Palais des Nations
Dominicans for Justice and Peace, in conjunction with Franciscans International, again draws the attention of the Sub-Commission to the issue of religious intolerance and discrimination on the basis of religion. In some countries, religious discrimination is found inscribed in laws and imbedded in societal structures. This form of religious intolerance remains as one of the root causes of a number of conflicts and ongoing violence in the world. Furthermore, it is often a major motivation for attacks by extremists against the minority religion in a region. The absence of political will on the part of some governments to end this discrimination and the lack of prosecution in cases further encourages groups to victimize individuals and organizations.
Religious discrimination in Pakistan
One example of this discrimination is found in Pakistani legislation that promotes a culture of intolerance, division and extremism. The legislation is the Blasphemy Laws 295 B and C of the Penal Code that include the death penalty for their violation. This has led over the years to ethnic and sectarian violence among Muslims, the imposition of discriminatory and repressive laws against religious minorities and extremist attacks against religious minorities, especially Christians.
We first intervened on this topic at the UN Commission on Human Rights in 1997 following the destruction by extremist groups of two Christian villages in Pakistan, the villages of Shantinagar and Khanewal.
Massacre of Christians
A more serious attack took place, on Sunday, 28 October 2001, when 16 Christians and a Muslim police constable were massacred in St. Dominic’s Parish, in the diocese of Multan in Bahawalpur. St. Dominic’s is a Dominican church which is shared in a spirit of ecumenical cooperation with Protestant congregations. On that morning, fate had it that the Lutheran congregation was holding its service, and the Pastor Emmanuel Allah Dita and his Protestant congregation of men, women and children were gunned down during their prayers and denied any mercy on the part of the assassins. It is considered the worst single massacre of Christians in Pakistan's history.
Last month, on July 27, the government of Pakistan announced that police had arrested four men for the attack in St. Dominic’s Church, ten months after the event. The four men apparently belong to the banned Islamic militant group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi.
Massacre of Christian students
On Monday August 5, 2002, six Pakistanis were killed and at least three people wounded when masked gunmen burst into Muree Christian school for children of foreign missionaries. The unidentified men shot and killed two security guards, a cook, a carpenter, a retired teacher on a visit to the school and one other person. A receptionist was also shot and remains in critical condition. This represents at least the third fatal strike against a Christian minority over the past year. The mayor of Murree, stated that two of the six dead were Christian and four were Muslims.
The Blasphemy Laws 295 B and 295 C of the Pakistani Penal Code.
At the heart of the systemic and institutional religious discrimination and some of the extremism in Pakistan lie the Blasphemy Laws and, before being rescinded in January 2002, the Separate Electorates.
The Blasphemy Laws in their present form are a source of victimization and persecution of the minorities in Pakistan. Minorities suffer all forms of humiliation through false accusations under the Blasphemy Law. The definition of the term blasphemy is vague yet it carries a mandatory death sentence. Also there are serious problems with the mechanisms to implement this Law. Further, in the present climate of hate, intolerance and violence in Pakistan, Blasphemy Laws are major tool in the hands of extremist elements to settle personal scores against religious minorities.. Since the mandatory death sentence was introduced as a result of the Amendment Act No. III of 1986 to Section 295-C, many innocent people have lost their lives, in some cases, even before the accused persons were brought to trial. Niamat Ahmer, Tahir Iqbal, Manzoor Masih were killed even before the Courts could hear the cases registered against them; other victims of Blasphemy Laws had to flee the country to seek safety and sanctuary in countries abroad, and others are forced to live a life in hiding.
In the present situation, lawyers who appear for accused persons in blasphemy cases, are targets of intimidation and threats. The retired Judge of the Lahore High Court Arif Iqbal Bhatti who set aside the death sentence passed by the Session Courts on Salamat Masih and Rehmat Masih was shot and killed by an Islamic extremist.
In the prevalent environment of intolerance and in view of threats and intimidation, and the pressure brought on the judiciary, it has become virtually impossible to get a fair hearing in Pakistan for those charged under the Blasphemy Laws. In these circumstances, the lower judiciary has often been constrained to accuse and convict without proper scrutiny of the evidence placed before it.
Furthermore, we agree with some groups which declare that the application of the death penalty under any circumstances is an extreme form of cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and a violation of the right to life, as proclaimed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international human rights instruments. We also agree that in countries where the death penalty is still in force, human rights standards require the restriction of the application of the death penalty to the most limited possible set of crimes, with stringent legal protections, which do not appear to be present in cases under the Blasphemy Laws of Pakistan.
We strongly urge the Government of Pakistan to assume its full responsibility to take immediate and comprehensive action to end discrimination against Christians and other religious minorities and promote and protect human rights for all.
In particular, we call upon the Government of Pakistan to:
Repeal all discriminatory laws, including the Blasphemy Laws section 295B and 295C of the Pakistan Penal Code.
Ratify the human rights treaties that it has not yet ratified, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and its Optional Protocol, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Convention against Torture, and the Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers. It should also cooperate with the existing Treaty Bodies and other UN mechanisms and special procedures.
Invite the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief to visit Pakistan and guarantee him full and unrestricted access to religious minorities' communities and individuals.
Recommend that the Government of Pakistan take evenstronger measures to protect the lives, property, respect and honor of minorities.