The practice of honour killings in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan has deep roots, and is often justified with the excuse of being a “cultural problem. Such murders are known locally as karo-kari. An honour killing is the homicide of a member of a family , most likely a female, that is believed to have brought dishonour upon the family or community. It is believed that reputational damage is removed and honour is restored following such killing. Pakistan has the highest number of documented honour killings per capita of any country in the world, and it is estimated that there are far more taking place than the documented number. Pakistan is where around one-fifth of the world’s honour killings are performed.

Despite legislation passed in 2016 to reform the laws on honour killings, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan has found that the number of honour killings has continued to rise, unabated. Over 730 such crimes were recorded between June 2017 and August 2018. This troubling finding provides further support to growing doubts of Pakistan’s willingness or ability to effectively implement the laws and conventions it has ratified on women’s rights. As a beneficiary of the General Scheme of Preferences Plus (GSP+) program, a special incentive arrangement designed to promote sustainable development and good governance practices in the recipients, and as a signatory to the Convention on the Elimination of Violence Against Women (CEDAW) Pakistan is obligated to put an end to these cruel practices.

In recent years, several questions have been raised in the European Parliament on Pakistan’s atrocities relating to honour crimes. Building on a line of existing questioning (E-000494/2019; E-0005012/2018), Polish Member of European Parliament (MEP), Agnieszka Kozłowska-Rajewicz of the European People’s Party (PPE) posed a question to the European Commission inquiring into its plans to support and protect the rights of all people living in Pakistan. MEP Kozłowska-Rajewicz highlighted the fact that according to the Commission’s biannual report (COM(2018)0036) Pakistan received 74% of preferential treatment under the GSP+ last year, even though reports describe the situation as ‘mixed’ and ‘requiring further work’.

In light of this information, MEP Kozłowska-Rajewicz asked if the Commission uses statistical measures for monitoring the implementation of adopted laws and conventions or if it is purely qualitative measures being used. She added to this by asking who is responsible for determining compliance and if there are any established benchmarks or ‘red lines’ that are not to be crossed.

MEP Kozłowska-Rajewicz then requested to know how the Commission intends to respond to Pakistan’s failure to protect victims of honour killings, asking “will Pakistan face any legal consequences for these failures, such as restrictions on preferential treatment”. She specifically asked the Commission “which red line would have to be crossed in order for the Commission to consider withdrawing GSP+ preferences if serious and systematic violations of GSP+ principles, especially CEDAW, fail to produce meaningful progress”.

The question was responded to by Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström on June 25, 2019. The response outlined the GSP+’s monitoring process explaining that all beneficiaries are “subject to strict monitoring of its commitments under the 27 international conventions covered under GSP+”. The monitoring process for the GSP+ is overseen by the European Commission and the European External Action Service (EEAS) and involves written communications, monitoring missions, and joint committees. This process is also supported by input from external information sources such as United Nation and International Labour Organization reports and other international organisations and civil society groups.

Commissioner Malmström reported that the European Union had raised concerns over the issue of violence against women in Pakistan during a monitoring mission in October of 2018, “and in subsequent written exchanges”. The issues of violence against women has been identified by Commission experts and the EEAS as a priority area for Pakistan. “The GSP+ process has contributed to substantive progress at the legislative level on this issue, with the adoption of the federal anti-honour killings law in 2016”. She asserted that the EU is closely monitoring the implementation of new legislation along side sever other EU projects including “the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights, [which] support[s] women’s rights and religious minority rights in Pakistan, including one combatting acid attacks”.

In response to MEP Kozłowska-Rajewicz’s pointed question of withdrawal of a beneficiary from the GSP+, Commissioner Malmström asserted that “the goal of the GSP+ monitoring process is to ensure that beneficiary countries continue to make meaningful progress in the implementation of their obligations. The withdrawal of tariff preferences is a measure of last resort”.

This answer continues to avoid the question of what will be the final straw in Pakistan’s mounting pile of human rights abuses. Europe must be careful to not support such blatant violations of human rights by continuing to wait for change. After all, can it not be said that by not acting, Commissioner Malmstrom is, in effect, supporting these dishonourable men, who have been receiving sympathy and approval for acts of murder, and ignoring the deaths of thousands of women who have been killed in the name of “honour”?

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