Pakistan in violation of international human rights obligations
Yasser Latif Hamdani
The freedom to profess one’s religion is integral to the ICCPR and therefore any law that abridges that freedom is in violation of and in contradiction to Pakistan’s international commitment
The Islamic Republic of Pakistan signed the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) in 2008 and ratified it with reservations in 2010. In 2011, the Pakistan government, on instructions from Prime Minister Gilani, withdrew almost all of the reservations. Hence, since July 2011, Pakistan has ratified the ICCPR almost completely. This means that Pakistan has committed itself to upholding the civil rights and political rights of its citizens almost entirely. To get a full sense of the legal position, it is instructive to read an article by Qasim Rashid, a young Pakistani-American lawyer, in the Richmond Journal of Global Law and Business (vol.11/1), which lays down in some detail the history of the ICCPR, Pakistan’s ratification and subsequent lapses.
Without going into too much of the legal technicalities, I will attempt to provide an overview for the readers here on how Pakistan falls short, almost shamelessly for us as Pakistanis, of its commitments under this covenant vis-à-vis Ahmedis, Christians, Hindus and other minorities — forced or otherwise. In Article 18 of the ICCPR is the guaranteed freedom of thought, conscience and religion. The right to religion includes the freedom to adopt and profess in public or private, freedom of worship and unstinted and unfettered right to believe and manifest one’s religious beliefs accordingly. Article 19 goes further and says that everyone shall have the right to his or her opinions — without interference. Article 20 of the ICCPR forbids any advocacy of religious hatred.
All of the aforesaid have been placed in the non-Muslim category under Article 260 of the Constitution of Pakistan. For Christians, Hindus and other minorities, the factum of their status as non-Muslims is acceptable provided there is no discrimination.
Ahmedis, however, protest their forced categorisation as central to their faith is their belief that they are a Muslim community. Not content with declaring Ahmedis non-Muslims for the purposes of the law and constitution, Pakistani lawmakers in the 1980s also ratified Ordinance XX of 1984, which essentially outlaws Ahmedi modes of worship and religion by making it unlawful for this community to use what are known as Shair-e-Islam. A Supreme Court judgment in 1993 (Zaheeruddin Vs State, 1993, SCMR 1718), upheld two to one the said law as constitutional and not in conflict with Article 20 of the Constitution that promises freedom of religion and the freedom to profess and propagate one’s religion. The Honourable Supreme Court resorted to using logic germane to intellectual property such as trademarks, etc, to justify this vile and inhuman law; a far cry from when Jinnah had said clearly that Ahmedis were Muslims if they profess to be Muslims. The question now is whether this law is sustainable after the ratification of ICCPR by Pakistan. The answer has to be an overwhelming no. The freedom to profess one’s religion is integral to the ICCPR and therefore any law that abridges that freedom is in violation of and in contradiction to Pakistan’s international commitment.
Last week, we saw a complete abdication of responsibility by our state when the police in Rawalpindi stopped Ahmedi worshippers from offering Friday prayers in their own place of worship. As if that was not enough, the newly elected ‘cabinet’ of the Lahore Bar Association banned Shezan products for the mere reason that it was in part owned by an Ahmedi family. No suo motu notice is forthcoming on this issue by our otherwise super activist Chief Justice of Pakistan. Similarly, in passport application forms, officially sanctioned Muslim citizens are required to abuse and curse the Ahmedi religious beliefs, which amount to religious hatred sponsored by the state itself. Furthermore, Pakistan reintroduced joint electorates after a gap of about 24 years in 2002. This logically meant one electoral roll for every Pakistani regardless of his religious belief. Yet, in what was a sheer surrender to religious bigotry, the so-called enlightened and moderate regime of General Musharraf placed Ahmedi names on a supplemental ‘non-Muslim’ voting list. This discriminatory and bigoted move was done to disenfranchise Ahmedi voters, amounting to censure for holding their own religious beliefs. The existence of supplementary rolls is, therefore, also a clear violation of Pakistan’s commitment to safeguard the political rights of its citizens.
While Christians, Hindus, Sikhs and others are not subject to such open discrimination, their situation is only marginally better. In Sindh, Hindu women are being abducted and forcibly converted to Islam. Many Christians are suffering under the blasphemy law, a law which itself is in contradiction to the ICCPR. Churches, temples and other places of worship are routinely destroyed. In Pakistan, no one is free to go to their temples, mosques or any other place of worship other than the Sunni Muslim majority and even they go to their mosques under threat of terrorist attacks and violence. Even amongst the Sunni Muslims, the Barelvi sect faces ruin and destruction vis-à-vis the mazar and dargah. This is also leading to radicalisation within the Barelvi, who are now competing with the Deobandi and Ahle-Hadith in intolerance and bigotry.
To sum up, Pakistan is in complete and total violation of its international obligations vis-à-vis religious freedom, civil and political rights. The consequences can be severe and it is entirely possible that in the extreme, foreign governments might stop accepting or honouring Pakistani passports as a valid travel document. South Africa faced such international isolation and was forced to give up its bigoted racial policies. Pakistan has many more international enemies than South Africa did in the 1970s. Therefore, isolation along these lines will lead to a terrible disaster for an already ailing economy. The upshot, of course, would be that Pakistan would be forced to undo the institutionalised discrimination in its legal system against non-Muslims but at what cost? Let us voluntarily rectify these problems instead of becoming the subject of international humiliation and ridicule.