August 10, 2023
By Maryam Missal
The Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) hosted its 7th convention on National Minorities’ Day, in Lahore, emphasizing the importance of political parties fulfilling their commitments to minorities’ rights as outlined in their manifestos on Thursday.
The convention aimed to emphasize Pakistan’s commitment to religious freedom, tolerance, and equal rights, echoing Quaid-e-Azam’s vision for a progressive and inclusive nation.
Peter Jacob, CSJ’s executive director, underscored the historical significance of documents like Quaid-e-Azam’s speech of August 11, 1947, and the Lahore Resolution, highlighting their role in ensuring equality of rights and a just system. Jacob expressed concerns over the National Commission for Minorities Bill, 2023, urging the Senate to introduce amendments for the effective functioning of the prospective minority rights institution.
The convention provided a space for civil society and political parties to collaboratively address the challenges faced by religious minorities and promote human rights and social cohesion.
Hina Jillani, an advocate and Chairperson Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) stressed that
Pakistan’s creation aimed to protect minorities’ rights, but regressive policies have given rise to hatred based on identity. She called for a review of religious content in compulsory subjects that can be hurtful to children of different beliefs.
Wajahat Masood, Chairperson of CSJ, urged political parties to reconsider laws influenced by fundamentalist groups and prioritize measures that ensure equal citizenship rights and religious neutrality.
Journalist and Human Rights Activist, Benazir Shah, highlighted the lack of understanding of human rights issues by political parties and called for the removal of Islamic content from compulsory subjects for religious minorities, as guaranteed in the constitution.
The convention addressed various issues, including forced conversions, the establishment of the National Commission for Minorities, and compliance with judgments regarding minorities’ rights. The participants issued a resolution calling for amendments to the constitution, implementation of pledges, setting up of empowered committees, and protective legislation against forced conversions.
Veengas, a journalist and activist, brought up the discussion on the distressing reality of forced conversions and child marriages among minority girls, especially in rural Sindh, urging protective legislation to safeguard their rights.
Saqib Jillani Advocate emphasized comprehensive attention from governments to challenges faced by minority communities, urging the implementation of the Jilani judgment for religious freedom and belief.
The conference presented nine measures to call the attention of all stakeholders to the human rights challenges such as; religious intolerance, extremism, and discrimination.
One of the key recommendations put forth by CSJ involves amending the provisions in the Pakistan Constitution that are incongruent with fundamental rights.
The aim is to eliminate any conceptual inconsistencies regarding the equality of rights among citizens. Furthermore, CSJ suggests replacing the term ‘Non-Muslim’ with ‘Minorities’ in the constitution, promoting a more inclusive and tolerant approach.
The organization also emphasizes the importance of political parties delivering on the promises made in their electoral manifestos regarding minorities’ inclusion, empowerment, and rights. This commitment to their pledges is seen as a crucial step towards ensuring that minorities receive the rights and opportunities they deserve.
To oversee the progress and ensure compliance with court orders related to minorities’ rights, CSJ recommends the establishment of empowered inter-ministerial and cross-sectional implementation committees at both the federal and provincial levels.
These committees would play a vital role in monitoring the implementation of measures and presenting reports to the relevant judicial bodies.