ISLAMABAD, Pakistan: Rights groups expressed their deep concerns about the severe human rights violations faced by religious minorities including forced religious conversions and child marriages of Christian and Hindu girls, and violent attacks on the pretext of false blasphemy accusations.
They urged legal duty bearers such as; the police, judiciary, and public representatives to help strengthen and implement legal and administrative safeguards to protect minorities against human rights abuses.
This call was emphasized by human rights defenders during a consultative meeting organized by the Voice for Justice (VFJ) to mark International Human Rights Day.
Joseph Jansen, Chairperson at Voice for Justice (VFJ) stressed the need for the government’s obligations and commitments to translate into effective and sustainable implementation with concrete targets related to human rights. He noted that Pakistan’s economy has been benefitting since 2014 due to its engagement with international human rights protection mechanisms. Despite this, the European Union has extended Pakistan’s GPS+ status for another four years, while expressing concerns about the country’s progress in human rights. EU assessment report of Pakistan under GPS+ pointed out some developments that question the progress achieved by Pakistan.
Ashiknaz Khokhar referred to the EU report identifying Pakistan’s shortcomings that persist in protecting religious freedom and minorities’ rights, in particular, misuse of blasphemy laws, coerced faith conversions and child marriages, and hate speech and violence against minorities, religious content in school textbooks, and the lack of implementation of job quota. He emphasized the need for political will coupled with more determined action to implement reforms and better protect human rights. He urged the government of Pakistan to making serious efforts and take substantial measures to implement recommendations from UN reviews and comply with its obligations under the GSP+.
Shamaun Alfred drew attention to the case of Anwar Kenneth, who has been behind the bar on blasphemy charges for over two decades, appealing for Kenneth’s acquittal. He voiced concern about influential groups that obstruct legislative attempts to criminalize forced conversions and revise blasphemy laws, indicating a critical absence of political will within the Pakistani government to address religious freedom violations that impact minorities.
Nadia Stephen said that religious minorities face discrimination and violence, therefore, the government should take measures to ensure equal rights, protect citizens’ life and property, and address outstanding issues through reforms such as; legislation criminalizing forced conversions, amending blasphemy laws to prevent its misuse, and legislation to prevent hate crimes and mob violence.