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Pakistan unwilling to protect religious minorities rights under ICCPR

Despite Pakistan’s international obligations to protect its religious minorities, particularly under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), various reports affirm that religious freedom conditions are at “an all-time low” in the heavily Muslim-majority nation. Here, a Pakistani journalist details both Pakistan’s commitments under the ICCPR and its long-standing failure to fulfill those duties.

By Abbas Kassar

7/14/2014 Pakistan (PCP) – Minority rights, as applying to ethnic, religious or linguistic minorities and indigenous peoples, are an integral part of international human rights law. Like children rights, women’s rights and refugee rights, minority rights are a legal framework designed to ensure that a specific group which is in a vulnerable, disadvantaged or marginalized position in society, is able to achieve equality and is protected from persecution. The first post-war international treaty to protect minorities, designed to protect them from the greatest threat to their existence, was the U.N. Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.

Subsequent human rights standards that codify minority rights include the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Pakistan signed the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) in 2008 and ratified it with reservations in 2010. But when European Union emissaries had warned Pakistan [that it would] be deprived of Generalized System of Preferences plus status of grant of trade benefits accorded by EU, which in other words means [a] ban on Pakistani exports, then in 2011, the Pakistan government, withdrew almost all of the reservations. Hence, since July 2011, Pakistan has ratified the ICCPR almost entirely committing itself to upholding the civil and political rights of its citizens including citizens belonging to minority community.

In Article 18 of the ICCPR is the guaranteed freedom of thought, conscience and religion. The right to religion includes the freedom to adopt and profess in public or private, freedom of worship and unfettered right to believe and manifest one’s religion accordingly. Article 19 goes further and says that everyone shall have the right to his or her opinions without interference. Article 20 of the ICCPR forbids any advocacy of religious hatred.

The freedom to profess one’s religion is integral to the ICCPR and therefore any law that abridges that freedom is in violation of and in contradiction to Pakistan’s international commitment

[Human Rights Watch] noted that the condition of religious minorities deteriorated sharply in Pakistan in 2012, with the government unwilling or unable to provide protection against attacks by extremists.

Christians, Sikhs, Hindus and other minorities throughout Pakistan recount numerous horrific incidents of attacks and threats and express an overwhelming sense of fear. Minority Rights Group International, a watchdog organization, had ranked Pakistan as ‘the world’s top country for major increases in threats to minorities since 2007.’ The group also lists Pakistan as seventh on the list of 10 most dangerous countries for minorities, after Somalia, Sudan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Myanmar and Congo.

In Sindh, Hindu women are being abducted and forcibly converted to Islam. Many Christians are suffering under the blasphemy law, a law which itself is in contradiction to the ICCPR. Churches, temples and other places of worship are routinely destroyed.

…Despite incidents like Shanti Nagar, Gojra, Sialkot, Badmi Bagh, and the attack on a Peshawar church being self-evident as to the increasing religious intolerance against minorities by the state and society, if you ask any Pakistani politician about the state of minorities or how protected they are in Pakistan, their prompt reply will be that minorities are happy and enjoying equal rights in the country.

The U.S. Commission on Religious Freedom said in a recent report that conditions in Pakistan had “hit an all-time low” and governments had failed to adequately protect minorities and arrest perpetrators of crimes against them.

Scores of girls like 11 years Amriah Masih,12 years Muqadas Kainat, even 6 years Viginti Meghwar ,Kakoo Kolhen,14 years Manishsa Kumari and others were raped but their culprits have never been brought to book.

The guarantees of freedom of religious beliefs accorded to minorities under ICCPR are also violated by kidnapping minority girls and forcibly converting them to Islam.

According to a report published in Pakistan Today on 8 April 2014, around 1,000 Christian and Hindu women in Pakistan are forcibly converted to Islam and married to Muslim men every year… The report states the estimates of the incidence of forced marriage and conversion of 700 victim Christian girls and 300 Hindu girls per year, adding that the true scale of the problem is likely to be much greater, as a number of cases are never reported or do not progress through the law-enforcement and legal systems.

According to the US commission on International religious freedom (USCIRF) annual report, “The government of Pakistan continues to engage in and tolerate systematic, ongoing, and violations of freedom of religion or belief.”

To sum up, Pakistan is in complete and total violation of its international obligations of religious freedom, civil and political rights, which can jeopardize the status of grant of trade benefits to Pakistan under the GSP Plus Scheme of the European Union.

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