The International Council of Jurists (ICJ) has begun probing Pakistan’s human rights record in preparation for its Universal Periodic Review. Among the issues being probed, violence against religious minorities, including Christians, will be reviewed by the ICJ. Religious minority abuse under Pakistan’s blasphemy laws and widespread instances forced marriage and forced conversion of women and children have already been recommended for investigation. Will this probe begin a time of change for Christians in Pakistan?
12/2/2014 Pakistan (Tribune) – Pakistan’s human rights record might be contentious on several levels but in March last year, at its Universal Periodic Review with the Human Rights Council, Pakistan was lauded for its “commitment” to defending human rights.
It had accepted 126 proposals put forward by member countries, rejected seven and claimed that 34 of them were pending.
The International Council of Jurists on Monday held a mid-term review of Pakistan’s implementation of its commitments made at the UPR.
The consultation will be followed by a mid-term implementation report discussing Pakistan’s progress in fulfilling its commitments made before the Human Rights Council.
Legal experts discussed opportunities for mid-term advocacy; discriminatory laws against religious minorities; violence against disadvantaged groups and their political participation; and how to address religious hatred and building inter-faith harmony.
Reema Omer, legal adviser for the ICJ, opened her talk by identifying five thematic areas in the UPR: women’s rights; freedom of religion; rights of the child; enforced and involuntary disappearances; freedom of expression and human rights defenders. She called on the state and advocacy groups to investigate attacks and violence against religious minorities and sects and bring those responsible to justice. She stressed the need for taking deterrent measures to combat discrimination against women, girls and religious minorities and work towards eliminating poverty among those groups.
The objective of the mid-term implementation report, she said, was to identify Pakistan’s obligations with respect to meeting these recommendations. The report will identify shortcomings and weaknesses in Pakistan’s 2012 UPR recommendations with the view to strengthen recommendations for the next review in April, 2017, as well.
Advocate Hammad Saeed, speaking on violence against religious minorities, pointed out several commitments and recommendations Pakistan had accepted in this regard, but failed to implement. He said in most cases of elopement and forced conversion, the concerns of minorities were completely disregarded at police stations. “Once a person [from a minority group] is forced into marriage, two certificates are produced: a marriage certificate and a certificate of conversion; followed by a statement before the magistrate, sometimes recorded under duress,” he said. Saeed spoke about the need to regulate issuance of conversion certificates, especially in the case of children. He said the regulatory body must scrutinize these certificates carefully. “But there’s a catch here, once a conversion certificate is produced and a statement registered before the magistrate, the non-Muslim victim cannot retract his or her statement – for that would be apostasy. There is no way out,” he said. He said instead of recording a statement before a magistrate in a court – a hostile environment for a victim – the statement could be recorded before social workers, women police officers or a member of the community considered compassionate. Another problem is the societal celebration that goes with converting a non-Muslim to Islam. “This needs to change,” he said.
Saeed spoke of a case in which a woman had spent 10 years in a forced marriage. She was presented before a magistrate and a high court. The high court judge took her to a separate room for counselling. He gave her two hours to make a decision. There she broke down and told the judge that her husband had told her that he would kill her family if she revealed that she was in a forced marriage.