Political Parties Urged To Honour Commitments To Protect Minorities' Rights

Resolution passed seeking the protection of minorities and reinstate Jinnah's vision for equality of rights for all citizens 

Political Parties Urged To Honour Commitments To Protect Minorities' Rights

All political parties have been urged to deliver on their pledges made in the party manifestos to the minorities' rights. 

This was stated by speakers at a convention organized by the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) on Thursday to observe National Minorities' Day. Representatives of the lawyers' community, civil society, and media, apart from representatives of major political parties, were also present and presented policies on the rights of minority communities.

The convention brought a cross sections representation from civil society and political parties. Pressing issues such as forced conversion, establishing the national commission for minorities, compliance with judgment regarding minorities' rights, and affirmative action for religious minorities were discussed.

Two documentary films were shown at the convention. One on the importance/ relevance of national minorities day and the second film "Humsaya" (Neighbour)", a CSJ production that won an award for the best short documentary on human rights at the Venice Intercultural Film Festival (VIFF) in June 2023. 

Hina Jillani, Peter Jacob, Wajahat Masood, Benazir Shah, Saqib Jillani, Veengas, Dr Kalyan Singh Kalyan, Yaqoob Khan Bangash and Suneel Malik were among the speakers. At the same time, Barrister Aamir Hassan (PPP), Ishtiaq Gohar (PML-Q) and Azhar Iqbal (JI) presented their parties' policies regarding minorities' rights. 

Peter Jacob, the executive director of CSJ, said that Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah's speech of August 11, 1947, his 14 points from 1929, the Lahore Resolution of 1940, and the Liaquat-Nehru Pact of 1950 were all documents that address deprivations, ensuring equality of rights and establishing a just system.

Referring to the National Commission for Minorites Bill 2023, which was recently passed by the outgoing National Assembly, Jacob regretted that it was granted the seal of Parliament without addressing gaps. The onus, he said, is now on the upper house of Parliament to introduce amendments in the bill to make the prospective minority rights body truly functional, effective, independent, autonomous, and resourceful.

Hina Jillani Advocate reminded that Pakistan came into being to protect the rights of religious minorities. Hence it is integral that issues faced by minorities are addressed by the state and the government.

She lamented that regressive policies are being framed to appease violent forces and a mindset that inculcates hatred among citizens on the basis of their identity. Religious content in all compulsory subjects, she noted, sometimes becomes hurtful for children, particularly those who believe in religions other than Islam. This needs to be reviewed, she said. 

CSJ Chairperson Wajahat Masood said that the political parties need to review their actions, as laws introduced in haste under the influence of fundamental groups are difficult to be withdrawn.

He reminded that in his speech before the constituent assembly on August 11, 1947, Jinnah had outlined the principles of tolerance and equality. However, the Objectives Resolution was contrary to what Quaid had aimed for.

It is time that the state introduces measures to ensure the equality of citizenship and rights for all and demonstrate the neutrality of the state by removing the policy of preference on the basis of religion.

Barrister Aamir Hassan, a representative of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), said that laws must not only be inspired by religion to make the state affairs and religion separate, as guaranteed by Jinnah in his speech on August 11, 1947. 

He said that the law to amend section 298-A, and recently passed by the Parliament, is problematic as it is likely to be misused to make blasphemy accusations.  

Journalist Benazir Shah said that, regrettably, political parties lack an understanding of human rights issues, and they seem to be non-serious about addressing the issues that minorities face. She added that textbooks developed under a single national curriculum of subjects: English, Urdu, and Social Science carry Islamic content, which should not be taught to religious minorities as guaranteed in Article 22(1) of the constitution of Pakistan.

She further said that political parties must not surrender their power to those forces which use religion for their political gains and prevent progressive policy actions.

Journalist and activist Veengas said that the forced conversions and child marriages of minority girls are a sad reality. Unfortunately, successive governments have failed to introduce preventive legislation to address the phenomenon of forced conversions, she said. 
She added that the dreams of minor girls matter and that their spirits should not be murdered through forced conversion and underage marriages, so their rights need to be protected by the state. 

Saqib Jillani Advocate called upon the governments at the Federal and Provincial levels to pay comprehensive and urgent attention to the challenges faced by the minority communities. He pointed out issues such as forced conversion, freedom of belief and freedom of study their own religion and ensured the implementation of Justice Tassadduq Hussain Jilani's landmark judgment of June 19, 2014, in letter and spirit.

Historian and teacher Dr Yaqoob Khan Bangash said that acts of discrimination, prejudice, and violence on different grounds are the reality of Pakistan; the political parties must consider introducing laws and policies that contribute to bringing about positive change in the mindset of the society. 

Professor Sardar Kalyan Singh Kalyan said that our curriculum must focus on promoting inclusion, diversity and interaction between majority and minority students to curb religious intolerance.

The school curricula and textbooks should focus on promoting inclusion, diversity, critical thinking, and learning outcomes. Moreover, minorities should have access to suitable alternatives to compulsory Islamic education, he said.

Suneel Malik presented the findings of the assessment report "Promises to Keep and Miles to Go" regarding the assessment of the delivery of the pledges about minorities' rights in election manifestos. 

He stated that political parties must not forget their commitments to the electorate; instead, they must focus on actions to implement the pledges made in their respective election manifestos to improve the human rights situation in general and religious freedom and minorities' rights in particular.

Azhar Iqbal, a representative of the Jamaat-e-Islami, said that political parties need to prioritize the protection of minorities rights and make efforts to enhance social cohesion in society. 

Ishtiaq Gohar, a representative of the Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid, said that forced conversions were against Islamic traditions and hence unacceptable. 

He added that the political parties must fulfil their promise and take effective measures to address human rights issues affecting marginalized groups.

Resolution Convention on National Minorities' Day

The participants of the convention on National Minorities' Day recall the vision of Quaid-e-Azam towards building a progressive and tolerant nation, presented in his inaugural address to the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan on August 11 1947. We emphasize vehemently the promotion of religious freedom and tolerance, equality of rights and non-discrimination for all as a national aspiration.

Reiterating the aspiration of multi-religious coexistence reflected in the national flag and the promises made in the Lahore Resolution of 1940 that spells out the need for "adequate, effective and mandatory safeguards for protection of rights and interest of minorities".

Acknowledging the fundamental human rights enunciated in the Constitution of Pakistan, appreciating the pledges made by political parties in their electoral manifestos regarding empowerment and rights of minorities, and appreciating the affirmative measures taken by the federal and provincial governments since the designation of national minorities day, which include, inter alia, reservation of quota in public sector jobs and educational institutions, representation in the Senate, awarding scholarships to students, introducing skill development schemes, regulation of marriages, setting up a national commission for minorities, notifying curriculum for religious education for minority students, provision of jail remission for minority inmates, etc.

Admitting that religious minorities are treated unfairly and face discrimination and violence, and challenges to access effective remedies, we emphasize the need for creating favourable conditions for minorities to express their concerns and engage in policy matters, and identify solutions to prevent and address human rights issues that they confront. 

Admitting that Jinnah's vision for equality of rights for all citizens without any distinction has been ignored by successive governments, the participants of the convention unanimously reiterate that the message of Quaid-e-Azam's speech needs to be used as a compass for the formulation of laws and policies. We emphasize the need for effective participation and integration of minorities in the national mainstream in all tiers of governance and decision-making and the incorporation of minorities' input to strengthen affirmative measures to enhance citizens' access to justice and enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms. 

We, the participants of this convention, call the attention of all stakeholders to the human rights challenges such as; religious intolerance, extremism, and discrimination. We resolve to work with all stakeholders and call upon the federal and provincial governments to take the following measures: 

  • Amend the provisions in the constitution of Pakistan that are incompatible with fundamental rights given in the constitution to remove conceptual inconsistencies about the equality of rights among citizens. Moreover, the terminology 'Non-Muslim' be avoided, and 'Minorities' be used in the constitution.
  • Deliver on their pledges made in the electoral manifesto related to minorities' inclusion, empowerment, and rights.
    ⦁ Set up empowered inter-ministerial and cross-sectional implementation committees at the federal and provincial levels to oversee the progress and persuade the concerned ministries and departments to take legally effective and serious measures to comply with seven court orders from the landmark Supreme Court judgment regarding minorities' rights issued on June 19 2014, and present the report to the Supreme Court Bench hearing the follow-up applications. 
  • Adopt the curriculum for the subject of religious education in lieu of Islamiyat, notified by the Federal Ministry of Education, and make adequate arrangements to engage writers, print textbooks, and hire teachers to ensure teaching minority students from seven different faith backgrounds their respective religions in educational institutions. 
  • Introduce educational reforms after consultation with civil society, and ensure that the policy measures in pursuance of improving curricula, textbooks, and examination system contribute to developing inclusive and equitable quality education, and they do not violate the constitutional protection of religious freedom and non-discrimination under Articles 20, 22 (1), and 25 of the Constitution of Pakistan.
  • Constitute an independent, autonomous, and resourceful Task Force for Minorities and the National Commission for Minorities through an act of Parliament, with a clear mandate in accordance with the directives of the Supreme Court, in order to deliver substantial progress regarding the implementation of minorities' rights. 
  • Institute a regulatory body through enactment, with a mandate to monitor and address complaints, in order to enforce the job quota reserved for religious minorities in public sector jobs.
  • Criminalize forced faith conversions through protective legislation to bring perpetrators to justice for their crimes involving child marriage, forced conversion, and sexual violence.   
  • Set up an empowered implementation committee to give effect to the recommendations of the Judicial Inquiry of the incident of Gojra in 2009 in order to prevent the misuse of blasphemy laws, reduce the exposure of minorities to intolerance, and better respond to violence targeted against minorities, and prosecute the actors involved in incitement to violence using the pretext of blasphemy accusation.