Pakistan's human rights problem

Raheel Raza writes from the UNHRC in Geneva, where the country on most people's lips is Pakistan

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A vigil held for Malala Yousafzai
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Raheel Raza
On 13 March 2013 10:14

I am at the UNHRC in Geneva where the overall theme is Rights of the Child. I’ve sat through many heartbreaking sessions on the lack of human rights for children, where the most talked about country is Pakistan, the country of my birth.

One such session, organised by the Permanent Mission of Pakistan on behalf of Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) as an informal meeting to discuss OIC resolutions, in which I thought they would mention the recent burning of Christian homes in Lahore, dealt almost entirely with the Palestinian issue and Israeli settlements. That came as no surprise.

But another, a side-session on human rights violations in Pakistan, just about covered everything in terms of Pakistan’s own problems. This was sponsored by the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights (CADHP) and the International Organisation of the Francophonie (OIF), two NGOs that have Observer status at the UN. On the panel were members of various NGOs who deal with human rights violations.

The chair of the panel, Stephane Michot, said that it had convened because for decades there has been lack of co-operation with the Pakistani Government about the breadth and scope of its human rights violations, to the extent that Pakistan has contravened almost every resolution that it has signed on human rights.

Michot urged an independent inquiry and urged NGOs to find ways to pressure the Pakistani Government to acknowledge their problems. He mentioned that at the October 2012 session at the UN, Pakistan rejected the suggestion that there were executions taking place in Baluchistan. Sadly, as we have seen played out in the media, this is not an honest assessment.

The panel presented reports that were varied, starting with Imam Al-Salman from Bahrain who spoke about persecution of Shias in Pakistan. The same has been happening in Bahrain. He blamed ignorance and intolerance and said the problem is intense and must be solved. 

In Bahrain 38 Shia mosques have been destroyed, 4000 Shia employees expelled, and many others imprisoned. He compared this to Pakistan, stating the problem in that country is in fact worse as it targets all minorities. He said, “Unless the International community takes a strong stance and supports human rights in Pakistan, there will be no change. Change is linked not only to the government but to civil society – Pakistani masses need to be educated about how to treat minorities”.

I questioned him about omitting the Wahaabi/Salafi influence over these areas, and he admitted that. of course, that was the root of the problem. 

Dr. Rubina Greenwood from the world Sindhi Congress highlighted the terrible plight of indigenous Sindhi Hindus, who used to make up 15 percent of the population of Pakistan at partition. They now count for less than 2 percent. They have been systematically targeted because they are of a 'lower class', and their women raped, abducted and forced to convert. 

According to Ms. Greenwood, the police, judiciary, and government don’t do anything to help; in fact they are part of the problem which is growing by the day, forcing thousands to leave their homes and take refuge in India. She also blamed the extremists and the education system which promotes hate against minorities. 

A Baluchi spoke about atrocities against his people. He argued that these are state-sponsored because the state is based on an ideology of religious fundamentalism which is also taught in schools.

Dr. Ayaz presented the case for the Ahmadiyyas who have been treated as sub-humans in Pakistan. It was horrifying to hear that they can’t even practice Islam as their faith and are not allowed to vote unless they revoke their allegiance to their leader.

A speaker from the floor mentioned how specific issues, such as acid burnings of women, had been brought up at the last UPR and Pakistan agreed to implement laws to prevent such horror; later it was found that the law was only good in one province.

A Pakistani in the audience (who I suspect is with the Pakistan Mission) responded by saying that if you look at the history of Pakistan, the problem is that the extremists were imported by U.S. and the West. He said Pakistan is going through a difficult stage and you can’t blame the state for the actions of non-state actors, and that the acts of genocide against Balochis and other minorities were exactly that. At the risk of being distracted by such views, it's not difficult to conclude that this is a popular, and problematic, attitude.

What was positive about this panel is that it identified Pakistan's problems and is now looking at the international community and the UNHRC to find solutions. The issue of Blasphemy and Apostasy laws, for example, is front and centre and there has been dialogue with a few Pakistani Ministers to abrogate these troubling laws.

There are steps being taken by the UN to ensure that Pakistan stops contravening international law and makes changes in the legal system to protect women and minorities. Their session is coming up next week, and there is hope to put pressure on them to accept that they have problems and to start bringing about change.

For those who think that the UNHRC is a useless institution, may I remind them that change takes place one step at a time. I am here to see that some of those steps are taken. Ultimately, I am here to see that human rights violations are tabled – and in time acted upon.

Raheel Raza is President of The Council for Muslims Facing Tomorrow

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