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2000 | 52nd Regular Session of the UN Sub-Commission on Human Rights

Violations to freedom of religion and belief in Pakistan

July 31 – April 18, 2000
Palais des Nations, Geneva

Franciscans International and Dominicans for Justice and Peace again draw the attention of the Sub-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.

However, an opportunity has presented itself, which offers a chance to significantly counter the growth of religious intolerance in one country. The current governmental authorities of Pakistan have promised to announce on August 14, 2000 a restructuring of their election laws. Franciscans International and Dominicans for Justice and Peace, in conjunction with the Pakistan Bishops’ Commission on Justice and Peace and the Justice and Peace Commission of Religious Men and Women of Pakistan, call upon Pakistan to seize this opportunity to demonstrate that the country is truly committed to democratic principles by ending the separate electorates system and re-introducing a joint electorate system. By replacing the present electorate system the Pakistani authorities will show their willingness to respond to the demands of a growing number in the country.

The separate electorate system which has been in effect since 1984 subjects the people of Pakistan to an electoral system which discriminates on the basis of religion. The system has the effect of denying religious minorities their right of universal adult franchise. Under the separate system, religious minorities can only vote for candidates of their own religion. Additionally, religious minorities can only elect 23 representatives to the four Provincial Assemblies, which have a total of 483 members. The government implemented the changes before the 1985 election and has maintained the system through the four subsequent elections in 1988, 1990, 1993 and 1997.

The separate electorate system of Pakistan silences the expression of political views of the religious minorities in the country. It nullifies the significance of the votes of religious minorities and renders the elected minority representatives impotent. Moreover, the system negatively affects the social fabric of the country by stigmatizing religious minorities and exacerbates existing religious divisions by institutionalizing discrimination.

In an unprecedented move, Pakistan civil society has come together to gain support for ending the separate electorate system. In view of the present government’s promise of electoral reform, civil society groups and organizations have been involved in a number of activities to demand an end to the system.

  1. On February 28, 2000, the Chair of the National Commission of Justice and Peace, Bishop Bonaventure Paul OFM wrote an open letter to the Chief Executive of Pakistan requesting the abolition of the separate electorate to be replaced by the joint electorate.
  2. The National Commission for Justice and Peace, with the Christian Study Center, the National Christian Action Forum, the Idra Aman-O-Insaf, the Human Development Center and the Justice and Peace Commission, presented a working paper to the governmental authorities highlighting the discriminatory effects of the separate electorate system. The paper emphasized that the system was imposed against the wishes of Pakistan’s religious minorities.
  3. On July 30, 2000, nineteen(19) political parties convened a convention which stated in its conclusion that equality must be the basis of Pakistan’s electoral system.
  4. On August 2, 2000, the coalition, Christian Organizers for Social Action (COSAP), presented the Chief Executive Office of Pakistan with 200,000 signatures demanding the replacement of the separate electorate system.
  5. Also, on August 2, 2000, the Joint Action Committee for Peoples’ Rights in Lahore held a press conference to call for the dismantling of the separate electorate system. The press conference was chaired by Ms Asma Jahangir, the UN Special Rapporteur on Extra Judicial Killings and Summary Executions.

Franciscans International and Dominicans for Justice and Peace, with the Pakistan Bishops’ Commission on Justice and Peace and the Commission on Justice and Peace of Religious Men and Women of Pakistan, urge the governmental authorities of Pakistan to respond positively to the demand of civil society to end the separate electorate system and to re-institute the joint electorate system.

In response to the unprecedented action of popular protest in Pakistan, we ask that the Sub-Commission monitor the progress towards the implementation of full democracy in the country.

We urge both the Working Group on Minorities and the Special Rapporteur on Religious Intolerance to monitor and report on the development of a non-discriminatory joint electorate system.

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