03/04/2021, 00.00
PAKISTAN
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Defending minorities, doubts about the National Commission

by Shafique Khokhar

Civil society groups criticise the government’s minority rights watchdog at a seminar organised in Karachi by the Justice and Peace Commission of the Catholic Church of Pakistan. The “Minority Commission is not the one we recommended. It should be based on its own bylaws, principles and criteria without state interference.”

Karachi (AsiaNews) – The National Justice and Peace Commission of the Catholic Church of Pakistan organised a seminar held on Monday at St Patrick's Cathedral in Karachi to discuss the role and composition of the National Minority Commission (NMC).

The latter was considered a source of hope for Pakistan’s minorities, but it has shown its lack of independence, which is why many human rights advocates and civil society groups consider it to be ineffective.

Several activists and politicians were present at the event, including Jaipal Das Chhabria, a member of the National Minority Commission, who defended the institution as “better than other commissions”.

The NMC must be made “by minorities, for minorities and of minorities,” said Chhabria. The institution, he added is concerned about news coming from all over Pakistan and insists that the rights of every citizen must be “equal to those granted to Bilawal Bhutto Zardari or Prime Minister Imran Khan”.

“Our work must be to keep an eye on all violations of rights, such as forced conversions or marriages, school materials tainted by sectarian bias, discrimination at work, the destruction of religious sites”.

For Zahid Farooq, a Christian activist who is also director of the Urban Resource Centre in Karachi, the NMC should review its working methods and include many more members from minority religious groups, as well as more women.

Zulfiqar Ali Shah, director of the Pakistan Institute of Labour Education & Research (PILER), agrees, lamenting that “the Minority Commission is not the one we recommended. It should be based on its own rules, principles and criteria without state interference.”

To this end, National Justice and Peace Commission Deputy Director Kashif Aslam noted that six members have a public role, along with 12 external representatives.

“We wonder in what capacity they are part of the body since the Paris Principles clearly state that such bodies must not have direct relations with the state.

“In addition, the Commission should play a role in the proceedings and hearings of incidents involving minorities, which is not the case. The Supreme Court itself stated that it should be the expression of Parliament, not of the government.”

Last year was a tough one for minorities in Pakistan, with an increase in forced conversions with little action on the part of the Pakistani government.

Only Sindh Province, home to a large Sufi community, has a history of tolerance and laws in favour of local minorities, as Naveed Anthony, Member of the Provincial Assembly for the Pakistan People's Party, told the seminary.

For his part, Kashif Anthony, coordinator of the Justice and Peace Commission, closed the meeting, expressing hope that more people in the country will commit to fostering brotherhood, peace, diversity, and patriotism, especially in the hearts of young people.

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