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2004 | 60th Regular Session of the UN Commission on Human Rights (15 March - 23 April 2004)

The situation of the Christian minority in Pakistan

Dominicans for Justice and Peace, Franciscans International, Dominican Leadership Conference, Pax Christi Internationalis, in conjunction with the Commission on Justice and Peace of Religious men and women in Pakistan and the Commission on Justice and Peace of the Bishops of Pakistan are concerned about the rise in religious discrimination. Religious 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. These factors greatly impinge on the freedom of religion or belief of people in many countries and give rise to religious extremism.

In his 2004 report, the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, Mr. Abdelfattah Amor writes: “religious extremism has grown in society as well as the non-respect for freedom of religion.” He further declares that “in many cases, States have not met their human rights obligations as regards freedom of religion. These are not limited to the negative obligation to refrain from violating the right of freedom of religion; they also include the positive obligation to protect persons under their jurisdiction, including those committed by non-state actors or entities.” (E/CN.4/2004/63).

In his report, the Special Rapporteur also draws attention to the fact that despite the efforts made, women continue to be the main victims of violations of the right to freedom or belief, and he encouraged States to take firm and decisive measures in this regard. (para. 149) We would add that 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.

Religious discrimination in Pakistan

One example of systemic religious 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 that 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.

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 2002 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 that human rights organizations have requested for years.

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 a 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 is virtually impossible to get a fair hearing in Pakistan for those charged under the Blasphemy Laws.

The only punishment under the Blasphemy Law is the death penalty. 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.

In his report, the Special Rapporteur stresses again the fundamental, central and essential nature of education in promoting respect for freedom of religion or belief and energetically encouraged States to grant priority and find adequate resources for actions that may be taken in this regard. (para. 157)

Dominicans for Justice and Peace, Franciscans International, Dominican Leadership Conference and Pax Christi Internationalis, in conjunction with the Commission on Justice and Peace of Religious men and women in Pakistan and the Commission on Justice and Peace of the Bishops of Pakistan 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 Protocols and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. It should also cooperate with other UN mechanisms and special procedures.

3. Invite the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion and Belief to visit Pakistan and guarantee the rapporteur full and unrestricted access to religious minorities’ communities and individuals.

4. Take even stronger measures to protect the lives, property, respect and honor of minorities as well as creating a culture of tolerance.

5. Ensure that the school curriculum serves to promote respect for freedom of religion and belief as well in developing a culture of tolerance and understanding.

6. Take a more active role in supporting initiatives within the country aimed at bringing about harmony among the different religious groupings.

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