Despite outside interference through terrorist acts in Pakistan, including in Balochistan, the government has taken a number of steps to ensure the protection and promotion of human rights in the province of Balochistan, stated Pakistan in a report to a United Nations committee.
Pakistan has listed eight steps to ensure such protection, including: Giving optimum provincial autonomy, the acceptance of a criteria for financial redistribution as proposed by Baloch nationals, the increase of fiscal space for the province, the presence of an independent judiciary, free media, and civil rights groups in the area and a reduction in crime in 2014, in a report submitted to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) in November last year.
The UN CERD concluded its review of this report last week that combined the 21st to 23rd periodic report of Pakistan on its implementation of the provisions of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. The experts in the committee referred to terrorism as one of the main challenges faced by Pakistan today — commenting that terrorism could not be combated only through the adoption of legislation, but also through education.
The committee also expressed concern at extremist religious violence and discrimination against ethnic minorities in Pakistan while reviewing the report.
This insecure environment has made minority groups highly vulnerable, said Melhem Khalaf, vice-chairperson of the committee and country-rapporteur for Pakistan.
Religious groups such as Christians, Ahmadis, Ismailis and Shi’a Muslims were often persecuted and subjected to forced conversions, he said. Religious tensions between Sunnis and Shi’as had led to persecutions against religious minorities, the imposition of Sharia law, and the proliferation of religious education glorifying jihad and violence against Shi’a Muslims — there was a high risk of Pakistan losing its Muslim cohesion, Khalaf said.
Also, the Bihari and Bengali communities were not recognised, their members were denied Pakistani citizenship and children born to these parents had been denied birth certification in Pakistan. Children of Pakistani mothers and foreign fathers did not have a right to obtain the Pakistani nationality, he added.
Another expert expressed concerns regarding a provision in Pakistan’s Constitution that obliged the Ahmadiyyas to declare that they are not Muslims so that they can obtain a passport or enjoy their right to vote.
Khalaf noted the presence of several ethnic groups in the country, even though the Pakistani government only recognises religious groups.
Pakistan today faces “multiple challenges”, which for the most part resulted from the split with India – that has left disputed territories, and led to economic inequalities in provinces, leading to discrimination against non-recognised ethnic groups, the experts said.
The rapporteur and committee members also expressed “grave concern” over Pakistan’s blasphemy law — the committee underlined its discriminatory application against religious minorities, particularly the Ahmadiyyas. He reiterated the concerns regarding radicalisation of some political parties, and some parts of the population. Recalling the tolerant vision of Pakistan’s founding fathers, he concluded that the blasphemy legislation of 1986 was fuelling this radicalisation. Because of the intimidation by Islamists, the State was incapable of amending the blasphemy law, Khalaf said.
The CERD members also raised the issue of so-called “honour killings” and the status of women’s rights in country.
The madrassas were a “rather medieval system” and were dominated by the presence of poor children, the Lebanese lawyer added and asked the Pakistani delegation what measures had been taken to open free state schools for all children, whether rich or poor.
It was also emphasised that some madrassas has become places for “diabolical” extremist views under the impulsion of the Taliban.
The fact that Pakistan did not recognise the existence of a caste system was also a grave problem.
The Pakistani delegation, headed by the Minister for Human Rights of Pakistan Kamran Michael, responded to the issues raised by the CERD members.
A Pakistani delegate said that the country was located in a part of the world that had been affected by conflicts for decades — it had difficult relationships with India, and was a neighbour to Iran, which has had difficult relationships with the rest of the international community, and to Afghanistan, where the instability has had an adverse effect on Pakistani society and civilians have been targeted regardless of their ethnicity or religion.
The delegation said that there was no division between the Sunni and the Shi’a communities in Pakistan. According to the last census, the population of the country comprised several ethnic groups, including Punjabis, Pashtuns, Sindhis, Seraikis, Balochis, Kalash and Kashmiris, all living in peace and harmony, Michael said while presenting the report.
A minority of extremists desperately attacked civilians to undermine Pakistani society and the tensions were not the result of “Muslims killing Muslims”.
Pakistan has been ranked as one of the least racist countries in the world, according to a report in the Washington Post. “Evidently, there is no apartheid and racial segregation/discrimination in Pakistan,” the report to CERD stated.
Regarding discrimination against the Ahmadiyyas community, the delegation referred to it as a delicate and controversial issue. Acknowledging that there have been a large number of terrorist attacks against the Hazara community, the government said that although most victims were Shi’as, there were some Sunnis as well which showed that terrorism affects everyone.
In response to minority discrimination, Pakistan said that there is a five percent reserved quota in employment even though only 3.5 percent of the total population are minorities.
All minorities, and religious minorities in particular, had the right to have their own family laws.
A National Commission on Human Rights had been made functional in 2015, with powers to take action in cases of human rights violations.
Additionally, there is a national action plan to combat terrorism that counters hate speech and extremist propaganda in place since December 2014, Michael added in response to UN concerns on terrorism. Since 2015, more than 1,777 cases had been registered across the country as part of the government’s efforts against the publication of hate material, and 1,799 arrests had been made.
The Pakistani government had given up all reference to castes after the partition with India and it is absolutely discouraged in the country. It had abandoned all references to “scheduled castes” –a term inherited from pre-Partition documents. “The government has made policies after Independence for the advancement of socially backward classes of citizens by prescribing quota for the underdeveloped castes and regions,” the report states.
Madrassas per se were not a problem, the delegation said, underlining that they only thought to provide teaching of the precepts of Islam and the government has cracked down on unregistered madrassas spreading extremist religious views.
With regard to blasphemy laws, the delegation said that concrete measures had been taken to protect people from the misuse of such legislation. Making false criminal allegations could land prison sentences, the Pakistani delegation said.
The 18-member UN's CERD is holding its 90th session from 2 to 26 August this year to review anti-discrimination efforts undertaken by eight state parties — being reviewed this session.