(22 January 2016) Abdul Khaliq Shah is the Executive Director, Institute for Social & Economic Justice (ISEJ) and Focal person of Campaign for Abolition of Third World Debt (CADTM) Pakistan Chapter. Following is an edited transcript of the conversation BR Research had with Mr Abdul Khaliq.
BR Research: Tell us about your organisation?
Abdul Khaliq Shah: Institute for Social & Economic Justice (ISEJ) is not-for-profit, non-governmental organisation, registered under Societies Act 1860. It is made up of social activists and ordinary folk who initiated the Campaign for the Abolition of Third World Debt (CADTM) Pakistan in 2006 after devastating earthquake in Kashmir in 2005; there are some internationals conventions that allow low income countries to freeze their debt retirement process temporarily if a big chunk of population is suffering from the lack of fundamental amenities of life.
In the 2005 earthquake, 80,000 people lost their lives and millions were rendered homeless. Pakistan was a low-income country at that time, and we had the basis for requesting the government for this kind of external debt cancellation campaign. The drive was able to effectively highlight the issue of debt domination and debt justice for the first time in the country. Later in 2010 floods, CADTM-Pakistan in collaboration with local civil society launched powerful campaign to drop Pakistan’s illegitimate debt. And then in 2014, the institute (ISEJ) was formed with the help of CADTM-Pakistan friends. Last year we became a registered NGO.
BRR: What are your key areas of work?
AKS: In 2014, ISEJ was established with specific focus on Debt, Tax and Trade Justice. We undertake vigorous researches on socio-economic issues and hard-hitting campaigns that seek to bring about social and economic justice for the poor of the country. Our main areas of work include; privatisation, public debt, tax and economic justice. We act in solidarity with human rights activists, civil society organisations and social movements at local, national, regional and international level.
To us poverty is not inescapable. It’s a result of government policies, economic structures and corporate behaviour. Therefore, our aim is to pressurise decision-makers, organise public opposition to anti-people policies, produce result-oriented researches, and show perseverance in changing the structures and policies for the good of the people.
When we work on economic justice, we stress compliance on human rights as well. For example, we are very excited that Pakistan has been awarded GSP Plus status, and we have a separate working group for it – both the government and the civil society are supposed to submit their monitoring reports to the EU. But we also emphasise human rights compliance to be the pre-requisite for the GSP Plus status to bear its fruits. So in essence, we are working on the human rights conventions of GSP Plus status, stressing at least the implementation of existing laws, and improvement in governance, which would sustain and retains our GSP Plus status. Here, Sri Lanka’s instance is a learning experience; the South Asian country was awarded the GSP Plus status, but the EU withdrew it within two years due to the human rights violation in the Tamil issue.
BRR: What have been the current government’s efforts in propagating the civil societies’ tasks?
AKS: So far, we have felt that the government is susceptible to such ideas. Setting up monitoring cells and the Human Rights Commission are key steps taken by the government in this regard. There is also a strong campaign against child labour. We are now pressing for budget allocation, resources and equipment for the commission so that things can get going.
BRR: What areas of human rights do you think need the attention at the earliest?
AKS: We need immediate attention on laws for torture, early marriages in girls, basic human rights like investing in social capital especially women empowerment. World-wide, women empowerment is considered key in building up the social capital. The three sections in the latest country report by the IMF are taxation, cost of doing business and women rights. And I believe the real empowerment for women lies in their economic independence. There is a very interesting global study by the World Bank that says that corruption will be minimised by almost 50 percent with women at the key decision making positions.
Also another important aspect that we feel is a sophisticated violation of human rights is the debt. We aim to propel the process of bringing debt justice in the country. And I believe a big role is played the imperialism of epistemology and vague terminologies that is deliberately used by the International Financial Institutions to complex the debt debate to scare you off. We insist that the government should make elaborate efforts to reduce its foreign and domestic debts and devise policies that help decrease the country’s dependency on the loans.
Today, debt resolution is a global issue. Last year, the UN passed a resolution for debt resolution mechanism where human right violation is an important benchmark among other yardsticks. We worry about financial debt obligation violation, but what about human rights violation? That a question that needs attention.
BRR: What kind of projects have you undertaken for human rights violation?
AKS: We are focusing GSP Plus; we are making reports with the help of civil society inculcating the rights of women, minority, indigenous people, etc. We are also working on torture; there are no laws on custodial torture in Pakistan though the country ratified the UN convention in 2010.