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A two-day workshop organised by the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) concluded with demands for urgent measures to end violence, discrimination and marginalisation faced by the citizens on account of their religious beliefs.
Members of religious minority groups and minority Muslim sects from different parts of Pakistan participated in the workshop in Karachi, describing the gradual worsening of their respective situations. The role of authorities in the perpetration of institutionalised discrimination on grounds of religion was largely evidenced. The participants stated that the authorities — through their failure to adequately intervene despite Pakistan’s obligation under UN treaties stressing equality, dignity, rule of law and protection of human rights of all Pakistanis — rendered themselves responsible for serious violations of international human rights law, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The absence of or inadequate and inappropriate intervention were highlighted in several sectors:
The urgent need to ensure respect, protection and promotion of equality of human rights of all Pakistanis irrespective of their faith and religion was emphasised. The blatant impunity of the perpetrators of violations on account of religious belief was noted, which unfortunately fuels the perpetration of further crimes. The absence of adequate protection to the judges and lawyers involved in the prosecution of these crimes was also highlighted.
At the heart of the judicial challenges were the abuse of blasphemy law and its impact on society. Pakistan, as requested by UN human rights mechanisms, should repeal this law or at the very least immediately put in place safeguards to prevent abuse of this law to victimise citizens, often from minority religious communities. In addition, hate speech against minorities should be prosecuted by the courts.
Discrimination in law and practice is also a cause of major concern. Ending a separate list for Ahmadi voters; lack of codified personal law for Hindus and Sikhs; lack of effective representation for religious minority groups; addressing reservations of religious minorities ahead of the next census; and giving control over administration of religious sites to the minorities were underlined as key concerns.
The institutionalised discrimination also feeds hatred within society through the inappropriate representation of minorities in curricula and in school textbooks, which need to be revised, in compliance with Pakistan’s obligations under its international human rights obligations. Religious education, if it only addresses one religion, even if that is the religion of the majority, should be excluded from general curricula.
Throughout the pattern of religious discrimination, women and girls suffer doubly, notably through the practice of forced conversion, and the multiplication of sexual violence. These cases ought to be investigated, prosecuted, women and girls provided with appropriate shelters, redress, and reparation. Safety of families of women and girl victims should also be ensured.
The pattern of systematic discrimination has been nurturing the grounds on which the political violence has grown throughout the country, under the hands of a minority of extremist elements. Such violence is also insufficiently addressed, notably over lack of action in response to militants demanding jizya (protection money) from Sikhs in FATA. The Taliban in Khyber Agency in particular have reportedly been giving written acknowledgements for the jizya they received.
The violence, while initially targeting minorities, now threatens civil society and all progressive elements — including human rights defenders and conscious citizens who demand respect for human rights — and those who defend them, notably the independent media. Beyond these are the fundamentals of the Pakistan nation, and its economic and social survival which are endangered. It is thus fundamental to respond to such violence by addressing its root causes, and ensuring respect and promotion of equality of human rights of all Pakistanis irrespective of their faith and religion.
The Paris-based FIDH is the world’s oldest human rights body, an NGO with a membership of 178 organisations operating in over 100 countries. The FIDH delegation to Pakistan included four eminent human rights activists – Shawan Jabarin (Palestine), Rosemarie Trajano (Philippines), Antoine Madelin (France) and Ihsan Ali Fauzie (Indonesia).
Source: Daily Times – 29.01.2014 – http://www.dailytimes.com.pk/national/29-Jan-2014/fidh-hrcp-workshop-seeks-urgent-steps-to-end-faith-based-violence