After International Day for Elimination of Violence against Women, a reflection on recent incidents involving Pakistani male diplomats.
by Massimo Introvigne
November 25 was celebrated throughout the world as the International Day for Elimination of Violence Against Women. We were contacted by an insider source in Pakistan, who told us that, as a magazine regularly covering human rights problems in that country, we should also pay attention to the complaints by female diplomats and employees who denounce sexual harassment by male Pakistani diplomats. Pakistan is an Islamic Republic and its government’s officials are supposed to adhere to Islamic values, the more so when they represent their country abroad.
Our source directed us to a recent article about an incident in the Pakistani Embassy in Mexico. Both the article and the magazine looked gossipy enough to us. Rather than about abuse, the story was about an older married man in a position of power who allegedly seduced a younger girl by promising he would divorce his wife and marry her, a promise he had no intention of keeping. If true, the story would not exactly be good PR for an Islamic Republic but would be as old as the relationships between married men and naive young women.
However, since our source insisted that female Pakistani Foreign Ministry officers and employees are complaining about a consistent pattern of abuse, we decided to investigate by looking at what might have pierced the veil of diplomatic confidentiality and transpired in Pakistani media.
For instance, they had reported that on May 5, 2020, the Foreign Ministry issued a press release informing that the First Secretary of the Ukrainian Embassy in Kiev had been fired for “gross misconduct, conduct unbecoming of an officer and gentleman, conduct prejudicial to good order and service discipline, sexually harassment of a local cleaner/messenger, abuse of authority, creating a hostile environment and unlawful termination of a local employee (in Kiev).” He had been investigated and found guilty of sexually harassing a Ukrainian employee of the Embassy, then threatening her to prevent the woman from reporting him.
While the diplomat posted in Ukraine, to the Ministry’s credit, was immediately terminated, what our source claims is that the Pakistani authorities did not acknowledge that the problem was systemic.
In August 2022, it was reported that a senior Pakistani diplomat who had held important positions and was then Consul General in Barcelona, Spain, had been accused of having sent harassing messages to a female staffer through social media and finally assaulted her in a hotel. According to “The Nation,” “The Foreign Ministry sent a two-member team to Barcelona and Madrid to probe the case. They completed the investigation, on the basis of which the Foreign Office removed the officer from his position and recalled him to the headquarters in Islamabad, where he is facing disciplinary proceedings.”
On May 14, 2022, the Federal Ombudsman Secretariat for Protection against Harassment announced that “After threadbare security and analysis of the case and after completing the due process of law, accused Nadeem Riaz, head of mission embassy of Pakistan Rome Italy was proceeded against and imposed upon major penalty of dismissal from service under section 4(4) of the Act 2010.” The former Ambassador to Italy was found guilty of having sexually harassed for months the female Pakistani Trade Officer of the Embassy. Italian media also took an interest in the case.
It seems that, after all, our source may be right, and women who work in Pakistani embassies in different countries do have a case, although of course accusations should never be generalized and we have no reasons to doubt that most of the country’s male diplomats are not engaged in harassing female colleagues and employees.
In Pakistan, however, measures are taken limiting the liberty of religious and social minorities, which are justified by the fact that the country should protects its status and image as an Islamic Republic. What happened in more than one Pakistani Embassy makes these claims somewhat less believable.