March 16 - April 24, 1998
Palais des Nations, Geneva
In 1997 FI/OP made an oral intervention at the Commission about the destruction of the Christian villages of Shanti Nagar and Khenawal in Pakistan. This year we returned to the situation of the two Christian villages and decided to address the right to freedom of religious expression and the discrimination against religious minorities that are at the root of many conflicts and human rights abuses in both Pakistan and India. Ken Viegas ofm and Aftab Mughal (JPIC Commission of Conference of Religious) of Pakistan drafted a statement asking for changes in the Blasphemy Laws contained in the Pakistani Penal Code (article 295 sections b and c) declaring that the enforcement of the present laws is subjective, arbitrary and often vindictive.
In meetings with government officials we were told again what Mr. Jai Jai Veshno Mange Ram, member of the Pakistani delegation said in his speech at the plenary session. "The incident at Shanti Nagar" he said, "was a tragic aberration where a small group of unbelievers instigated a chain of events which led to the destruction of the property of members of the Christian community. The Prime Minister himself visited Shanti Nagar and extended categorical instructions that those implicated in the incident must be arrested immediately and those affected must be compensated." However, a Pakistani member of our delegation was able to point out that "the government did not take any step to compensate the household loses. No action has been taken for the write off the agricultural loans… (There has been) no compensation for destroyed, burnt and looted shops…. There is no special provision to issue the National Identity Cards." (Report of Aftab Alexander Mughal, Executive Secretary of the Justice and Peace, 26 March 1998).
On the other hand, Pakistani Senator Zaki told us that the norms contained in the Blasphemy Law are maintained to contain the pressures exerted on the government by some Islamic groups. He assured us that the punishments set in the law would not be implemented.
At the suggestions of some Indian friars and Sr. Rose Fernando, FMM the coordinator for social justice for the FMM sisters, FI/OP also expressed concern about the discrimination and persecution of Muslim and Christian minorities in India. In particular we mentioned the killings of two Catholic priests, Father Christudas and Father A.T. Thomas and we appealed to the Indian government to continue its historical public commitment to tolerance and respect for diversity.
We also denounced the deplorable phenomenon of child labor in both Pakistan and India. In particular concerning Pakistan, we urged the government:
- To deploy greater efforts in view of fully complying with the provisions contained in its own Constitution and national legislation (as regards child labor laws),
- To provide proper identification papers for working children.