Senator calls for parliamentary panel on minorities
ISLAMABAD: Senator Farhatullah Babar has said that despite the Constitution guaranteeing minorities’ rights, religious injunctions and Pakistan having signed international covenants, their rights have been shrinking while intolerance by state and society has increased.
Speaking at an International Interfaith meeting organised by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) on Tuesday, the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) leader said, “Fight for minorities’ rights is a long-drawn process and there is no shortcut to changing attitudes except through painstaking and courage.”
He advised the HRCP “to engage bodies like the National Commission on Human Rights, the Ministry of Human Rights, and the National Assembly as force multipliers to carry forward the task”.
In the first instance, Babar said, attention should be focused on setting up of parliamentary caucuses in the National Assembly as well as in provincial assemblies just like the woman caucus in parliament.
The parliamentary caucus may employ parliamentary tools and hold public hearings and convene meetings of the committee on minority issues as the Senate recently did on FATA reforms and speedy and inexpensive justice, he added.
Expressing concern at a recently proposed amendment to the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act, the senator said public hearing should be held on it.
“The amendment seeks to punish with a three-year imprisonment anyone considered to be making derogatory remarks about religious leaders and shrines without identifying the leaders of shrines,” he said. “The participation of radical groups in the last election has further increased sense of fear among the minorities”.
Similarly, the PPP leader said, a large number of instances had come to surface in which religion-based laws were used against minorities to grab their lands. “Since the government itself has been seizing properties attached to shrines, churches and temples, the people were also emboldened to do the same,” he added.
On the occasion, MNA Dr Ramesh Kumar Vankwani announced that next week he would be presenting the bill on the minorities’ right to elect representatives in the lower house.
Meanwhile, the HRCP, in a statement issued at the inaugural meeting, reiterated, “Freedom of religion and belief remains integral to the Commission’s work. The National Interfaith Working Group represents a cross-section of religious and faith-based minority communities. This platform will facilitate interfaith dialogue and carry out collective advocacy, awareness and action to protect the fundamental rights of religious minorities.”
The statement added that given the wave of religiously-motivated violence this year alone – targeting the Christian, Ahmadiyya and Hazara communities in particular – the HRCP “feels it is critical that policymakers and civil society be prepared to take bolder stances on freedom of religion and belief”.