07/12/2021, 15.20
PAKISTAN
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Minority property rights at risk due to changes in the law

by Shafique Khokhar

The People's Commission for Minority Rights warns that there are “sufficient grounds to suspect that concentration of powers in the Ministry of Religious Affairs” will increase the risk of abuses and illegal seizures, an already widespread problem.

Lahore (AsiaNews) – In Pakistan, an amendment to the Protection of Communal Properties of Minorities Ordinance (2002) could threaten minority property rights, this according to the People's Commission for Minority Rights (PCMR), a human rights advocacy group.

An amendment to the law adopted on 7 June is the main bone of contention. It transfers the power to sell, transfer, purchase and donate minority property from the federal government to the “ministry concerned”, i.e., the Federal Ministry of Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony.

In a statement, the PCMR slammed the ordinance for giving absolute power to an entity or a single person, expressing the fear that this change could lead to abuse of power and a loss of transparency.

“The arbitrary nature of the legislation and the measures adopted in the amendment to section 6 of the Protection to Communal Properties Ordinance 2002 are sufficient grounds to suspect that concentration of powers in the Ministry of Religious Affairs will deprived minorities of their rightful use of their properties,” said Peter Jacob, executive director of Centre for Social Justice.

Under the 2002 law, the National Commission for Minorities must be involved in the process of authorisation.

At present, there are reports of widespread abuse across the country, including land grabs with impunity and illegal seizure of property owned by Christians, Hindus, Sikhs and Jews. With this amendment, any accountability by a broader body will be lost.

For this reason, the PCMR has asked the speaker of the Senate and the leaders of political parties not to approve this amendment; on the contrary, they should launch a complete review of the situation in order to arrive at a comprehensive law that truly protects the rights of minority communities.

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