HRCP report highlights marginalisation of religious minorities – 08 Feb 2023

LAHORE: The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) on Tuesday called attention to continued marginalisation of religious minorities.

In its report, titled A Breach of Faith: Freedom of Religion or Belief in 2021-22, the HRCP has observed with considerable amount of developments during 2021/22 belie the state`s commit-ment to freedom of religion or belief.

According to the report, the incidence of forced conversions in Sindh has remained worryingly consistent.

Reports of religious minorities` sites of worship being desecrated have continued, but with no response from the state when such incidents involve sites associated with the Ahmadiyya community, it says and adds that in Punjab, the mandatory declaration offaith for marriage certificates has further marginalised the Ahmadiyya community.

Attempts to enforce a standardised national curriculum have created an exclusionary narrative that sidelines Pakistan`s religious minorities, the report points out.

The HRCP has reiterated the need for a representative and autonomous statutory national commission for the minorities in the spirit ofthe 2014 Supreme Court judgement of Justice Tassadug Jillani. It has also called for urgent legislation to criminalise forced conversions.

Among other recommendations, the HRCP has demanded that the state makes a concerted effort to counter sectarian violence, not only by implementing the National Action Plan (NAP) but also by developing a national narrative that unambiguously eschews religiousextremism and majoritarianism.

The low threshold of evidence for blasphemy must be raised to ensure that the laws in question are not weaponised by people to settle personal vendettas, as is so often the case.

The human rights commission has also called for reevaluating the quotas for religious minorities in education, employment and accountability mechanisms to ensure that these quotas areimplemented, adding that in no circumstances should job advertisements call for `non-Muslims only` when recruiting sanitation workers.

Unless these measures are implemented urgently, Pakistan will continue to foster a climate of impunity for perpetrators of faith-based discrimination and violence, allowing the already narrow space for religious freedom to shrink even further, the HRCP says.

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