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2002 | 58th Regular Session of the UN Commission on Human Rights (18 March - 26 April 2002)

The situation of religious freedom in Pakistan

March 18 – April 26, 2002
Palais des Nations, Geneva

Franciscans International, in conjunction with Dominicans for Justice and Peace, again draws the attention of the Commission to the issue of religious intolerance and discrimination on the basis of religion. Religious intolerance remains at the root of a number of conflicts and ongoing violence in the world. The absence of political will on the part of some governments to end this discrimination further encourages groups to persecute and victimize individuals and organizations.

In Pakistan, for example, political leadership and martial law regimes have used Islam to legitimize their rule to the disadvantage of religious minorities. This has led in recent years to ethnic and sectarian violence among Muslims and the imposition of discriminatory and repressive laws against religious minorities. Religious discrimination in Pakistan is inscribed in legislation that tends to promote a culture of intolerance and division. The legislation is contained in the Separate Electorate Act for religious minorities and the Blasphemy Laws 295 B and C of the Penal Code that includes the death penalty for violation of the laws.

Presently, 23 Christians are charged under the Blasphemy Laws and one of those has been sentenced to death. Further, among 40 Muslims charged, one has also been sentenced to death. In addition, 265 Ahmadis have been victims of the law, as well as two Hindus.
Law of Evidence

In another area, under the discriminatory Law of Evidence, the courts operate under a biased legal procedure. For example, under the Law, court witnesses are judged according to their religion and gender: the testimony of 2 non-Muslim male court witnesses is equivalent to the testimony of 1 male Muslim. Further, the testimonies of 4 non-Muslim women are equivalent to the testimony of 1 male Muslim.

The oppressive and unfair Law of Evidence represents an attack on religious groups, and an affront to the protection and promotion of human rights for all, regardless of religion.

Joint Electorate
Since 1985, the Separate Electorate system has represented a form of religious apartheid, where Muslims were required to vote for Muslims, Christians for Christians, Hindus for Hindus, etc. All religious minorities are denied equal participation and have been treated as second-class citizens.

However, we recognize that the government of Pakistan announced, on 16 January 2002, the reintroduction of the Joint Electorate system which we consider represents a positive step. However, the enacting legislation has not yet been introduced. Further, the proposed Joint Electorate will apply only at the national level and not at the provincial and local levels. We therefore ask the international community to monitor the implementation of Joint Electorates and to press its applications at both the national and local levels. Joint electorates will enable religious minorities to participate equally in the political life of their country, reduce religious harassment, and end a long period of religious discrimination against them.

Franciscans International, in conjunction with Dominicans for Justice and Peace and our partners in Pakistan, recommends:

  • that the government repeal all discriminatory laws, including the Blasphemy Laws sections 295B and 295C of the Pakistan Penal Code;
  • that it repeal the unjust Law of Evidence;
  • that the government enact legislation and implement the Joint Electorates at the national and local levels.
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