25th August, 2022
By Rehan Piracha
The National Human Rights Commission has taken suo motu notice of alleged forced conversion and marriage of a Sikh woman in Buner and desecration of Ahmadi graves in Punjab.
In a letter written to the provincial chief secretary on August 24, NCHR chairperson Rabiya Javeri expressed serious concerns over the desecration of Ahmadi graves in Pakistan especially in Punjab. The commission quoted media reports as saying that nearly 50 graves belonging to Ahmadis have been allegedly desecrated. “Such acts must be condemned, as these are sheer violation of Human Rights,” reads the NCHR letter.
The NCHR chairperson sought a report from the chief secretary over the desecration of Ahmadi graves in the province.
Similarly, the NCHR sought a report from the Buner district police officer over alleged forced conversion of a Sikh woman there. The Sikh community has protested against the 25-year-old woman’s alleged abduction, forceful conversion and marriage to a Muslim man last week.
In the letter to the DPO on August 22, the NCHR condemned the alleged abduction of the Sikh woman and her alleged forceful conversion to Islam. “The said act has effected the entire Sikh community hence it is a matter of grave concern. The said act has spread terror in the Sikh community to live their life in peaceful environment as per their own religion and in accordance with superior law of the land,” the NCHR letter reads.
In light of the tragic incident, the letter said, the NCHR was compelled to intervene to address the said alleged abduction and alleged forced conversion. The NCHR called for an expeditious inquiry, submission of detailed report and strong intervention to prevent any further incident in future.
Speaking at a function in Islamabad, Justice Mansoor Ali Shah of the Supreme Court had suggested that the NCHR should take suo motu notice on social and environment issues, including atrocities being committed against minorities. He said Section 9 of the National Commission for Human Rights Act 2012 gives the right of suo motu to the commission on the violations of human rights and it should exercise its powers on human rights violations in the country. “It is high time that we should be brave and strong enough to look at what is happening to the minorities, including Hazaras and Ahmedis, in the country,” Justice Mansoor Ali Shah said in his keynote address at the launch of a NCHR report on mental health on August 24.
NCHR chairperson Rabiya Javeri referred to the above two incidents of atrocities on minorities in which the commission has recently exercised its powers of suo motu.
NCHR exercised suo motu in 271 cases
According to figures shared by the NCHR chairperson with Voicepk.net, the commission has taken suo motu notice in 271 cases of human rights violations across the country between January 2018 and July 2022. The period includes the duration when the NCHR remained dysfunctional for over 18 months between May 2019 to November 2021.
According to the NCHR figures, 19 suo motu were taken on cases of human rights violations in Islamabad, 116 in Punjab, 40 in Sindh, 74 in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and 20 in Balochistan. Besides, 4221 complaints and petitions were received with the commission. The NCHR was currently hearing 109 cases while 1401 other cases were under investigation. The NCHR has disposed of 2980 cases of human rights violations from January 2018 and July 2022.
Besides, she said, the NCHR also used its administrative, executive and judicial powers on the issue of job discrimination against minorities with reference to sanitation work. “The NCHR was able to get pledges from the federal and provincial governments in rectifying discriminatory hiring practices,” she said.
However, the protection of rights of minorities in the country has remained a far cry despite efforts by the apex judiciary to enforce constitutional guarantees. The compliance of 2014 Tasaduq Jillani judgment on minorities rights has been far from impressive 81 months after the verdict, according to a study on the implementation of the judgment released by Centre of Social Justice in April.
The CSJ study titled Justice Yet Afar concluded that the implementation gap was largely attributable to poor statecraft about minorities, institutional hiccups, and lethargy or inaptitude on part of the implementers (Executive branch). “On a systemic level, the vested interest benefitting from a lack of good governance, and absence of rule of law interfered with the progress on specific directives contained in the judgment.”
According to the CSJ study, the weaknesses are exemplified in the absence of an oversight body for protection and promotion of minority rights. In terms of compliance, the federal government was the most defiant respondent. It reported the least number of compliance reports, particularly on three very specific orders by the Supreme Court during all 25 hearings, till March 2021.
On the other hand, the provinces provided either insufficient information or actions without result. Government of Punjab sent the most reports followed by Khyber Pakhtunkhawa, Sindh and Balochistan which were largely a repetition of the earlier reports, the CSJ study said.
The study also pointed out the National Commission on Minorities established under the Ministry of Religious Affairs in 2014 had no statutory status deemed essential for an independent and autonomous institution geared protection of rights and safeguards provided to the minorities under the Constitution and law. Unlike the NCHR, the NCM does not have suo motu powers under the law. Activists and civil society organisations have termed it a toothless body.
The CSJ study had recommended that NCM should be an independent entity reporting to the parliament and not working under any ministry. If for practical and collaborative work and functioning the NCM needs to be linked to a ministry, it should be the Ministry of Human Rights.
Ahmadi community not in purview of National Commission on Minorities: Chela Ram
However, Chela Ram, chairperson of the NCM, said the commission was actively working for protection of minorities under its mandate. Referring to recent backlash against the Hindu community over an alleged incident of desecration in Hyderabad, Ram said the NCM took note of the incident and directed senior police officials to hold a fair and impartial inquiry.
Asked whether the commission also took notice of desecration of Ahmadi graves, he said the commission has no members of the Ahmadi minority community hence did not deal with their issues. “The NCM in Islamabad takes notice of all incidents of any atrocities on Christian, Hindu, Sikh and Kailash communities,” he added.
In its 2022 Annual Report, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) called on the State Department to designate Pakistan as a Country of Particular Concern for its systematic, ongoing, and egregious religious freedom violations.
“Members of the Shi’a Muslim, Ahmadiyya, Christian, Hindu, and Sikh communities face increasingly aggressive societal discrimination often propagated by extremist rhetoric and enabled by Pakistani authorities who are unable or unwilling to protect these minorities,” the report said.
Pakistan’s Foreign Office had rejected Washington’s report on the deteriorating religious freedom in Pakistan, saying that it is an “arbitrary” and “subjective” assessment. “The inherent problem with such kinds of reports, unilateral in nature, is that they are devoid of the element of constructive engagement,” Foreign Office spokesperson Asim Iftikhar Ahmad while responding to the US report in June.