Political parties urged to honour their commitments to protect minorities’ rights

Keeping its tradition of observing National Minorities’ Day annually, the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) organized a 7th convention urging the political parties to Deliver on their Pledges made in the party manifestos to the minorities’ rights. 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. Whereas, Barrister Aamir Hassan (PPP), Ishtiaq Gohar (PML-Q) and Azhar Iqbal (JI) presented their parties’ policies regarding minorities’ rights. 
Speaking on the occasion, Peter Jacob, executive director CSJ said that Quaid-e-Azam’s speech of 11 August 1947, the fourteen Points of Jinnah (1929), the Lahore Resolution (1940), and the Liaquat Nehru Pact (1950) are documents of the utmost importance as they contribute to addressing deprivations, ensuring equality of rights and establishing a just system. He added that regrettably that the national assembly has passed a National Commission for Minorites Bill, 2023 without addressing its gaps, the onus is on the Senate to introduce amendments in the Bill to make the prospective minority rights body truly functional, and effective, independent, autonomous, and resourceful minority rights institution.
Hina Jillani Advocate said that Pakistan came into being for the protection of minorities’ rights, and issues faced by minorities need to be addressed by the state and government. She added that regressive policies are being framed to appease the violent forces and mindset that inculcate hatred among citizens on the basis of their identity. The religious content in all compulsory subjects sometimes becomes hurtful for children, particularly the believers of religions other than Islam, which needs to be reviewed. 
Wajahat Masood, Chairperson CSJ said that the political parties need to review their actions, as the laws introduced in haste under the influence of fundamental groups are difficult to be withdrawn. He added that the speech of Jinnah delivered on 11 August 1947 outlines the principles of tolerance and equality, however, objective resolution is contrary to what Quaid aimed for. It is a time that the state of Pakistan ought to introduce 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 said that the laws must not be inspired by religion to make the state affairs and religion separate as guaranteed by Jinnah in his speech on 11 August 1947. He said that the law to amend section 298-A passed by parliament is problematic, as it is likely to be misused to make blasphemy accusations.  
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 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.
A journalist and activist, Veengas said that the forced conversions and child marriages of minority girls are a sad reality, however, unfortunately, successive governments have failed to introduce preventive legislation to address the phenomenon of forced conversions. She added that the minor girls’ dreams matter and their spirits should not be murdered by forced conversion and underage marriage, 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 (e.g. forced conversion, freedom of belief and freedom of study their own religion) and ensure implementation of Jilani judgment in letter and spirit, the judgment of the Supreme Court of Pakistan delivered on 19 June 2014.
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 people in a society. 
Professor Sardar Kalyan Singh Kalyan said, the curriculum should 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.
Suneel Malik presented the findings of the manifest assessment report “Promises to Keep & Miles to Go” regarding the assessment of the Delivery of the Pledges about Minorities’ Rights in Elections Manifestos. He added that the political parties must not forget their commitments to the electorate, instead, they must focus on actions to implement the pledges they make in the election manifesto 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 the political parties need to prioritize the protection of minorities’ rights, and make efforts to enhance social cohesion in the society. 
Ishtiaq Gohar, a representative of the Pakistan Muslim League (Q) said that forced faith conversion is against Islamic traditions, so is unacceptable. He added that the political parties must fulfill their promise, and take effective measures to address human rights issues affecting marginalized groups.
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 of 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’s production that own a Best Short Documentary on Human Rights award at the prestigious #Venice Intercultural Film Festival (VIFF) in June 2023. 

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 11th August 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, and 

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 stakeh
olders 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: 
1) Amend the provisions in the constitution of Pakistan that are incompatible with fundamental rights given in the constitution to remove conceptual inconsistencies about equality of rights among citizens. Moreover, the terminology ‘Non-Muslim’ be avoided, and ‘Minorities’ be used in the constitution.

2) Deliver on their pledges made in the electoral manifesto related to minorities’ inclusion, empowerment, and rights.
3) 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 19th June 2014, and present the report to the Supreme Court Bench hearing the follow-up applications. 

4) 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. 

5) 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.

6) 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. 

7) 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.

8) Criminalize forced faith conversions through protective legislation to bring perpetrators to justice for their crimes involving child marriage, forced conversion, and sexual violence.   

9) 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, and 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.
The convention in connection with national minorities’ day was joined by representatives of civil society organizations and the political parties, and organized by Centre for Social Justice (CSJ).

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