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2003 | 59th Regular Session of the UN Commission on Human Rights (17 March - 25 April 2003)

Religious intolerance in Pakistan

March 17 – April 24, 2003
Palais des Nations, Geneva

Dominicans for Justice and Peace, Franciscans International, Commission of Churches on International Affairs of the World Council of Churches and Pax Christi International, in collaboration with the Pakistan Justice and Peace Commission of Religious men and women and the Pakistan Commission of Catholic Bishops, draw the attention of the UN Commission to the issue of religious intolerance and discrimination on the basis of religion. In some countries, religious discrimination is 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, war 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 has the death penalty for their violation. This has 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, we appreciate the government of Pakistan announcement on 16 January 2002 the reintroducing the Joint Electorate system which has in effect replaced the discriminatory Separate Electorate system.

Violence in Pakistan

Sectarian violence in Pakistan has increased since 1997 when we raised before this body the case of the destruction by extremist groups of two Christian villages in Pakistan, Shantinagar and Tibba, in Khanewal.

Since September 11, 2001, there have been eight serious incidents targeting Christian institutions and their members, killing 43 Christians and injuring many. For example, in October 2001, 16 Christians were massacred during a service in St. Dominic’s Catholic Church in Bahawalpur. In March 2002, five people died, including two foreigners, after two terrorists threw grenades into a Protestant church close to an Embassy in Islamabad.

In August 2002, six Pakistanis were killed and at least three people wounded by masked gunmen who burst into Muree Christian school for children of foreign missionaries. In the same month, a chapel attached to a Christian ophthalmological hospital in Taxila killing four people, including three nurses.

In September 2002, seven Christian human rights activists of Idara-e-Amn-o-Insaf (Committee for Justice and Peace) in Karachi were mercilessly gunned down by Islamic extremists.

In October 2002, a Christian hospital in Bunnu was attacked with hand grenades, damaging the hospital building, however without any casualties. In December 2002, a Methodist Church in Deska was attacked with hand grenades killing three people. Most of the perpetrators have yet to be brought to justice.

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 replaced last year 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 Laws. 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 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.

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 convict the accused without proper scrutiny of the evidence placed before it.

Furthermore, we believe 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. 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 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:

  1. Repeal all discriminatory laws, including the Blasphemy Laws section 295B and 295C 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.
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