ISLAMABAD, Pakistan: The Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) in collaboration with the Peoples Commission for Minorities Rights (PCMR) organized a People’s Inquiry into Forced Conversions of Minority Women in Islamabad on Saturday.
A People’s Inquiry sought to launch a proper investigation into faith and gender-based crimes committed against minority women (especially, Hindu and Christian girls).
The Inquiry was headed by Dr. Shoaib Suddle and prominent opinion-makers of the panel were MNA Dr. Ramesh Kumar, Mrs. Jacqueline Albert, Mrs. Remona Salik, Peter Jacob, and Dr. Yaqoob Bangash.
The session was attended by prominent human rights activists, legal professionals, journalists, and academics.
The victims, parents, and witnesses to incidents of forced conversions presented accounts of their ordeals. The expert and media asked questions and clarifications. The participants also participated in the deliberations based on experience regarding forced conversions and way forwards.
The inquiry concluded with the approval of the recommendations prepared by the CSJ and PCMR which are the following:
- The Parliamentary Committee on protection from forced conversions and government are urged to consider introducing the following measures for an expeditiously address the phenomenon of forced conversions. The parliament should consider the reintroduction of the Criminal Amendment Bill regarding the Section 498-B of Pakistan Penal Code, 1860, adding procedures for ascertaining the absence of coercion in the instances of faith conversion.
- The Parliamentary Committee to Protect Minorities from Forced Conversions, while laying down rules of procedures and terms of reference, should uphold the high principles of religious freedom as laid down in the Constitution of Pakistan and interpreted in the Supreme Court Judgment of 19 June 2014.
- The Parliamentary Committee to Protect Minorities from Forced Conversions should hold private as well as public inquiries with victims and their families, members of civil society, informed journalists and social activists to probe expeditiously the matter more deeply and suggest concrete legal safeguards against forced conversions and marriages. The findings and resulting recommendations should be submitted to the Parliament for discussion and further action.
- Federal and Provincial Ministries i.e. Human Rights, Law and Minorities Affairs should undertake educational measures to inform the public opinion about the value of protecting religious diversity and religious freedom.
- An interim measure may be necessary given the magnitude of the issue, impunity available to the culprit, and a threat to peace and amity among the communities. The Supreme Court should be approached to introduce a moratorium on validation of any marriages associated with conversions by any officer of the law till the proper legislation is in place.
- Efforts should be made to pass the Protection of Minorities Act, applicable across Pakistan that operationalizes the promise of non-discrimination in the Constitution in the exercise of social and economic rights of religious minorities, including the implementation of job and educational quota for minorities.
- The Federal and Provincial cabinets should hold special meetings to watch over the implementation of orders of the Supreme Court passed on 19th June 2014 in letter and spirit including the establishment of a permanent, independent and statutory Commission for Minorities Rights.
- A component should be introduced to Judicial, Administrative, police and Legal Officers training regarding accountability of the offenses related to abuse of religion.
- Culprits, supporting forced conversions should be investigated by a high powered team and brought to justice.
Speaking at the Inquiry, the Chairman Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) Dr. Qibla Ayaz stated that, with the evidence at hand, we can conclude that forced conversions are a serious problem and have serious repercussions for the good repute of Pakistan.
Dr. Qibla Ayaz further stated that forced conversion of minorities is not as much a religious but a societal issue. Moreover, the CII will continue to take up this issue for a satisfactory resolution.
The Chairman CII supported that marriages/ conversions below 18 years should be investigated.
The Director Islamic Research Institute (IRI) Dr. Muhammad Zia ul Haq reiterated that forcing religious views on others was un-Islamic.
Dr. Ramesh Kumar added that he will continue to sensitize the parliamentarians on this issue.
The Executive Director CSJ and the Chairperson PCMR Peter Jacob emphasized on comprehension of the drivers and contributing factors to the phenomenon of forced conversions such as gender crimes, poverty, religious discrimination, and numerical vulnerability.
A documentary prepared by the CSJ on Religious Freedom “Ye Woh Sehr tou Naheen” was also screened.