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2003 | 55th Regular Session of the UN Sub-Commission on Human Rights (28 July - 15 August 2003)

Prevention of discrimination and protection of religious minorities in Pakistan

Fifty-fifth Session, Palais des Nations, Geneva, 28 July – 15 August 2003Religious intolerance and discrimination on the basis of religion remain as one of the root causes of a number of conflicts, wars and ongoing violence in the world. Furthermore, it is often a major motivation for attacks by extremists against the minority religion in a region. When religious discrimination is inscribed in laws and imbedded in societal structures, this often leads to victimization of minorities as well as killings and assassinations. Dominicans for Justice and Peace, Franciscans International and Pax Christi International, in collaboration with the Pakistan Justice and Peace Commission of Religious Men and Women and the Pakistan Commission Justice and Peace Commission of Catholic Bishops, draw the attention of the Sub-Commission to this issue.

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 and 298 A, B . and C of the Penal Code which deals with offenses pertaining to religion. The offenses carry the death penalty for their violation. Since the mandatory death sentence was introduced as a result of the Amendment Act No. III of 1986 to Section 295-C, many accused were killed, in some cases, even before they were brought to trial. Those few who are acquitted by the Courts have to seek asylum in foreign countries for fear of being killed by Islamic extremists.

The laws have resulted over the years in religious intolerance and violence against Christians, Hindus and members of the Ahmadiye community, the imposition of discriminatory and repressive laws against religious minorities and extremist attacks against religious minorities, especially Christians.

However, since 1999 there has been a trend in the overwhelming use of the Blasphemy Laws by Muslims against Muslims. It appears that Muslims belonging to different sects use blasphemy laws to settle personal and dogmatic differences.

In addition to the blasphemy laws, several laws and regulations, especially articles and provisions of the Constitution of Pakistan discriminate against religious minorities. While some are meant to give preferential treatment to Muslims, others tend to ignore the fact that Pakistan is a multi-religious society.

In a related development, in 2002, a court decision of a Lahore High Court bench upon hearing an appeal, criticized the misuse of the law as well as saying that the blasphemy provisions do not apply to Muslims. The court then directed the police head of the province to constitute an effective and proper investigation team for each case, a procedure which human rights organizations have requested for years.

The National Commission of Justice and Peace of the Catholic Bishops of Pakistan has stated that the mere use of the law is an abuse since the law is inherently bad legislation. Further, the language of the blasphemy laws is ambiguous, the objectives are dubious and the law lacks the protection to guarantee against its misuse. (1)

Blasphemy Laws lie at the heart of the systemic and institutional religious discrimination and some of the extremism in Pakistan. 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. 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.

Furthermore, we believe that the application of the death penalty under any circumstance 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. 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 and 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:

  1. Repeal all discriminatory laws, including the Blasphemy Laws section 295B & C and 298 A,B, & C of the Pakistan Penal Code.
  2. 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.
  3. Invite the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion and Belief to visit Pakistan and guarantee him full and unrestricted access to religious minorities’ communities and individuals.
  4. Recommend that the Government of Pakistan take even stronger measures to protect the lives, property, respect and honor of minorities as well as creating a culture of tolerance.

(1) A Report on the Religious Minorities in Pakistan; in Human Rights Monitor 2002-2003; National Commission for Justice and Peace (Catholic Bishops Conference of Pakistan); page 47.

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