State Department Escalates Pressure on Pakistan for Return of Abducted Teen

04/07/2020 Washington, D.C. (International Christian Concern) – Responding to a February letter from International Christian Concern, Sam Brownback—U.S. Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom—wrote this week to express his alarm over the October 2019 abduction of Huma Younus, a 14-year old girl from Pakistan who was kidnapped, forced to convert from Christianity to Islam, and married to her captor. Huma’s case is one of many in Pakistan—some studies indicate that as many as 1,000 Christian and Hindu girls are subjected to kidnappings, forced conversions to Islam, and coerced marriages every year.

Huma’s case received national and international attention but she remains in captivity despite the fact that her captors are known to the local authorities. They remain protected by the Pakistani judicial system which, in February 2020, ruled in favor of Huma’s kidnappers in a finding that flew directly in the face of established statutory law which explicitly prohibits underage and forced marriage. The ruling sidestepped proof that Huma is only 14 years old, citing Sharia law to the effect that girls who have had their first menstrual cycle are de facto eligible to be married regardless of the circumstances of their marriage.

ICC continues to work with Huma’s parents and sat down with them recently to get a full briefing on their situation. They regularly receive anonymous threats and messages demanding that they suspend the effort to bring their daughter home.

In light of these developments, the U.S. Department of State initiated a campaign of quiet diplomacy on behalf of Huma and the many other girls her situation. Working closely with the diplomatic mission to Pakistan and civil society members like ICC Ambassador Brownback and his team investigated Huma’s case, presented it in person to several high-ranking Pakistani officials, and called privately for her release from captivity. Brownback’s team sat down with the Chief Minister of Sindh, Syed Murad Ali Shah, and other high-ranking provincial officials to discuss her case. In addition, Brownback’s team advocated for her release in numerous meetings with federal officials and parliamentarians in Islamabad and in its communications with the Pakistani Embassy in Washington, D.C.

“What appears clear,” Brownback said in his public statement, “is that Ms. Younus was married in contravention of provincial laws…her marriage was therefore illegal.” His statement marks a departure from the standard course of private diplomacy and an escalation in the U.S.’s attempt to bring about Huma’s safe return to her parents. “It is also clear,” Brownback went on to say, “that [Pakistani] courts and authorities have not effectively enforced the law in this case.”

The issue of religious freedom in Pakistan goes beyond Huma’s case and even beyond the broader issue of kidnapping and forced conversions. Designated by the Secretary of State as a Country of Particular Concern for its severe violations of religious freedom, Pakistan is a well-known and serial violator of human rights. Right now, hundreds of girls remain captive to a system that refuses to uphold the human dignity of its vulnerable religious minorities. Soon, hundreds more will join them if the government of Pakistan refuses to uphold its own laws and prosecute the individuals who traffic in human life and dignity.

ICC applauds Secretary Pompeo, Ambassador Brownback, and the International Religious Freedom team at the Department of State for their consistent work in the cause of religious freedom and specifically for their work on Huma’s behalf. Hers is a case of religious oppression, violated human rights, and abandonment by a system that should have stood up to protect her. The work that Ambassador Brownback continues to do on her behalf is invaluable.

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