12/11/2023, 19.46
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Human Rights Day: Pakistani minorities warn of a national emergency

by Shafique Khokhar

Forced conversions, child brides, and abuse of blasphemy laws are just a few examples. Christian and Hindu girls and young women are especially targeted in the Muslim-majority country. Greater commitment and accountability are needed from police, government, and judiciary. In one year, 3,914 rapes, 664 cases of domestic violence, 174 honour killings, and 44 acid attacks were recorded in Punjab alone.

Lahore (AsiaNews) – Religious minorities in Pakistan face human rights violations daily, including forced conversions, child brides, and attacks using and abusing, laws and regulations such as those on blasphemy, often used against rivals or to settle personal disputes. The problem is especially acute for Christian and Hindu girls and young women.

Given this ever-present emergency, some prominent figures and advocacy groups made an appeal yesterday, 10 December, Human Rights Day. Celebrated around the world, the observance commemorates the proclamation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the United Nations General Assembly on 10 December 1948, 75 years ago.

The appeal is addressed to Pakistan’s police, judiciary, government officials, and political leaders to enforce the law and protect those who are victims of abuse.

Many civil society groups urge the government to uphold legal and administrative safeguards to protect ethnic and religious minorities from human rights violations and abuses.

“Successive governments have introduced a legal framework and established national human rights institutions,” explained Fr Abid Tanvir, vicar general of the diocese of Faisalabad; “however, women, people with disabilities, and religious minorities are still facing discrimination and exploitation for the lack of political will and insufficient allocation of resources to institutions.”

Shazia George echoes such sentiments. A former member of the Punjab Commission on the Status of Women (PCSW), she currently is the executive director of the Association of Women for Awareness and Motivation (AWAM).

“Last year, Punjab recorded 3,914 incidents of rape, 664 cases of domestic violence, 174 instances of honour killing, 44 cases of acid throwing, and 14 incidents of forced marriages,” she explained. This “demonstrates a weak implementation mechanism that undermines the effectiveness of existing laws.”

Joseph Jansen, president of Voice for Justice (VFJ), notes that Pakistan has received aid and its economy has benefited from engaging with international partners and human rights institutions since 2014.

In particular, the European Union has renewed the Asian country’s GPS+[*] status for another four years. Under this mechanism, the EU provides special incentives for countries that protect rights, workers, the environment, etc. But in the case of Pakistan, the EU has also expressed concerns in a recent assessment report about its lack of progress in human rights.

For Ashiknaz Khokhar, the EU report points to Pakistan's chronic shortcomings in protecting religious freedom and minority rights; he urges the government to make greater efforts to implement UN recommendations.

Shamaun Alfred drew attention to the case of Anwar Kenneth (pictured), who has been behind bars on blasphemy charges for more than two decades, calling for his acquittal.

Finally, Nadia Stephen said that the government should take steps to ensure equal rights, protect citizens' lives and property, and address outstanding issues through reforms.

To this end, it should criminalise forced conversions, amend blasphemy laws to prevent blasphemy-related abuses, and introduce a regulatory framework to prevent hate crimes and mob violence.

[*] Generalised Scheme of Preferences Plus.

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