March 20 - April 28, 2000
Palais des Nations, Geneva
Franciscans International and Dominicans for Justice and Peace again draw the attention of the Commission to the issue of religious intolerance and discrimination on the basis of religion. The problem of religious intolerance is still growing and is at the root of a number of conflicts and ongoing violence in many parts of the world. Religious minorities are increasingly the targets of bigotry, which is often instigated by extremist forces. The lack of political will on the part of governments to put an end to these destructive trends has encouraged groups to persecute and victimize individual-and groups.
The Special Rapporteur on Religious Intolerance Mr. Abdelfattah Amor (Tunisia) had stated previously that the establishment of a culture of tolerance can ensure prevention. He had also indicated the need to review legislation to create such a culture. However, in countries where religious discrimination permeates the laws and institutions including the educational system, where religious discrimination is systemic and endemic to every aspect of life for minorities, what is required is effective and concerted action on the part of the international community and the governments concerned to remedy the situation.
For example, Pakistan is a country where religious discrimination is inscribed in legislation, which tends to promote a culture of intolerance. This is found in a Separate Electorate for Religious Minorities and the Blasphemy Laws 295 B and C of the Penal Code. The legislation constitutes a form of systemic discrimination against religious minorities. We understand that the present regime has not defined a policy on religious minorities. We know on the other hand that religious minorities in Pakistan continue to struggle to become part of the mainstream of society and for that reason they have been demanding changes in the electoral system.
In Pakistan, the system of separate electorates on the ground of religion has the effect of denying religious minorities their fundamental right of universal adult franchise. Under the system, a quota of seats is reserved for example, for one religious group, in the national and provincial legislatures. This discriminatory policy among voters on the ground of religion cuts off citizens of the minority religious group from the main stream of national political life. Further, this segregation on the basis of religion denies them the right to have a say directly in the national decision making processes as well as in the framing of national economic, social and cultural policies. 'The institutionalization of discrimination constitutes a form of religious apartheid that officially restricts the rights of citizens. from full participation in their society. We consider that the system of separate electorates in Pakistan is also in violation of Articles 2 and 21 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as well as Articles 25 and 26 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Franciscans International and Dominicans for Justice and Peace recommend that all discriminatory laws against religious minorities especially blasphemy laws be repealed.
We further recommend that the separate electoral system be abolished and the joint electorate system be restored before the next elections.
Freedom of expression
The issue of freedom to expression is also of great concern to us. This right is stated in the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights as including to the right to receive and to impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers. We are seriously concerned about the violations of this right in Colombia. We know that 91 teachers were killed last year and that three out of every five union leaders killed are from Colombia. The level of suspicion and the deterioration of the situation there is such that everyone who speaks up on issues is targeted for death. We therefore recommend that the Commission deal with this issue and that the Special Rapporteur on the right to freedom of expression examine the situation in Colombia.