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Glimmer of hope for Pakistani minorities

Pakistan has long been a cause of concern for nations and international human rights groups committed to protecting religious minorities, and Pakistani Christians often bear the brunt of hostility from both government and society. Recently, however, the ruling of Pakistan’s highest court for the formation of a national council to protect minority rights has given a glimmer of hope for these vulnerable minorities, though it remains too early to tell how much Pakistan intends to honor the ruling in its policies. Nasir Saeed, UK director of the advocacy group Center for Legal Aid, Assistance, and Settlement (CLAAS), offers his analysis of the current and historical situation in Pakistan, as well as hope that the new ruling marks a change for the better for Pakistani Christians and other religious minorities.

By Nasir Saeed

7/1/2014 Pakistan (Pakistan Christian Post) – The situation of minorities in Pakistan has been rapidly deteriorating for the last several years, and European and American heads of state have not only expressed their concern in the media, but have directly addressed Pakistani governments.

It is believed that because of pressure from MPs [members of Parliament], the church and civil society, during the visit of the Pakistani Prime Minister to the UK in April, Prime Minister David Cameron directly raised the issue of the misuse of blasphemy law and forced conversion of Christian and Hindu girls.

Apart from the Commonwealth, UNO and EU, international organisations of human rights have been repeatedly expressing their concerns over the treatment of religious minorities and misuse of Blasphemy law in their reports, statements and correspondence.

The USCIRF (US Commission on International Religious Freedom) constantly raises its concern about human rights violations and treatment of minorities with the Pakistani government, and earlier this year said that Pakistani blasphemy laws are incompatible with international human rights laws and even recommended Pakistan be designated as country of particular concern (CPC) which could result in sanctions.

At the launch of the Pakistan Human Rights Commission’s annual report, Secretary General Mr. I A Rehman said Pakistan is becoming an increasingly dangerous country for religious minorities. The MSP (Movement for Solidarity and Peace) revealed in its report that 1,000 Christian and Hindu girls, aged between 12 and 25, are forced to convert to Islam every year.

This revelation has shaken the international community but nothing seems to have an effect on Pakistani politicians and the government, as the minorities are not considered true citizens, but aliens and not their responsibility.

There was a time when Pakistani politicians used to say that minorities were a sacred trust… [but] the mindset and policies towards minorities remained unchanged and that is why since the inception of Pakistan, until now, no government has ever bothered to make legislation to protect minorities’ rights. There has been lot of rhetoric and even promises, but nothing done practically –something Pakistani politicians are very expert at.

Pakistani blasphemy laws continue to be used as an excuse to intimidate and harass the minorities, attack and desecrate their churches, set fire to Christian villages and towns, imprison innocent people, and even for vigilante and extra judicial killings by mobs and by the police. But no one has ever been questioned or brought to justice, and instead they have been given a silent consent to carry on free from impunity.

Christians consider themselves the main target of blasphemy laws but recently Hindu temples have also been set on fire, and Sikh’s holy book was desecrated – again with no one being punished.

Minorities have been forced into such desperation that Hindus have started fleeing to India, and Christians to the Far East, to save their lives and to protect their next generation’s future.

However, it seems that Christians’ and other religious minorities’ prayers have been answered at last, and the time has come to wipe their tears and heal their wounds as the Chief justice of Pakistan, has recently ordered the formation of a National Council for Minority Rights in his decision over the suo motto case on the Peshawar church attack last year.

…It is of course an historic day as Christians and other religious minorities have had a long standing demand to set up an independent and autonomous commission for minorities’ rights, to protect minorities’ rights, but until now none of the governments paid any attention. The chief justice has also said to form a task force to ensure religious harmony and protection of the rights of minorities.

The chief justice started reading the order by stating: “All mankind is from Adam and Eve, an Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab nor a non-Arab has any superiority over an Arab; also a white has no superiority over black nor a black has any superiority over white except by piety (taqwa) and good action.”

It was further stated in this order that those responsible for religious hate speech on social media must be brought to justice and children who face harassment at their schools because of their religious beliefs should also be protected.

India already has a similar commission for minorities, and its decisions are respected. But it is too early to say how helpful this commission will be to protect the minorities in Pakistan, while for the last several decades a hate agenda has been promoted through governmental policies, and school curriculum.

…It is difficult to say whether government will take interest immediately implement the order. In 2012 President Asif Ali Zardari signed a bill to form an independent and powerful National Commission for Human Rights Bill, but that is still pending.

The Supreme Court’s order has raised minorities’ hopes and formation of this commission could prove the beginning of the end of misery of religious minorities. Therefore, the Apex court should set a time frame, monitor this whole process, and make sure funds are provided by the federal government and that the commission is powerful and autonomous, otherwise no one can stop the inevitable extinction of minorities in Pakistan.

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