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PAKISTAN: Despite being reelected to the Human Rights Council religious minorities continue to suffer abuse and harassment

(This article was posted by the Asian Human Rights Commission and may be found at: http://www.humanrights.asia/news/ahrc-news/AHRC-ART-118-2012/?searchterm...

Pakistan was reelected to the UN Human Rights Council with a thumping majority vote. It was one of the highest votes received by any country and it somehow managed to do this with a human rights record that shows little compliance with the pledges made in 2008.

The ongoing excuse for the continuation of human rights abuses and non-compliance with the international obligations is the fight against terrorism, defence of sovereignty and national interests. However, despite this claim there seems to be little progress in the fight against terrorism and this may be witnessed by the almost daily attacks by religious extremists and Talibani elements from both within and without the country's borders.

The rhetoric from the country's leaders speaks of their fight against terrorism and their commitment to ensuring freedom of religion and equality for all. However, while they are happy to spout these in international forums their actions behind closed doors do not bear this out. It is not possible that the voting countries are unaware of this and it casts doubts on the sincerity of the country's that voted for Pakistan's reelection. Could it be that they are happier with the devil they know and are afraid of what might happen if they have no control whatsoever over that devil's actions.

Pakistan will undoubtedly be proud of the number of votes it received but will this lead to the false idea that the country must be doing something right and therefore may continue to ignore their international obligations. Reelection should be a reward for doing something right. Perhaps now might be the time for the country to prove that it is worthy of this reward by complying with its obligations. Now might be the time for the international community to ask for a definitive answer as to when Pakistan is going to abolish the blasphemy laws, introduce legislation to make torture a crime and ensure that the military is placed firmly under the Constitution in order the stop the enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings that inevitably follow.

It was just a few short weeks ago when Hina Rabbani Khar, the Foreign Minister and head of the Pakistan delegation stood before the UN at the Universal Periodic Review and assured her audience that freedom of belief and religion was practiced in Pakistan. She obviously does not read the newspapers. Perhaps such a thing is below her and she waits for one of her aides to inform her of what is going on in the real world. Perhaps her aides do not consider the harassment and physical attacks on members of the Hindu minority to be a matter worthy of their or her attention. Whatever the case, harassment and attacks on the Hindu minority are a very real occurrence and one that the government of Pakistan is turning a blind eye to in their ongoing policy of appeasement of the religious extremists.

In one of the most recent incidents on November 8, a group of Islamic extremists arrived at a Hindu temple on the outskirts of one of the country's largest cities, Karachi, shouting, "Kill the Hindus, kill the children of the Hindus." The group, which was armed with pistols, destroyed the temple fittings and ripped off the golden bangles worn by the women. The men and women were beaten indiscriminately and the attackers were so sure of their impunity from any action from the authorities they did not even bother to conceal their identities or cover their faces.

This was not an isolated case; indeed, it was the second time this particular temple has been attacked, and there have been many such incidents reported. Even Muslims who speak out in public in defence and support of Hindus leave themselves open to attack.

Marvi Sirmed is an outspoken defender of democracy and human rights. She has particularly spoken out on the rights of minorities such as the Hindus, Christians and Shias. Marvi had been receiving threats from rightwing and extremist groups for several months now and for her own security has had to change her place of residence.

On November 3, unidentified gunmen opened fire on the car in which Marvi Sirmed was traveling but fortunately she and her driver escaped unharmed. The attack took place in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad. The police announced that they have started an investigation into the attack but, perhaps not surprisingly, no results have been forthcoming.

More recently Marvi Sirmed was instrumental in the recent campaign to free Rimsha Masih, a Christian girl who was wrongly accused of blasphemy after a Muslim cleric planted evidence against her.

Another area of concern which involves members of the Hindu and Christian minorities is that of forced marriage and conversion. Typically a Hindu girl goes missing and when she next contacts her family they find that she has been married to a Muslim boy. There have been numerous court hearings in several cases to determine whether the conversion was voluntary and in each case students from nearby madrassas attend court to intimidate the judges by chanting demands that the conversion be confirmed. An NGO worker said that in the 100 cases that he had personally worked on only one girl had been safely returned to her family. The government's policy of appeasement also finds its way into the courts.

There is now a mass exodus of Hindus from Pakistan which is noted but ignored by the government who is doing nothing to provide them with the protection guaranteed by the Constitution. It is generally believed that the impetus for this exodus was the case of the forced conversion and marriage of a Hindu girl, Rinkle Kumari. Even a Suo Motu action by the Supreme Court of Pakistan yielded no favourable results and the girl herself, perhaps realising the helplessness of her situation, opted to remain with her Muslim 'husband'. Rinkle's relatives allege that she was forced to decide in favor of her husband and her uncle said that the Hindu community had submitted to the kidnapping for ransom practices against them; however, kidnappings of girls followed by forced conversions so alarmed the community that their fear increases with every passing day.

At the time of the creation of the country the Hindu community had the choice of remaining with Pakistan or immigrating to India. They chose to remain loyal to a country whose government is now turning a blind eye to the harassment and abuse perpetrated by the religious extremists who are allowed to spread their messages of hatred with impunity.

The glowing image that the Foreign Minister, Hina Rabbani Khar, painted of Pakistan blatantly ignored the harassment and abuse of Hindus, Christians, Shias and the Ahmadiya community. She ignored the several attacks on members of the Shia community in which buses were stopped by people in military uniform, the Shias identified, lined up on the side of the road and shot, execution style. Likewise, she made no mention of the assassinations of members of the Ahmadiya community who are persecuted and harassed. Interestingly, on the very day that the Foreign Minister was giving her speech to the UN the Ahmadiya community was forbidden to hold their Eid celebrations and was prevented from holding prayer meetings like the other Muslims. One can only laugh at the Foreign Minister when she claims that religions minorities enjoy complete freedom. She was fully aware when she gave her speech that the Ahmadiya community is disenfranchised and forbidden to vote in the general elections so that they can have a voice in parliament.

So much for freedom of religion!

Pakistan must show the world that it is worthy of being a member of the Human Rights Council. Now is the time for the country to abolish the blasphemy laws, introduce legislation to make torture a crime and ensure that the military is placed firmly under the Constitution in order the stop the enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings that inevitably follow.

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