BY ABBAS KASSAR
Minority rights, as applying to ethnic, religious or linguistic minorities and indigenous peoples, are an integral part of international human rights law, Like children rights, women’s rights and refugee rights, minority rights are a legal framework designed to ensure that a specific group which is in a vulnerable, disadvantaged or marginalized position in society, is able to achieve equality and is protected from persecution. The first post-war international treaty to protect minorities, designed to protect them from the greatest threat to their existence, was the U.N. Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.
Subsequent human rights standards that codify minority rights include the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Pakistan signed the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) in 2008 and ratified it with reservations in 2010. But when European Union emissaries had warned Pakistan to be deprived of Generalized System of Preferences plus status of grant of trade benefits accorded by EU which in other words means ban on Pakistani exports, then in 2011, the Pakistan government, withdrew almost all of the reservations. Hence, since July 2011, Pakistan has ratified the ICCPR almost entirely committing itself to upholding the civil and political rights of its citizens including citizens belonging to minority community.
In Article 18 of the ICCPR is the guaranteed freedom of thought, conscience and religion. The right to religion includes the freedom to adopt and profess in public or private, freedom of worship and unfettered right to believe and manifest one’s religion accordingly. Article 19 goes further and says that everyone shall have the right to his or her opinions without interference. Article 20 of the ICCPR forbids any advocacy of religious hatred.
The freedom to profess one’s religion is integral to the ICCPR and therefore any law that abridges that freedom is in violation of and in contradiction to Pakistan’s international commitment
All of the aforesaid have been placed in the non-Muslim category under Article 260 of the Constitution of Pakistan.
The human rights watch noted that the condition of religious minorities deteriorated sharply in Pakistan in 2012, with the government unwilling or unable to provide protection against attacks by extremists.
Christians, Sikhs, Hindus and other minorities throughout Pakistan recount numerous horrific incidents of attacks and threats and express an overwhelming sense of fear. Minority Rights Group International, a watchdog organization, had ranked Pakistan as ‘the world’s top country for major increases in threats to minorities since 2007’. The group also lists Pakistan as seventh on the list of 10 most dangerous countries for minorities, after Somalia, Sudan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Myanmar and Congo.
In Sindh, Hindu women are being abducted and forcibly converted to Islam. Many Christians are suffering under the blasphemy law, a law which itself is in contradiction to the ICCPR. Churches, temples and other places of worship are routinely destroyed.
The situation in Sindh has markedly worsened for Hindus since 2oo7 with increase in target killing, extortion, kidnapping, looting, religion based discrimination and troubles linked to their places of worship. Despite incidents like Shanti Nagar, Gojra, Sialkot, Badmi Bagh, and the attack on a Peshawar church being self-evident as to the increasing religious intolerance against minorities by the state and society, if you ask any Pakistani politician about the state of minorities or how protected they are in Pakistan, their prompt reply will be that minorities are happy and enjoying equal rights in the country.
If they are right then why the world seems worried about them and questions are reverberating in the House of Commons, EU and even in America about the oppression of minorities and misuse of blasphemy laws against them.
The U.S. Commission on Religious Freedom said in a recent report that conditions in Pakistan had “hit an all-time low” and governments had failed to adequately protect minorities and arrest perpetrators of crimes against them.
Scores of girls like 11 years Amriah Masih,12 years Muqadas Kainat,even 6 years Viginti Meghwar ,Kakoo Kolhen,14 years Manishsa Kumari and others were raped but their culprits have never been brought to book.
The guarantees of freedom of religious beliefs accorded to minorities under ICCPR are also violated by kidnapping minority girls and forcibly converting them to Islam.
According to a report published in Pakistan Today on 8 April 2014, around 1,000 Christian and Hindu women in Pakistan are forcibly converted to Islam and married to Muslim men every year including Rinkel Kumari in Ghotki in Feb 2012. She cried before chief justice of Pakistan Chowdhry Iftikhar in his court room to be handed to parents but the controversial judge turned his ears deaf and handed her to kidnapper follower of Pir of Bharchoondi, nortorious for kidnapping Hindu girls, keeping them his Harem for months and then marrying them to his Mureeds after conversion.
The report states the estimates of the incidence of forced marriage and conversion of 700 victim Christian girls and 300 Hindu girls per year, adding that the true scale of the problem is likely to be much greater, as a number of cases are never reported or do not progress through the law-enforcement and legal systems.
Though passed by NA but resolution is not binding on government but as a parliamentary practice.
In first 5 months of 2014, as many as 6 Hindu temples were ransacked:Dharamshala at Larkaha, was set on fire on March 13, Hanuman Mandir at Hyderabad on March 17,, Parbraham Ashram at Mith on March 30, Shri Guru Garanth Saheb at Madeji district Shikarpur and burning of Hindu holy book Bhagwat Geeta.
Though NA on May 14 this year condemned these attacks and asked for beefing up security of their holy places of worship and asked government to take measures on priority basis to protect holy places of religious minorities, yet as is evident from the protests that Hindu Mandirs are still not safe.The attacks on Mandirs have compelled Hindus to leave Pakistan and accoring to figure presented in NA by a minority law maker during the months of March and April 2014 as many as 10,000 Hindus have migrated to India.
Hearing petition of Dr. Ramesh Kuman Wankwani MNA about recent attacks on Hindu Mandirs on June 19, 2014, chief justice of Pakistan Justice Tasaduq Hussain Jeelani lamented that it was unfortunate that constitutional provisions related to protection of minority rights have not beem implemented. CJP said in addition to Objectives Resolution,Article 20 of the constitution also gurarantees protection of minority rights. Apex court also orddered formation of National Council on Minorities.
According to estimation by an NGO there are more than 7000000 Hindus currently living in the different states of Pakistan, but majority of Hindus is settled in the province of Sindh.
The Hindus of Pakistan are a religious minority in an overwhelmingly Muslim society. They constitute about 5.5% of the population of 180 million (according to 1998 census). They live primarily in the urban areas of the province of Sindh in the lower Indus valley and over half are concentrated in the south-east district of Tharparkar which borders India. For the most part Hindus in Pakistan are well educated and active in commerce, trade and the civil service but majority of lower caste work as Haris.
According to an independent source, around 20 lac Hindus belonging to scheduled castes (Dalits) are engaged to work as Haris (peasants) on big farmlands of lower Sindh where they work as bonded peasants, kept in private jails under surveillance of armed men of landlords not allowed to move outside farmlands. They being most vulnerable their women and girls happen to be easy prey to landlords and their Kamdars lust.
According to the US commission on International religious freedom (USCIRF) annual report, “The government of Pakistan continues to engage in and tolerate systematic, ongoing, and violations of freedom of religion or belief.
To sum up Pakistan is in complete and total violation of its international obligations of religious freedom, civil and political rights which can jeopardise the status of grant of trade benefits to Pakistan under the GSP plus Scheme of the European Union.