:
    • Publicly disclosing and regularly updating brand global supplier factory lists in user-friendly and easily accessible formats;
    • Joining collective brand initiatives that have grievance redress procedures;
    • Incorporating workers’ freedom of association as a core part of all binding and non-binding brand agreements irrespective of whether these are individual or collective agreements;
    • Integrating effective periodic “external communication” and transparency strategies modeled on the public reporting of the Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety for all brand human rights due diligence efforts—individual or collective action;
    • Integrating strong internal due diligence at top-management levels to periodically examine and rectify brands’ purchasing practices.
  • Create a whistleblower protection system for workers and union representatives who alert an apparel company to labor rights abuses in a factory manufacturing their products. The system should ensure that all workers and union representatives receive appropriate protection for a reasonable period, including legal representation to defend themselves against vexatious lawsuits or criminal complaints filed by factories; monthly wages (including the minimum wage, reasonable allowances, and overtime pay); and, where workers are dismissed from work soon after reporting the labor rights abuses, that they do not face obstacles to obtaining alternative employment at a nearby location.

To the US, EU, UK, and Other Countries Whose International Companies Source from Pakistan

  • Introduce legal measures to require companies domiciled in the country that purchase apparel from outside the country to periodically disclose and update their global suppliers and subcontractors.
  • Provide funds and technical guidance to strengthen the capacity, transparency, and accountability of the federal ministry for commerce and trade and provincial labor departments.
  • Ensure that pricing and sourcing contracts adequately reflect and incorporate the cost of labor, health, and safety compliance in consultation with labor rights experts and unions. This should include the cost of the minimum wage, overtime payments, and all legal benefits.
  • Actively encourage women’s participation in union leadership and encourage training, awareness, and factory-level complaints mechanisms against sexual harassment at the workplace.

To the International Labour Organization

  • Work with the Pakistani government brings its labor laws into compliance with all ILO conventions ratified by Pakistan, and the core labor standards outlined in the ILO Declaration on Fundamental Rights and Principles at Work.
  • Provide technical assistance, as needed, to ensure that labor inspections by the provincial labor departments are comprehensive and transparent, and result in effective regulatory enforcement actions in accordance with the law.
  • Collaborate with the provincial labor departments to assist them to formulate and implement policies that extend the protection of the ILO conventions to home-based garment workers.
  • Actively encourage women’s participation in union leadership and encourage training, awareness-generation, and the development of factory-level complaints mechanisms against sexual harassment at the workplace.

 

Acknowledgments

This report was researched and written by Saroop Ijaz, Legal Adviser at Human Rights Watch. It was edited by the South Asia director and reviewed by members of the Women’s Rights division, Children’s Rights division, and the Business and Human Rights division. James Ross, legal and policy director, and Danielle Haas, senior editor, provided legal and program reviews. Production assistance was provided by Seashia Vang, associate with the Asia division; and Fitzroy Hepkins, administrative manager.

Human Rights Watch gratefully acknowledges the assistance of the labor rights groups, union leaders, workers and many other individuals who offered assistance, analysis, or information that made this report possible, many of whom are not named in the report for fear of reprisals.

 

 

[1]. International Labour Organization (ILO), Employment and Wage Rising in Pakistan’s Garment Sector, February 2017, http://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/---asia/---ro-bangkok/documents/publication/wcms_544182.pdf (accessed July 18, 2017).

[2]. The Clean Clothes Campaign, Facts on Pakistan’s Garment Industry, 2015, https://cleanclothes.org/resources/publications/factsheets/pakistan-factsheet-2-2015.pdf (accessed July 15, 2017). 

[3]. World Bank Group, “Pakistan Textile and Clothing Export by Country 2016,” 2016, https://wits.worldbank.org/CountryProfile/en/Country/PAK/Year/LTST/TradeFlow/Export/Partner/by-country/Product/50-63_TextCloth (accessed February 2, 2018).

[4]. Ibid.

[5]. Ibid.

[6]. European Union, “European Union-Trade with Pakistan,” November 17, 2017, http://trade.ec.europa.eu/doclib/docs/2006/september/tradoc_113431.pdf (accessed February 1, 2018).

[7]. Pakistan Readymade Garments Manufacturers and Exporters Association, http://www.prgmea.org/index.asp (accessed January 8, 2018).

[8]. Kazim Alam, “From manufacturing to branding: Garment manufacturers operate with squeezed margins,” Express Tribune, April 29, 2012, https://tribune.com.pk/story/371784/from-manufacturing-to-branding-garment-manufacturers-operate-with-squeezed-margins/ (accessed July 16, 2017).

[9]. ILO, Pakistan’s Hidden Workers, May 2017, http://www.ilo.org/islamabad/whatwedo/publications/WCMS_554877/lang--en/index.htm (accessed July 18, 2017).

[10]. The classification is based on the number of workers employed in the factory. Small operations generally employ one to five workers, whereas medium and large facilities employ 6 to 19 or more than 20 workers respectively.

[11]. Iftikhar Ahmad, “Labour and Employment Law: A Profile on Pakistan,” Wage Indicator, 2010, http://www.wageindicator.org/main/documents/Labour_and_Employment_Law-A_Profile_on_Pakistan.pdf (accessed July 26, 2017).

[12]. Dr. Noor Ahmed Memon, “Pakistan apparel industry: competing global market,” Pakistan Textile Journal, January 2016, http://www.ptj.com.pk/Web-2016/01-2016/PDF-January-2016/Dr-Noor-Apparel-and-Knitwear-1.pdf (accessed July 17, 2017).

[13]. ILO, Pakistan’s Hidden Workers, May 2017, http://www.ilo.org/islamabad/whatwedo/publications/WCMS_554877/lang--en/index.htm (accessed July 18, 2017).

[14]. International Labor Organization, Employment and Wage Rising in Pakistan’s Garment Sector, February 2017, http://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/---asia/---ro-bangkok/documents/publication/wcms_544182.pdf (accessed July 18, 2017).

[15]. Constitution of Islamic Republic of Pakistan, 1973, http://na.gov.pk/uploads/documents/1431341153_169.pdf (accessed July 17, 2017).

[16]. Ibid., art. 11

[17]. Ibid., arts. 17 and 25.

[18]. Ibid., arts. 34 and 37.

[19]. See Iftikhar Ahmad, “Labour and Employment Law: A Profile on Pakistan,” Wage Indicator, 2010, http://www.wageindicator.org/main/documents/Labour_and_Employment_Law-A_Profile_on_Pakistan.pdf (accessed July 26, 2017).

[20]. For example, the federal Industrial and Commercial Standing Orders Ordinance applies to establishments that have 20 or more workers whereas its Sindh counterpart applies to establishments that have 10 or more workers. The federal Factories Act applies to establishments that have 10 or more workers.

[21]. International Labor Organization, Employment and wage rising in Pakistan’s garment sector, February 2017, http://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/---asia/---ro-bangkok/documents/publication/wcms_544182.pdf (accessed July 18, 2017).

[22]. Faisal Siddiqi, “Justice Denied,” Newsline, November 2014, http://newslinemagazine.com/magazine/justice-delayed/ (accessed September 10, 2017).

[23]. Ibid.

[24]. Zia-ur-Rehman, “More than 300 killed in Pakistani Factory Fires,” New York Times, September 12, 2012, http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/13/world/asia/hundreds-die-in-factory-fires-in-pakistan.html (accessed September 10, 2017).

[25]. Faisal Siddiqi, “Justice Denied,” Newsline, November 2014, http://newslinemagazine.com/magazine/justice-delayed/, (accessed September 10, 2017). The factory owners denied these claims and held the late arrival of the fire brigade as the cause of the magnitude of the loss. The management also claimed that they suspected that the fire was an act of terrorism. Nudrat Kamal, “Burning Questions: The Karachi Factory Fire,” Newsline, October 2012, http://newslinemagazine.com/magazine/burning-questions-the-karachi-factory-fire/.

[26]. Ibid.

[27]. Ibid.

[28]. Ibid.

[29]. The SA-8000 certification standard is based on compliance in eight performance areas, which include child labor, forced and compulsory labor, health and safety, freedom of association and right to collectively bargain, discrimination, disciplinary practices, working hours and remuneration. http://www.sa-intl.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=Page.ViewPage&PageID=937/ (accessed August 31, 2018).

[30]. Declan Walsh, “Certified Safe, a Factory in Karachi Still Quickly burned,” New York Times, December 7, 2012, http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/08/world/asia/pakistan-factory-fire-shows-flaws-in-monitoring.html, (accessed September 10, 2017).

[31]. Zia-ur-Rehman, “More than 300 killed in Pakistani Factory Fires,” New York Times, September 12, 2012, http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/13/world/asia/hundreds-die-in-factory-fires-in-pakistan.html (accessed September 10, 2017).

[32]. Ibid.

[33]. Shahzada Irfan Ahmed, “Shortcut to disasters,” News on Sunday, November 15, 2015, http://tns.thenews.com.pk/shortcut-to-disasters-like-sundar-industrial-estate-collapse/#.WbwGW7pFyhd (accessed September 9, 2017).

[34]. Factories Act, 1934, Section 50.

[35]. Ibid.

[36]. Ibid.

[37]. Ibid.

[38]. “Notorious Factory Owner from Karachi Ruthlessly Beats and Abuses Employees on Camera,” PARHLO, April 24, 2017, https://www.parhlo.com/factory-owner-beats-employees-on-camera (accessed September 11, 2017).

[39]. “CM wants abusive factory owner taken to task,” News, April 25, 2017, https://www.thenews.com.pk/print/200499-CM-wants-abusive-factory-owner-taken-to-task (accessed September 11, 2017).

[40]. “Protest by Khaadi workers goes viral on social media, management rejects allegations,” Samaa, May 30, 2017, https://www.samaa.tv/pakistan/2017/05/protest-by-khaadi-workers-goes-viral-on-social-media-management-rejects-allegations/ (accessed July 29, 2017).

[41]. Rahima Sohail, “Sindh Labour Federation rubbishes Khaadi statement denying inhumane working conditions,” Express Tribune, May 30, 2017, https://tribune.com.pk/story/1422704/labour-federation-rubbishes-khaadi-statement-denying-inhumane-working-conditions/ (accessed July 29, 2017).

[42]. Ibid.

[43]. Asad Farooq, “Khaadi faces social media rage amidst allegations of inhumane working conditions,” Dawn, May 29, 2017, https://www.dawn.com/news/1336144/ (accessed July 29, 2017). Khaadi management denied these accusations and maintained that Khaadi was a retail organization and did not operate the manufacturing facilities. “Khaadi responds to alleged termination, mistreatment of workers in detail,” Samaa, May 31, 2017, https://www.samaa.tv/news/2017/05/khaadi-responds-to-alleged-termination-mistreatment-of-workers-in-detail/ (accessed September 4, 2018).

[44]. Fawad Hasan, “Labour Abuse: Is Khaadi’s ‘third party vendor’ TexMark actually a Khaadi-owned operation?” Express Tribune, June 10, 2017, https://tribune.com.pk/story/1430311/labour-abuse-khaadis-third-party-vendor-texmark-actually-khaadi-owned-operation/ (accessed December 14, 2018).

[45]. Ibid.

[46]. Ibid.

[47]. Imtiaz Ali, “Khaadi, NTUF reach agreement on labour issues,” Dawn, June 6, 2017, https://www.dawn.com/news/1337805 (accessed December 14, 2018).

[48]. Human Rights Watch interview with Bilal (pseudonym) via telephone, December 14, 2018.

[49]. Pakistan Industrial and Commercial Employment (Standing Industrial and Commercial Employment (Standing Orders) Ordinance, 1968.

[50]. Sindh Terms of Employment (Standing Orders) Act, 2015.

[51]. Pakistan Industrial and Commercial Employment (Standing Industrial and Commercial Employment (Standing Orders) Ordinance, 1968. The Sindh Terms of Employment (Standing Orders) Act, 2015 applies to establishments employing 10 or more workers. A “contract worker” is one who works on contract basis for a specific period to be calculated on piece-rate basis. A "temporary worker” is one who has been engaged for work which is of an essentially temporary nature likely to be finished within a period not exceeding nine months. Industrial and Commercial Employment Ordinance, 1968.

[52]. Pakistan Industrial and Commercial Employment (Standing Industrial and Commercial Employment (Standing Orders) Ordinance, 1968.

[53]. Iftikhar Ahmad, “Labour and Employment Law: A Profile on Pakistan,” Wage Indicator, 2010, http://www.wageindicator.org/main/documents/Labour_and_Employment_Law-A_Profile_on_Pakistan.pdf (accessed July 26, 2017).

[54]. Schedule Standing Order 12, Pakistan Industrial and Commercial Employment (Standing Orders) Ordinance, 1968. Workers other than permanent workers are not entitled to receive a termination notice from the employer and are not obligated to give such a notice to the employer.

[55]. Pakistan Industrial and Commercial Employment (Standing Industrial and Commercial Employment (Standing Orders) Ordinance, 1968.

[56]. Iftikhar Ahmad, “Labour and Employment Law: A Profile on Pakistan,” Wage Indicator, 2010, http://www.wageindicator.org/main/documents/Labour_and_Employment_Law-A_Profile_on_Pakistan.pdf (accessed July 26, 2017).

[57]. Human Rights Watch interview with Nasir Mansoor, general secretary of the National Trade Union Federation, Karachi, June 6, 2017.

[58]. Pakistan Industrial and Commercial Employment (Standing Orders) Ordinance, 1968.

[59]. Ibid.

[60]. Ibid.

[61]. Mahnoor Sherazee, “Pakistani labour laws are protecting no one,” Geo, June 20, 2017, https://www.geo.tv/latest/146449-pakistans-labour-laws-are-protecting-no-one (accessed August 1, 2017).

[62]. Pakistan Industrial and Commercial Employment (Standing Orders) Ordinance, 1968, section 2(f)(iv).

[63]. Human Rights Watch interview with Mian Imran, Lahore, January 11, 2017.

[64]. Human Rights Watch interview with Sheikh Liaqat Ali, Lahore, January 11, 2017. The absence of a written contract makes it difficult for the workers to establish employment in labor courts, which makes it difficult to bring a claim.

[65]. Ibid.

[66]. Pakistani minimum wage law does mandate that the income of piece rate worker should not be less than a minimum wage. However, because most of the piece rate workers are hired through a sub-contractor and use oral contracts, the minimum wage law is very rarely followed in the case of piece-rate workers.

[67]. Human Rights Watch interview with Nasir Mansoor, Karachi, June 8, 2017.

[68]. Jahanzeb Hussain, “The ugly truth behind the glitz and glamour of textile exports,” Dawn, September 18, 2016, https://www.dawn.com/news/1284092 (accessed July 25, 2017).

[69]. Human Rights Watch interview with Akbar Khan, Karachi, June 7, 2017.

[70]. Human Rights Watch interview with Asad, Karachi, June 7, 2017.

[71]. Human Rights Watch interview with Ali Hussain, Lahore, June 24, 2017.

[72]. Human Rights Watch interview with Hashim Ahmad, Karachi, June 8, 2017. Although he filled out a filed a formal leave application when he could not work for two days because of an infection and fever, when he returned to work, he was told that his job had been terminated.

[73]. Human Rights Watch interview with Farkhanda, Karachi, June 9, 2017.

[74]. Human Rights Watch interview with Nazir, Hafizabad, July 2, 2017.

[75]. Human Rights Watch interview with Asif Hafeez, Hafizabad, July 2, 2017.

[76]. Human Rights Watch interview with Hamid Ali, Karachi, June 8, 2017.

[77]. The Factories Act, 1934, section 34.

[78]. Ibid., section 36.

[79]. Ibid., section 34; Factories Act, section 50; Sindh Factories Act, section 81.

[80]. Ibid., section 35.

[81]. Ibid., section 47.

[82]. The maximum permissible overtime hours per year is 624. Weekly overtime hours cannot exceed 12 hours.

[83]. Human Rights Watch interview with Akbar Khan, Karachi, June 9, 2017.

[84]. Human Rights Watch interview with Adnan Ali, Karachi, June 9, 2017.

[85]. Human Rights Watch interview with Rashid, Karachi, June 8, 2017.

[86]. Human Rights Watch interview with Khalid, Hafizabad, July 3, 2017.

[87]. Employees' Old-Age Benefits Institution Act, 1976 (XIV of 1976).

[88]. In June 2017, a media investigation found that an overwhelming majority of workers for a leading Pakistani apparel brand were not registered with the Sindh Employees’ Social Security Institution (SESSI) or EOBI. See Fawad Hasan, “Exclusive: Khaadi ripping off workers of over Rs. 100 million every year,” Express Tribune, August 11, 2017, https://tribune.com.pk/story/1479056/exclusive-khaadi-ripping-off-workers-off-rs100-million-every-year/ (accessed August 12, 2017).

[89]. Human Rights Watch interview with Rehana, Karachi, June 7, 2017.

[90]. Fawad Hasan, “Khaadi tailor skips intermediate exams for work, now he’s been ‘fired,’” Express Tribune, June 2, 2017, https://tribune.com.pk/story/1424746/khaadi-tailor-skipped-intermediate-exams-work-now-hes-fired/ (accessed June 17, 2017).

[91]. Ibid.

[92]. Human Rights Watch interview with Hashim, Lahore, June 22, 2017.

[93]. Ibid.

[94]. Human Rights Watch interview with Razzaq, Karachi, June 6, 2017.

[95]. Human Rights Watch interview with Shabana Begum, Lahore, June 21, 2017.

[96]. Human Rights Watch interview with Munir Ahmad, Karachi, June 6, 2017.

[97]. Factories Act, 1934, section 37.

[98]. Ibid.

[99]. Human Rights Watch interview with Rehana, Karachi, June 9, 2017.

[100]. Human Rights Watch interview with Sajida, Karachi, June 8, 2017.

[101]. Human Rights Watch interview with Raza Syed, Hafizabad, July 1, 2017.

[102]. Human Rights Watch interview with Sonia Masih, Lahore, July 7, 2017.

[103]. Human Rights Watch interview with Kamran Masih, Lahore, July 9, 2017.

[104]. Human Rights Watch interview with Rasheed Hasan, Lahore June 21, 2017.

[105]. Factories Act, 1934, sections 20 and 21.

[106]. Human Rights Watch interview with Muhammad Karim, Lahore, July 6, 2017. Saline water has a high concentration of salt and usually considered unsafe for regular drinking.

[107]. Human Rights Watch interview with Abdul Basit, Karachi, June 5, 2017.

[108]. Human Rights Watch interview with Ghulam Abbas, Hafizabad, July 1, 2017.

[109]. World Economic Forum, “Gender Gap Report 2016,” October 2016, http://reports.weforum.org/global-gender-gap-report-2016/economies/#economy=PAK (accessed July 11, 2017).

[110]. The Punjab Protection against Harassment of Women at the Workplace (Amendment) Act, 2012 and the Sindh Protection against Harassment of Women Act, 2010.

[111]. “Call for Workplace Harassment legislation,” Nation, January 30, 2016, https://nation.com.pk/30-Jan-2016/call-for-work-on-workplace-harassment-legislation (accessed February 5, 2018).

[112]. Factories Act, 1934, section 21.

[113]. Human Rights Watch interview with Ayesha Ali, labor law researcher, Lahore, December 11, 2018.

[114]. Human Rights Watch interviews with Shabana, Faiza Khan, Fehmida, Zubaida, Naheed Begum and others, Karachi and Lahore.

[115]. Human Rights Watch interview with Faiza Khan, Karachi, June 9, 2017.

[116]. West Pakistan Maternity Benefits Ordinance, 1958 (a Punjab provincial law).

[117]. Human Rights Watch interview with Faiza Khan, Karachi, June 9, 2017.

[118]. Human Rights Watch interview with Fehmida, Karachi, June 6, 2017.

[119]. Factories Act, 1934, section 33-Q read with provincial rules, which makes it mandatory for factories to set up a separate daycare rooms.

[120]. Human Rights Watch interview with Bisma Aftab, Karachi, June 9, 2017.

[121]. Human Rights Watch interview with Asif Ali, Lahore, June 1, 2018.

[122]. Human Rights Watch interview with Zubaida Khatoon, Lahore, June 23, 2017.

[123]. Factories Act, 1934, section 45. Section 66 (1) (b) of the Sindh Factories Act 2015 sets the time limits to be between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m.

[124]. Human Rights Watch interview with Shabana Begum, Lahore, June 21, 2017.

[125]. Human Rights Watch interview with Naheed Khan, Karachi, June 9, 2017.

[126]. Human Rights Watch interview with Naheed Khan, Karachi, June 9, 2017.

[127]. Syeda Mahnaz Hasan, “Visible Work, Invisible Workers: A Study of Women Home Based Workers in Pakistan,” April 2014, International Journal of Social Work and Human Services Practice, vol. 2, http://www.hrpub.org/download/20140405/IJRH7-19290007.pdf (accessed September 1, 2017).

[128]. Usman Hanif, “Sindh announces first-ever tripartite labour policy,” Express Tribune, February 11, 2018, https://tribune.com.pk/story/1631585/2-sindh-announces-first-ever-tripar... (accessed February 20, 2018).

[129]. International Labour Organization, “Pakistan’s Hidden Workers,” April 2017, http://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/---asia/---ro-bangkok/---ilo-islamabad/documents/publication/wcms_554877.pdf (accessed September 1, 2017).

[130]. Ibid.

[131]. Human Rights Watch interview with Zahida Parveen, Karachi, June 8, 2017. Zahida was not clear on details but said she had seen international labels on the items that she stitched.

[132]. ILO, “Pakistan’s Hidden Workers,” April 2017, http://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/---asia/---ro-bangkok/---ilo-islamabad/documents/publication/wcms_554877.pdf (accessed September 1, 2017).

[133]. Human Rights Watch interview with Shama Ali, Karachi, June 8, 2017.

[134]. Human Rights Watch interview with Mehvish Shoaib, Karachi, June 9, 2017.

[135]. International Labour Organization, “Pakistan’s Hidden Workers,” April 2017, http://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/---asia/---ro-bangkok/---ilo-islamabad/documents/publication/wcms_554877.pdf (accessed September 1, 2017).

[136]. Human Rights Watch interview with Seema, Karachi, June 9, 2017.

[137]. Human Rights Watch interview with Shamim Bano, Karachi, June 9, 2017.

[138]. “Bonded labour in Pakistan: A Humanitarian Crisis,” Daily Times, February 27, 2015, http://www.dailytimes.com.pk/opinion/20-Feb-2015/bonded-labour-in-pakistan-a-humanitarian-crisis(accessed October 27, 2017). The Global Slavery index estimates that over two million people, including children, are trapped in slavery in Pakistan, most due to debt bondage.

[139]. “Millions Pushed into Child Labor in Pakistan,” Reuters, February 7, 2012, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-pakistan-childlabour-idUSTRE8160LA20120207 (accessed October 27, 2017).

[140]. Constitution of Islamic Republic of Pakistan, art. 11.

[141]. Ibid.

[142]. Factories Act, 1934, section 54.

[143]. The National Identification Card (NIC) is treated as a requirement for filing complaints in the labor tribunals, and in the absence of a NIC the complaint must be filed through parents or legal guardians. In most cases of employment of children, the parents view the child as a source of income and do not want to contest any proceedings that can potentially put at risk the present or future employment prospects of the child. Factory owners also wrongly use the absence of a NIC as an excuse for not registering the child workers with social security departments and EOBI.

[144]. Human Rights Watch interview with Muhammad Wahab, Karachi, June 6, 2017.

[145]. Human Rights Watch interview with Arif Ali, Karachi, June 6, 2017.

[146]. Human Rights Watch interview with Bisma Aftab, Karachi, June 9, 2017.

[147]. Human Rights Watch interview with Zeeshan Javaid, Karachi, June 8, 2017.

[148]. Constitution of Islamic Republic of Pakistan, 1973, art. 17.

[149]. Civil Aviation Authority vs. Union of Civil Aviation Employees, Supreme Court of Pakistan, PLD 1997 SC 781.

[150]. Iftikhar Ahmad, “Labour and Employment Law: A Profile on Pakistan,” Wage Indicator, 2010, http://www.wageindicator.org/main/documents/Labour_and_Employment_Law-A_Profile_on_Pakistan.pdf (accessed July 26, 2017).

[151]. Sindh Industrial Relations Act 2013, section 9, Punjab Industrial Relations Act 2010, section 9.

[152]. Sindh Industrial Relations Act 2013, section 6, Punjab Industrial Relations Act 2010, section 6. Applications can be submitted to the Registrar of Trade Unions in each province. For a federation of two or more unions, the application needs to be submitted to National Industrial Relations Commission.

[153]. Hasan Mansoor, “On death’s door: trade unions in Pakistan,” Dawn, May 1, 2016, https://www.dawn.com/news/1255333 (accessed September 3, 2017).

[154]. Human Rights Watch interview with Karamat Ali, PILER, Karachi, June 6, 2017.

[155]. Ibid.

[156]. Corruption is a key issue that affects credibility of many government departments in the country. Pakistan was ranked 117 out of 180 countries in Transparency International’s annual corruption perception index 2017

[157]. Industrial Relations Ordinance 2012, section 8.

[158]. Human Rights Watch interview with Ghulam Abbas, Hafizabad, Punjab, July 1, 2017.

[159]. Human Rights Watch interview with Nasir Mansoor, Karachi, June 6, 2017.

[160]. Sindh Industrial Relations Act 2013, section 9; Punjab Industrial Relations Act 2010, section 9.

[161]. Industrial Relations Ordinance 2012, section 54.

[162]. Human Rights Watch interview with Nasir Mansoor, Karachi, June 6, 2017.

[163]. Human Rights Watch interview with Raheel, Karachi, June 9, 2017.

[164]. Human Rights Watch interview with Zeeshan Javaid, Karachi, June 9, 2017.

[165]. Human Rights Watch interview with Ghulam Abbas, Union leader, Hafizabad, July 1, 2017.

[166]. Farooq Tariq, “Pakistan: Labour Leaders killed for forming union in Faisalabad,” Europe Solidaire Sans Frontieres, July 7, 2010, http://www.europe-solidaire.org/spip.php?article17949 (accessed September 7, 2017).

[167]. Qalandar Bux Memon, “Blood on the Path of Love,” Monthly Review, December 2010, https://monthlyreview.org/2010/12/01/blood-on-the-path-of-love/ (accessed September 6, 2017); Farooq Tariq, “Pakistan: Labour Leaders killed for forming union in Faisalabad,” Europe Solidaire Sans Frontieres, July 7, 2010, http://www.europe-solidaire.org/spip.php?article17949 (accessed September 7, 2017).

[168]. Qalandar Bux Memon, “Blood on the Path of Love,” Monthly Review, December 2010, https://monthlyreview.org/2010/12/01/blood-on-the-path-of-love/(accessed September 6, 2017).

[169]. “Six power loom workers’ leaders sentenced for 10 year each by Anti-Terrorist Court in Faisalabad,” Labour Watch Pakistan, November 2, 2011, http://labourwatchpakistan.com/six-power-loom-workers%E2%80%99-leaders-sentenced-for-10-year-each-by-anti-terrorist-court-in-faisalabad/ (accessed September 10, 2017).

[170]. “NTUF to protest against convictions in Faisalabad power loom case,” News, November 4, 2011, https://www.thenews.com.pk/archive/print/329865-ntuf-to-protest-against-convictions-in-faisalabad-power-loom-case (accessed September 10, 2017).

[171]. “Protesting’ labourers booked under extortion charges,” News, March 24, 2012, https://www.thenews.com.pk/archive/print/352804-%E2%80%98protesting%E2%80%99-labourers-booked-under-extortion-charges (accessed September 9, 2017).

[172]. Clean Clothes Campaign, “Victory for 12 workers and trade unionists in Pakistan,” September 3, 2014, https://cleanclothes.org/news/2014/09/03/victory-for-12-workers-and-trade-unionists-in-pakistan (accessed September 7, 2017).

[173]. Human Rights Watch interview with Asad Muneer, Lahore, September 3, 2017.

[174]. Constitution (Eighteenth Amendment) Act, 2010, April 19, 2010, http://www.pakistani.org/pakistan/constitution/amendments/18amendment.html (accessed September 5, 2017).

[175]. Human Rights Watch interview with Sheikh Liaqat, Labor lawyer, June 2, 2017.

[176]. “Only one labour inspector 250,000 workers: report,” Dawn, December 13, 2014, https://www.dawn.com/news/1150581 (accessed September 7, 2017).

[177]. Ibid.

[178]. Human Rights Watch interview with Amir Shah (pseudonym), Karachi, June 8, 2017.

[179]. “Chief Minister directed me to stop the inspection of factories: Labour Minister,” Express Tribune, September 13, 2012, https://tribune.com.pk/story/435713/chief-minister-directed-me-to-stop-the-inspection-of-factories-labour-minister (accessed July 5, 2017).

[180]. Samira Shackle, “Karachi factory fire exposes Pakistan’s lax health and safety regime,” Guardian, September 14, 2012, https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2012/sep/14/karachi-factory-fire-pakistan-health-safety (accessed July 8, 2017).

[181]. Aroosa Shaukat, “Labour inspections to resume,” Express Tribune, February 25, 2012, https://tribune.com.pk/story/341377/labour-inspections-to-resume/ (accessed September 1, 2017).

[182]. Human Rights Watch interview with Riaz Haq (pseudonym), Lahore, July 5, 2017.

[183].  “Chief Minister directed me to stop the inspection of factories: Labour Minister,” Express Tribune, September 13, 2012, https://tribune.com.pk/story/435713/chief-minister-directed-me-to-stop-the-inspection-of-factories-labour-minister (accessed July 5, 2017).

[184]. Ibid.

[185]. ILO, “Minimum wage setting, implementation and working conditions in the formal and informal sectors of the garment industry in Pakistan,” August 2016, http://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/---asia/---ro-bangkok/---ilo-islamabad/documents/publication/wcms_532830.pdf (accessed July 27, 2017).

[186]. “Only one labour inspector 250,000 workers: report,” Dawn, December 13, 2014, https://www.dawn.com/news/1150581 (accessed September 7, 2017).

[187]. Mahnoor Sherazee, “Pakistani labour laws are protecting no one,” Geo, June 20, 2017, https://www.geo.tv/latest/146449-pakistans-labour-laws-are-protecting-no-one (accessed August 1, 2017).

[188]. Human Rights Watch interview with Nasir Mansoor, Karachi, June 6, 2017.

[189]. Human Rights Watch interview with Nasir Mansoor, Karachi, June 6, 2017.

[190]. Labour Inspection Policy, 2006, Government of Pakistan, March 2006, :http://www.ciwce.org.pk/downloads/Labour_Inspection_Policy_2006.pdf (accessed September 1, 2017).

[191]. Human Rights Watch interview with Nazir Sheikh (pseudonym), Lahore, July 8, 2017; Human Rights Watch wrote to the Pakistan labor authorities in July 2018 however we did not receive a response.

[192]. Transparency International, “Corruption Perceptions Index 2017,” February 21, 2018, https://www.transparency.org/news/feature/corruption_perceptions_index_2017 (accessed December 7, 2018).

[193]. Human Rights Watch interview with Muhammad Ali (pseudonym), Lahore, September 4, 2017.

[194]. Human Rights Watch interview with Mian Imran, Lahore, February 5, 2018

[195]. Human Rights Watch interview with Sheikj Liaqat, Lahore, February 5, 2018.

[196]. Human Rights Watch interview with Hamid Raza (pseudonym), Lahore, September 3, 2017.

[197]. Human Rights Watch interview with Bilal (pseudonym), Lahore, December 3, 2018.

[198]. Human Rights Watch interview with Zia Rehman (pseudonym), Lahore, December 3, 2018.

[199]. Iftikhar Ahmad, “Labour and Employment Law: A Profile on Pakistan,” Wage Indicator, 2010, http://www.wageindicator.org/main/documents/Labour_and_Employment_Law-A_Profile_on_Pakistan.pdf (accessed July 26, 2017).

[200]. Ibid.

[201]. Industrial Relations Ordinance, 2012, section 55.

[202]. Human Rights Watch interview with Raheem Gondal, Hafizabad, July 1, 2017.

[203]. Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), adopted December 10, 1948, G.A. Res. 217A(III), U.N. Doc. A/810 at 71, arts. 2, 23 and 24. 

[204]. International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), G.A. res. 2200A (XXI), 21 U.N. GAOR Supp. (No. 16) at 49, U.N. Doc. A/6316 (1966), 993 U.N.T.S. 3, entered into force Jan. 3, 1976. Pakistan ratified the ICESCR in 2008; International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), adopted December 16, 1966, G.A. Res. 2200A (XXI), 21 U.N. GAOR Supp. (No. 16) at 52, U.N. Doc. A6316 (1966), 999 U.N.T.S. 171, entered into force March 23, 1976, ratified by Pakistan in 2010.

[205]. ILO Convention No. 87, entry into force, July 4, 1950, ratified by Pakistan in 1951; ILO Convention No. 98, entry into force, July 18, 1951, ratified by Pakistan in 1952. Article 23(4) states that, [e]veryone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.

[206]. ICCPR, art. 8(1)(a).

[207]. ICESCR, art. 8.

[208]. ICCPR, art. 8.

[209]. ILO Committee on Freedom of Association, Fact-Finding and Conciliation Commission Report: Chile, 1975, para. 466.

[210]. ILO Convention No. 87, art. 2; Ibid, art. 2.

[211]. Ibid

[212]. Ibid., art. 7; ILO Freedom of Association Decisions Digest, 2006 ed., http://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/--ed_norm/---normes/documents/pu..., paras. 275-76.

[213]. Article 2; ILO Freedom of Association Decisions Digest, 2006 ed., paras. 294-307

[214]. Ibid., para. 302. 

[215]. Ibid., para. 279.

[216]. Ibid., paras. 279-290

[217]. ILO Convention No. 98, art. 1.

[218]. ILO Committee on Freedom of Association, Digest of Decisions: Fundamental obligations of member States in respect of human and trade union rights (Procedure in respect of the Committee on Freedom of Association and the social partners: Function of the ILO and mandate of the Committee on Freedom of Association), 1996, paras. 763-64.

[219]. Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), adopted December 18, 1979, G.A. res. 34/180, 34 U.N. GAOR Supp. (No. 46) at 193, U.N. Doc. A/34/46, entered into force September 3, 1981, art. 11(2) (prohibiting discrimination, including dismissal, on the basis of pregnancy). Pakistan became a party to CEDAW in 1996; ILO Convention No. 111, entry into force June 15, 1960. Pakistan became a party in 1961.

[220]. CEDAW Committee, General Recommendation No. 35, 2017, http://tbinternet.ohchr.org/Treaties/CEDAW/Shared%20Documents/1_Global/C..., (accessed February 5, 2018) para. 39, p. 12.

[221]. CEDAW, art. 11(2) (d).

[222]. CEDAW, art. 11(2) (prohibiting discrimination, including dismissal, on the basis of pregnancy).

[223]. ILO Convention No. 111, art. 1.

[224]. ILO Convention No. 158 concerning Termination of Employment at the Initiative of the Employer (Termination of Employment Convention), 1982, adopted June 22, 1982, entered into force November 23, 1995, not ratified by Pakistan, http://www.ilo.org/dyn/normlex/en/f?p=NORMLEXPUB:12100:0::NO::P12100 _ILO_CODE: C158 (accessed July 28, 2017); ILO Recommendation No. 166 on the Termination of Employment Convention, 1982, http://www.ilo.org/dyn/normlex/en/f?p=NORMLEXPUB:12100: 0::NO:12 100:P12 100_ ILO _CODE:R166, art. 3(2)(a) (accessed July 28, 2017).

[225]. Recommendation No. 166, art. 3(1).

[226]. Ibid, art. 3(2)(a).

[227]. Ibid., art. 3(2)(b) and (c).

[228]. Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), adopted November 20, 1989, G.A. Res. 44/25, annex, 44 U.N. GAOR Supp. (No 49) at 167, U.N. Doc. A/44/49 (1989), entered into force September 2, 1990. Pakistan became a party to the CRC in 1990.

[229]. ILO Convention No. 182 concerning Worst Forms of Child Labor, 1999. The ILO Worst Forms of Child Labor Recommendation (No. 190) provides guidance to states in defining hazardous work, and suggests consideration be given to several areas of work, including “work under particularly difficult conditions such as work for long hours or during the night or work where the child is unreasonably confined to the premises of the employer.” ILO Recommendation No. 190 Concerning the Prohibition and Immediate Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labor, adopted June 17, 1999, art. 3(e); ILO Convention No. 138 concerning Minimum Age for Admission to Employment, 1973, http://www.ilo.org/dyn/normlex/en/f?p=NORMLEXPUB: 12100 :0::NO:12100:P12100_ILO_CODE:C138, arts. 2(3) and 3(1) (accessed July 23, 2014). Convention No. 138 says states should set a minimum wage for work corresponding with the age for completing compulsory schooling and cannot be below age 15. Where the work will jeopardize the health, safety of morals of young persons, the minimum age cannot be less than age 18. Children between ages 13 and 15 can engage in light work that does not harm their health, development, and does not adversely impact their school attendance. Children below the minimum age cannot engage in work.

[230]. The preambles to key human rights treaties recognize that ensuring respect for human rights is a shared responsibility that extends to “every organ of society,” not only to states. In addition, the preambles of both the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights recognize that “individuals” have human rights responsibilities, a term that can encompass juridical persons (including businesses) as well as natural persons.

[231]. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises, UN Human Rights Council resolutions on business and human rights, the UN Global Compact, other multi-stakeholder initiatives in different sectors, and many apparel buyers’ codes of conduct borrow from international human rights law and core labor standards in guiding businesses on how to uphold their human rights responsibilities.

[232]. UN Human Rights Council, Report of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises, John Ruggie, “Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights: Implementing the United Nations ‘Protect, Respect and Remedy’ Framework,” A/HRC/17/31, March 21, 2011, http://www.business-humanrights.org/media/documents/ruggie/ruggie-guidin... (“Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights”) (accessed September 7, 2017).

[233]. OECD, “OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises,” 2011, http://www.oecd.org/investment/mne/1922428.pdf, p. 31 (“OECD Guidelines”) (accessed July 29, 2017).

[234]. OECD, “OECD Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Supply Chains in the Garment and Footwear Sector,” http://mneguidelines.oecd.org/OECD-Due-Diligence-Guidance-Garment-Footwear.pdf (accessed July, 2017).

[235]. Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, Principles 14 and 15. 

[236]. Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, Principle 13

[238]. Ibid.

[239]. Ibid (commentary).

[240]. UN Guiding Principles, Principle 21 and related commentary. See also, Aruna Kashyap, “Soon There Won’t Be Much to Hide: Transparency in the Apparel Industry,” https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2018/essay/transparency-in-apparel-industry. See also, OECD Due Diligence Guidance in the Garment Sector, http://mneguidelines.oecd.org/OECD-Due-Diligence-Guidance-Garment-Footwe..., para. 5.1, p. 87.

[241]. OECD Guidelines, p. 29, para. 30.

[242]. OECD Guidelines, p. 30, para. 33.

[243]. Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, Principle 17.

[244]. Ibid.

[245]. Ibid., Principle 17 (commentary).

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Pakistan’s government is failing to enforce laws that could protect millions of garment workers from serious labor rights abuses. Human Rights Watch documented a range of violations in Pakistan’s garment factories. They include a failure to pay minimum wages and pensions, suppression of independent labor unions, forced overtime, insufficient breaks, and disregarded regulations requiring paid maternity and medical leave. Human Rights Watch also identified problems in the government’s labor inspection system. Pakistan authorities should revamp labor inspections and systematically hold factories accountable for abuses. Domestic and international apparel brands should take more effective measures to prevent and correct labor rights abuses in the factories that produce clothing for them.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Protesters from Unchained at Last speak in front of the Massachusetts State House in Boston to end child marriage in Massachusetts, May 2017. 

© 2017 Unchained at Last/Facebook

Today, I’ll join the Women’s March in Boston to demand an end to child marriage in Massachusetts. 

My two grandmothers were both child brides in Trinidad and Tobago. Their lives illustrate how child marriage robs children – especially girls – of their childhood and rights.

My grandmothers (“Nanny” and “Mama”) were forced by their families around age 13 to marry adult men they had never met. Both dropped out of school, had early pregnancies, gave birth to 7 and 8 children respectively, and experienced the loss of a child shortly after birth. They assumed heavy household duties. No one asked whether this was what they wanted. Returning to their families was not an option.

Mama, now age 94, still has flashbacks of her husband’s abuse, leaving her fearful her life is in danger, even though my grandfather passed away long ago.

Millions of women and girls around the world – and hundreds of thousands in the US – share my grandmothers’ experience. In Massachusetts, more than 1,200 children married between 2000 and 2016, primarily girls marrying adult men.

Child marriage is deeply harmful. It deprives girls of education, exposes them to serious health risks, deepens poverty, and puts these girls at greater risk of domestic violence.

One of the reasons child marriage is still an issue in the US is that many states allow it.

In 48 US states, child marriage is permitted legally under certain circumstances. Massachusetts is one of those states, with a minimum marriage age of 18, but allowing children to wed with parental “consent” and judicial approval. There is no statutory minimum age for those exceptions.

This has to change. New Jersey and Delaware recently paved the way by fully banning child marriages, no exceptions. Massachusetts should be next.

As I march today to end child marriage, my grandmothers will be with me in spirit, every step of the way.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Indian members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community celebrate the Supreme Court decision to strike down a colonial-era ban on gay sex, in Kolkata on September 6, 2018.

© 2018 DIBYANGSHU SARKAR/AFP/Getty Images

More than two centuries ago Mary Wollstonecraft laid the foundations for feminist thought with a simple premise: lack of equal opportunity diminished individual self-worth and hobbled social progress. In A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792), Wollstonecraft made a “wild wish” for equality between the sexes. When women are treated as less than equal in law and society, she argued, it affects not only the practicalities of everyday life, but encroaches on autonomy, dignity and agency.

Her arguments apply today to people marginalized by prevailing social norms, including those who do not conform to sexual and gender stereotypes. It is these same issues – autonomy, dignity, equality and agency – that were addressed in 2018 in three landmark court judgments in India, Trinidad and Tobago, and Guyana.

These decisions – each one striking down discriminatory laws – herald new legal dispensations and life possibilities for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in these countries. But the judgments go much further than striking down archaic and discriminatory laws. They trace ignoble colonial histories, highlight the negative impact on individuals and society, and seek avenues for redress. In doing so they draw on and develop jurisprudence from countries in the global South, each grappling with the legacy of colonialism.

It is not often that a judgment reflects on the meaning of human existence and the nature of desire, but the long-awaited decision of the Indian Supreme Court, handed down in September, did so, poetically. The court drew on literature, philosophy, social science, queer theory and individual testimony to invalidate Section 377 of India’s penal code, which punished “carnal intercourse against the order of nature” with 10 years to life in prison. In doing so, the court upheld individual autonomy, equality, privacy and dignity, stating that “homosexuality is a completely natural condition, part of a range of human sexuality.”

The decision rejected the idea that individual lives should be limited by “the bondage of dogmatic social norms, prejudiced notions, rigid stereotypes, parochial mindsets and bigoted perceptions.” It railed against the “tyranny of the majority” and reasserted the role of the court as a “threshold against an upsurge in mob rule.” By using “constitutional morality” to protect minorities against “societal morality,” the courts protect freedom for all: “Our ability to survive as a free society will depend upon whether Constitutional values can prevail over the impulses of the time.”

The India judgment references a broad sweep of comparative law from around the world, including Belize, Canada, Colombia, Ecuador, Fiji, Hong Kong, Nepal, South Africa, Trinidad and Tobago, the US and the United Kingdom. Invoking the “sodomy” laws as a residual “yoke” of British rule, the court declared that “history owes an apology to the members of this community and their families, for the delay in providing redressal for the ignominy and ostracism that they have suffered through the centuries.” The Indian Penal Code served as a template for similar laws imposed throughout the British Empire. Its demise will register globally; it is already referenced in a legal challenge to a similar Kenyan law and is inspiring a new challenge to Singapore’s colonial sodomy law as well.

The High Court in Trinidad and Tobago similarly ruled sections of the Sexual Offences Act that criminalize “buggery” and “serious indecency” unconstitutional, pointing out that – even when dormant – these laws send a message that “society hates homosexuals.” The judgment asserted the rights of individuals, including members of unpopular groups, above vague concepts such as tradition and religious morality. The court stated: “this is a case about the dignity of the person and not about the will of the majority or any religious debate.” The court also reflected that it was unfortunate when individual traits of race, gender, age, or sexual orientation were used as yardsticks to measure worth: “That is not their identity. That is not their soul.” In coming to these conclusions, judges referenced foreign precedent from courts in South Africa, Nepal, Fiji and Belize.

In November, the Caribbean Court of Justice struck down as unconstitutional a 125-year-old law against cross-dressing for an “improper purpose.” This law had been used disproportionately against transgender women in Guyana. The court traced the origins of the law, part of a suite of laws against vagrancy, to the coercive labor practices imposed in the aftermath of slavery and rejected them as relics of an oppressive past. The primary objective of vagrancy laws was to restrict mobility and force former slaves back to plantations as a way of maintaining a steady supply of cheap labor.

The court found that the law violated fundamental rights to equality, non-discrimination and freedom of expression. It condemned the role of gender stereotypes in restricting gender equality and individual self-determination. Pointing out that “[l]aw and society are dynamic, not static,” the court asserted the value of tolerance for individuals and society as a whole, recalling that “[t]oday’s heresy may easily become tomorrow’s gratefully embraced orthodoxy.” In this the court echoes the prescient insights of the feminist frontrunner Wollstonecraft and her wild wish:

A wild wish has just flown from my heart to my head, and I will not stifle it, though it might excite a horse-laugh. I do earnestly wish to see the distinction of sex confounded in society, unless where love animates the behaviour.

Taken together, these landmark judgments go to the heart of how restrictive and discriminatory laws harm individual lives and hamper social progress. When free expression is denied, said the Caribbean Court of Justice, “On the one hand, the human spirit is stultified. On the other, social progress is retarded.”

 

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Chinese President Xi Jinping gives a speech for the 40th Anniversary of Reform and Opening Up at The Great Hall Of The People on December 18, 2018 in Beijing, China. 

© 2018 Andrea Verdelli/Getty Images
(New York) – China’s government tightened its grip on all aspects of society in 2018, Human Rights Watch said today in its World Report 2019. President Xi Jinping’s abusive rule deepened, as evidenced by the constitutional amendment removing presidential term limits, and the oppression of Turkic Muslims in Xinjiang.

“China under President Xi has been a threat to human rights both at home and abroad,” said Sophie Richardson, China director. “Countries and international institutions will need to push back against the repressive policies of a rising superpower.”

China under President Xi has been a threat to human rights both at home and abroad.

Sophie Richardson

China Director

In the 674-page World Report 2019, its 29th edition, Human Rights Watch reviewed human rights practices in more than 100 countries. In his introductory essay, Executive Director Kenneth Roth says that the populists spreading hatred and intolerance in many countries are spawning a resistance. New alliances of rights-respecting governments, often prompted and joined by civic groups and the public, are raising the cost of autocratic excess. Their successes illustrate the possibility of defending human rights – indeed, the responsibility to do so – even in darker times.

The Chinese government dramatically stepped up repression against the 13 million Turkic Muslims in China’s northwestern Xinjiang region. Authorities have carried out mass arbitrary detention, torture, and mistreatment. About 1 million Turkic Muslims are being held indefinitely in “political education” camps, where they are forced to learn Mandarin Chinese and praise the government and Communist Party. Outside the detention facilities, authorities severely restrict movement, politically indoctrinate people, and have over a million officials to monitor residents by regularly staying in their homes.

In 2018, authorities continued politically motivated prosecutions of human rights lawyers and activists. Lawyer Wang Quanzhang has been detained for “subversion of state power” since August 2015 amid a national crackdown on rights lawyers. In July, a court sentenced veteran democracy activist Qin Yongmin to 13 years in prison for “subversion of state power.” Huang Qi, a longtime activist detained since November 2016 on charges of “leaking state secrets,” suffers from serious health conditions without adequate treatment.

Authorities also expanded their assault on the freedom of expression, detaining journalists for covering human rights issues, tightening ideological control over universities, and expanding the internet censorship regime to suppress political information and ostensible “vulgar” content. As the #MeToo movement gained momentum in China in 2018, censors deleted social media posts exposing sexual harassment linked to prominent men. In August, the media reported that Google had been developing a censored search engine app for the Chinese market.

Central and Hong Kong government authorities sought to limit rights in the territory. The government disqualified further pro-democracy figures from running for seats on Hong Kong’s Legislative Council, or Legco. In September, it took the unprecedented step of banning the nonviolent, pro-independence Hong Kong National Party, saying the group’s political stance “poses a real threat to national security.” In October, authorities rejected without explanation a Financial Times journalist’s application to renew his work visa after he hosted a talk by a pro-independence activist.

China’s growing global power makes it an exporter of human rights violations, including at the United Nations, where in 2018 it sought to block critics. In March, the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) adopted a resolution proposed by China that focused on China’s vision for “win-win cooperation” and omitted any mention of accountability for rights violations. China’s “One Belt, One Road” development initiative pressed ahead without safeguards or respect for human rights in many participating countries. Major Chinese technology companies, including Huawei, iFlytek, and ZTE, which have close relations with the government and contribute to police mass surveillance efforts, sought to expand abroad in 2018.

In one of its only human rights concessions all year, Chinese authorities allowed Liu Xia, an artist and the widow of 2010 Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo, to leave for Germany in July after eight years of legally baseless house arrest.

“More than ever, protecting human rights inside and outside China requires governments and institutions working together to end Xi’s abuses,” Richardson said. “No one should be giving a green light to China’s rampant violations.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Attendees hold up smartphones and wave Malaysian national flags and People's Justice Party flags at a Pakatan Harapan alliance event in Petaling Jaya, Selangor, Malaysia, on Wednesday, May 16, 2018. 

© 2018 Sanjit Das/Bloomberg via Getty Images
(New York) – Malaysia’s human rights situation improved significantly in 2018 after the election of a new government that ran on a manifesto promising make the country’s rights record “respected by the world,” Human Rights Watch said today in releasing its World Report 2019. The government’s commitment to reform is being tested, however, by political backlash from members of the former ruling coalition and conservative religious leaders determined to resist change.

The newly elected prime minister, Mahathir Mohammed, told the United Nations General Assembly in September that a “New Malaysia” would abide by “the principles of truth, human rights, the rule of law, justice, fairness, responsibility and accountability, as well as sustainability.” He also pledged to ratify all remaining core UN instruments related to the protection of human rights.

“Since the landmark election last May, Malaysia has been a bright spot for progress on human rights in Southeast Asia,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director. “But it will only remain that way if the government stops backtracking and follows through on its promises for human rights reforms.”

Since the landmark election last May, Malaysia has been a bright spot for progress on human rights in Southeast Asia.

Phil Robertson

Deputy Asia Director

In the 674-page World Report 2019, its 29th edition, Human Rights Watch reviewed human rights practices in more than 100 countries. In his introductory essay, Executive Director Kenneth Roth says that the populists spreading hatred and intolerance in many countries are spawning a resistance. New alliances of rights-respecting governments, often prompted and joined by civic groups and the public, are raising the cost of autocratic excess. Their successes illustrate the possibility of defending human rights – indeed, the responsibility to do so – even in darker times.

The new government announced plans to abolish the death penalty and established a moratorium on executions. It said that the much-abused Sedition Act will be revoked and announced a freeze on its use pending repeal. That freeze proved short-lived, however, with the government lifting it in December in the wake of an outbreak of violence at a Hindu temple. The government also announced that it would create an Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Mechanism to end torture and killings of suspects in police custody, and excessive use of force by police when pursuing and apprehending suspects.

The government’s effort to repeal the Anti-Fake News Law passed by the previous Barisan Nasional government was blocked by the appointed Malaysian Senate. The Senate, controlled by allies of the former ruling coalition, could seek to block further reforms.

While the government has pledged to raise the minimum age for marriage to 18 under both civil and Sharia (Islamic law), progress has been slow and exceptions to the minimum marriage age remain even in those states where the law has been reformed. The new government has also committed to improve the situation for refugees and asylum seekers but has not yet taken concrete steps to do so.

The government backtracked on a commitment to ratify the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination in response to claims by opposition parties and Malay activists that doing so would undermine privileges for the Malay population that are enshrined in the Constitution.

Discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people remains pervasive even with the change in government. Federal law punishes “carnal knowledge against the order of nature” with up to 20 years in prison, while numerous state Sharia laws prohibit both same-sex relations and non-normative gender expression, resulting in frequent arrests of transgender people.

The new minister for religious affairs has called for an end to workplace discrimination against LGBT people. But he also made clear that any visible expression of an alternative sexuality or gender identity will be prosecuted under existing laws, and that he supports programs, broadly discredited, designed to change personal sexual orientation. On September 21, Prime Minister Mahathir stated that Malaysia “cannot accept LGBT culture.”

“The new government has made impressive commitments to improve the human rights situation in Malaysia, but too much is still only on paper,” Robertson said. “The government should act on those commitments in Parliament so that all communities in Malaysia benefit.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

People take part in the 2018 Women's March rally in Jakarta on March 3, 2018. The participants were demonstrating for equal rights and an end to violence against women.

© 2018 BAY ISMOYO/AFP/Getty Images
(Jakarta) – Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s administration took few steps in 2018 to protect the rights of marginalized groups in Indonesia, Human Rights Watch said today in its World Report 2019.

In August 2018, Jokowi issued a plea for religious tolerance in the context of continuing harassment and discrimination against religious and gender minorities. But authorities still arrest and prosecute people under the blasphemy law, and courts sentenced six to prison in 2018. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people in Indonesia have faced increasingly violent, intimidating, and humiliating police raids that violate their rights to privacy.

“President Jokowi chose not to spend political capital by undoing discriminatory regulations or protecting minorities from abuse,” said Elaine Pearson. “It’s not only increasing the risks among marginalized groups but encouraging Islamist militants.”

President Jokowi chose not to spend political capital by undoing discriminatory regulations or protecting minorities from abuse.

Elaine Pearson

Australia Director

In the 674-page World Report 2019, its 29th edition, Human Rights Watch reviewed human rights practices in more than 100 countries. In his introductory essay, Executive Director Kenneth Roth says that the populists spreading hatred and intolerance in many countries are spawning a resistance. New alliances of rights-respecting governments, often prompted and joined by civic groups and the public, are raising the cost of autocratic excess. Their successes illustrate the possibility of defending human rights – indeed, the responsibility to do so – even in darker times.

Indonesia’s Commission on Violence against Women (Komnas Perampuan) reported that hundreds of discriminatory national and local regulations are harming women. They include local laws compelling women and girls to wear the jilbab, or headscarf, in schools, government offices, and public spaces.

The Jokowi administration failed to lift restrictions on foreign journalists from visiting Papua and West Papua provinces, and Indonesian journalists face controls and surveillance there. This hindered efforts to report on an attack by Papuan militants in December that killed at least 17 people.

The Jokowi government took some positive steps in addressing land-grabbing to curb dispossession. In February, with World Bank support, Jokowi initiated a program to register all land in Indonesia, including disputed areas, by 2025. He announced a moratorium on oil palm plantations, which are linked to deforestation, climate change, and abuses against indigenous peoples, instructing his ministries to stop issuing new plantation permits on state forests until 2021.

Many indigenous and peasant rights groups contend that moratoriums and land certification alone are insufficient to resolve land disputes. In 2017, the Agrarian Reform Consortium documented 659 land-related conflicts, affecting more than 650,000 households.

The Indonesian government has taken promising steps to end shackling of people with mental health conditions, reducing the number  who are shackled or locked up in confined spaces from nearly 18,800, the last reported figure, to 12,800 in July, according to government data.

“Some progress on land rights and disability rights is encouraging, but President Jokowi should redouble his efforts to protect the rights of all Indonesians at risk,” Pearson said.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Jolovan Wham participates in a silent protest with eight other activists on an MRT train in Singapore, June 3, 2017.

© 2017 Private
(New York) – Singapore used broad laws in 2018 to intensify already severe restrictions on free speech and assembly, Human Rights Watch said today in its World Report 2019. The government appears poised to introduce legislation on “deliberate online falsehoods” to further curtail political speech prior to possible elections in 2019.

“The Singapore government persists in treating those who express critical views or reporting on them as criminals,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director. “The government’s heavy-handed response to free expression showed no signs of relenting in 2018.”

The Singapore government persists in treating those who express critical views or reporting on them as criminals.

Phil Robertson

Deputy Asia Director

In the 674-page World Report 2019, its 29th edition, Human Rights Watch reviewed human rights practices in more than 100 countries. In his introductory essay, Executive Director Kenneth Roth says that the populists spreading hatred and intolerance in many countries are spawning a resistance. New alliances of rights-respecting governments, often prompted and joined by civic groups and the public, are raising the cost of autocratic excess. Their successes illustrate the possibility of defending human rights – indeed, the responsibility to do so – even in darker times.

In November 2018, authorities raided the home of the editor of alternative news site The Online Citizen, seizing computers and mobile phones. Editor Terry Xu was questioned for eight hours, and on December 13, charged with criminal defamation for a letter to the editor posted on the site. Prosecutors also charged the letter writer, Daniel De Costa, with defamation. The authorities also blocked online news site The States Times Review on the grounds the site had published “fake news.”

Earlier in the year, in April, the government Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority (ACRA) refused to permit the founders of the online news site New Naratif to register a private company to organize discussions and provide editorial services for the site, saying that to do so would be “contrary to national interests.” The agency said the decision was necessary to prevent foreigners from interfering in Singaporean affairs because the parent company received some funding from a foreign foundation.

The authorities have frequently prosecuted critics of Singapore’s judiciary under the country’s broad contempt law. In October, a court found activist Jolovan Wham and Singapore Democratic Party politician John Tan guilty of “scandalizing the judiciary” for their Facebook posts. Wham had shared an article about the constitutional challenge against the Anti-Fake News Act in Malaysia and commented that, “Malaysia’s judges are more independent than Singapore’s for cases with political implications.” Tan later posted on his Facebook page that, “[b]y charging Jolovan for scandalizing the judiciary, the [Attorney-General’s Chambers] only confirms what he said was true.” They face up to three years in prison under a law that Britain and other Commonwealth countries have scrapped as antiquated and undemocratic.

Draconian restrictions on public assemblies have long been used to prevent even peaceful protests by single individuals. Seelan Paley, a performance artist, was convicted of violating the Public Order Act by walking from Hong Lim Park to Parliament carrying a piece of art to commemorate the 32 years that Chia Thye Poh was detained under the Internal Security Act. Paley was sentenced to two weeks in prison after refusing to pay a fine of S$2,500 (US$1,800).

Singapore criminalizes consensual sexual relations between men, and systematically targets for censorship or severe restriction any positive media or public depiction of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) persons.

Foreign migrant workers also face a range of labor rights abuses and exploitation through debts owed to recruitment agents, non-payment of wages, restrictions on movement, confiscation of passports, and sometimes physical and sexual abuse.

“For all its purported sophistication and modernity, Singapore still criminalizes consensual sexual relations between men and censors positive public depictions of LGBT persons and their community,” Robertson said. “Migrant workers face a battery of rights violations from employers who can withdraw their legal status in Singapore at any time and force them on a plane home without justice or compensation.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Refugee advocates had a rare win when a social media campaign and huge media spotlight convinced Thailand not to return a young Saudi woman, Rahaf Mohammed Al-Qanun, to her allegedly abusive family. The United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, was able to intervene and recognize her as a refugee and Canada agreed to resettle her. She arrived in Toronto on Saturday.

I can’t help but wonder, though, what might have happened had she sought refuge at the U.S.-Mexico border instead of the Bangkok airport. Do Americans sympathetic to her plight see any connection with the women fleeing abusive spouses and parents in Central America?

Last June, then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions reviewed for himself a case before the Board of Immigration Appeals and reversed its grant of asylum to a Salvadoran woman who had survived nearly 15 years of horrific abuse by her husband, including numerous rapes and beatings. To reject her claim, he overruled the appeals board precedent that had recognized “married women in Guatemala who are unable to leave their relationship” as members of a social group that could qualify for asylum. “Generally,” his decision said, “claims by aliens pertaining to domestic violence or gang violence perpetrated by non-governmental actors will not qualify for asylum.”

It is true that the situation for women and girls in Saudi Arabia is unique in many respects, including its guardianship system, which requires women to have a male guardian to approve critical decisions in their lives such as traveling outside the country or getting married. But it is sadly not uncommon for women and girls in many other places to be trapped in abusive relationships even without such regulations.

A 2015 UNHCR report, “Women on the Run,” collected Central American women’s accounts of being trapped in marriages with prolonged and severe domestic violence, for which authorities provided no meaningful help. Some of the women’s abusive partners had additional power leverage because they had ties to the police. The report said that 10 percent of the women interviewed stated that the police or other authorities were the direct source of their harm.

Other women were trapped by their partner’s gang connections: “My husband was connected with the maras,” a Salvadoran woman said of El Salvador’s street gangs.  “When he abused me, I knew there was nowhere I could go.” Another Salvadoran woman told UNHCR of “standing in front of the police, bleeding, and the police said, ‘Well, he’s your husband.’”

Three important elements are needed to establish a refugee claim based on domestic violence:

  • The threat of serious harm;
  • That the harm is on account of being part of a particular social group that refugee law protects; and,
  • That the state is unable or unwilling to protect its own citizen.

The 1951 Refugee Convention, on which U.S. asylum law is based, protects refugees fearing persecution based on race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion. U.S. courts have interpreted a particular social group, like the other four categories, as one with “immutable characteristics” that either cannot be changed, like race, or are so fundamental to a person that they should not be compelled to change, like political opinion.

Gender fits the bill; so does sexual orientation, having a disability, or being a member of a family. But Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker recently has taken another case out of the hands of the appeals board that will consider whether and under what circumstances a person can claim asylum as a member of a family unit. It appears the Trump administration’s Justice Department is intent on challenging the concept of a particular social group as a ground for asylum in even the most immutable cases.

The existence of other broad convention grounds such as race and nationality notwithstanding, courts have shied away from accepting “women and girls” per se as a protected social group, preferring instead narrow categories. For example, the landmark Fauziya Kasinga case, which granted asylum to a woman fleeing genital mutilation, defined her group as “young women who are members of the Tchamba-Kunsuntu Tribe of northern Togo who have not been subjected to female genital mutilation, as practiced by that tribe, and who oppose the practice.”

Of course, being a woman per se is not a ground for asylum any more than being a member of a race, nationality or a religion, but gender should be recognized comparably as a category deserving protection if it is the basis for being persecuted.

So, let’s celebrate Rahaf Mohammed Al-Qanun’s refugee status, as we celebrated Fauziya Kasinga’s. But let’s not forget the Central American women seeking asylum along the U.S. southern border whose lives still hang in the balance, and let’s campaign for the U.S. government to recognize the legitimacy of their asylum claims.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Former President of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai speaks at a panel discussion titled 'Disrupting the Established Order' at the TRT World Forum, themed 'Envisioning Peace and Security in a Fragmented World' at the Swiss Hotel The Bosphorus in Istanbul, Turkey on October 3, 2018.

© 2018 Arif Hudaverdi Yaman/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

After former Afghan President Hamid Karzai finished his remarks at the 2019 Raisina Dialogue in New Delhi, a voice from the back of the room asked the very question on my mind: “How will you ensure the role of females in this process is one that's actionable?”

Karzai’s response was clear:

“I don't think there will be a kind of a role for women in the process itself.… What is more important is that once peace is reached and there is a settlement...that we make sure that our movement to the future is equally strong with regards to the opportunities that the country should give to women, that we have given to women.”

Karzai has no official role in ongoing talks in Afghanistan, in which there have not yet been any direct meetings between the Taliban and the Afghan government. But he inserts himself regularly into Afghan politics and is an influential voice. So it was devastating to hear Karzai apparently support, in a public forum, the exclusion of women from the talks. His suggestion that progress was made on women’s rights because his government “gave” it to them was also troubling.  

Notably, the next day he issued a clarification asserting that: “Afghan women must be part of the peace process, but more than that they must be benefitted by the outcomes of the peace process so that none of the freedoms they regained (post-Taliban) are lost.” 

Afghan women’s rights activists have been fighting for years to secure equal participation in the future of their country. They’ve made some progress against the toughest of odds, but much remains undone. Current President Ashraf Ghani’s negotiating team for the talks includes three women, but the Afghan government isn’t even at the table yet. And the government, along with its international partners, have always been weak concerning women’s role in peace talks.

Women and girls in Afghanistan continue to face extreme forms of violence and discrimination. Two-thirds of adolescent girls are still not in school. Important legislation on violence against women – signed by Karzai himself – is still largely unenforced. A growing proportion of civilian casualties in the conflict are women and girls. High-profile women and women in public life face harassment, threats, and even murder.  

Nearly 20 years ago, United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 called for women’s participation in all peace processes. Since the resolution’s adoption in 2000, many governments have begun to recognize that women’s roles in peace processes are not negotiable add-ons, but fundamental to sustainable and implementable peace accords.

Karzai should understand this. His remarks, even after clarifying them, are a damaging betrayal of the role of women in future talks.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

In the 80s and 90s, Newsweek Magazine delivered US women the cheery news that they were more likely to be killed by a terrorist than to find a husband after age 40. There were too many women—supposedly—and not enough men, and women were the losers. And, of course, staying single was a horrible fate.

The World Health Organization says the natural sex ratio at birth is about 105 boys to every 100 girls and its best to have equal numbers of men and women in a society. You need a few extra boys for balance, because men die earlier.

We are learning right now what happens when the sex ratio becomes wildly out of whack, through a huge unintended experiment. In the world’s two most populated countries—China and India—there is a serious woman shortage.

For example, for several decades in China, the most populated country in the world, sex ratios at birth have been much higher than 105, sometimes exceeding 120 boys for every 100 girls.  Many parts of India, the second most populated country, have also, for decades, had a sex ratio at birth significantly higher than 105. The consequence is that in those countries combined—which together have a population of about 2.73 billion—there are now an estimated 80 million extra men. “Nothing like this has happened in human history,” the Washington Post wrote in an April 2018 article.

In India, many families used sex-selective abortion to choose boys, prompting the passage of a law that made it illegal to screen for the sex of the fetus and conduct sex-selective abortions. In China, similar decisions were encouraged by the “one-child” policy in place from 1979 to 2015, which prompted many parents to decide that their sole child must be a boy.  

The common thread is gender discrimination—from garden-variety sexism to practical concerns about sons being more likely to financially support parents in old age and provide grandchildren, while daughters are expected to live with their in-laws—which is hardly unique to China and India. When women lack equal rights and patriarchy is deeply engrained, it is no surprise that parents choose to not to have daughters.

But there are consequences. For example, China now has a huge, and growing, gender gap among the generations most likely to be seeking a spouse—a bride shortage. Experts project that many of the extra men will never marry; others may go to extreme measures to do so.

The woman shortage is having harmful consequences in China and sometimes in neighboring countries. Human Rights Watch looked at one of those consequences for a report forthcoming in 2019 focused on bride-trafficking from Myanmar to China. In Myanmar’s Kachin and northern Shan states, bordering China, long-standing conflict escalated in recent years, displacing over 100,000 people. Traffickers prey on vulnerable women and girls, offering jobs in, and transport to, China. Then they sell them, for around $3,000 to $13,000, to Chinese families struggling to find brides for their sons. Once purchased, women and girls are typically locked in a room and raped repeatedly, with the goal of getting them pregnant quickly so they can provide a baby for the family. After giving birth, some are allowed to escape—but forced to leave their children behind.

There is evidence of similar patterns of bride migration and trafficking in Cambodia, North Korea, and Vietnam, and more may emerge from other countries bordering China. Importing women doesn’t solve the shortage—it spreads it.

Trafficking is only one consequence. The woman shortage has also been linked to other forms of violence against women. Other consequences include social instability, labor market distortions, and economic shifts.

There is irony here. When there are too many women, women lose. When there are too few women … women again lose. But the truth is we all lose. We know that skewed sex ratios are already having harmful consequences and we do not fully understand what other long-term consequences there may be for societies affected by these disparities.

China ended the “one-child” policy but continued restricting reproductive rights through a new “two-child” policy. It has banned sex-selective abortion. But such prohibitions are often both ineffective and a threat to women’s rights to access abortion and make their own reproductive choices.

China, India, and other affected countries need to act urgently to mitigate the effects of the woman shortage. They should carefully examine the consequences of the woman shortage, including links to trafficking and other forms of violence against women. More importantly, they need to do much more to tackle the fundamental cause of the demographic imbalance—gender discrimination and the distaste for daughters that it breeds.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am