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Pakistan’s human rights minister claims minorities are safe. Evidence shows otherwise

Last month the Federal Minister for Human Rights Dr Shireen Mazari told a delegation of the European Union led by Jean-Francois Cautain, the EU Ambassador, that Pakistan is gravely concerned by the human rights violations in Europe.

Since these ‘grave concerns’ pertained to the Muslims, one could say that the issue taken up was with regards to Muslim rights and not human rights per se. What however the press release issued by the human rights didn’t explain was when Ms Mazari was appointed as a consultant for human rights in the EU, or the spokesperson for the Muslim ummah.

If such an appointment hasn’t taken place then perhaps Ms Mazari’s noble quest to speak on behalf of marginalised communities elsewhere in the world perhaps stem from flawless human rights situation in Pakistan. After all that is precisely what Mazari told Cautain when she said that minorities enjoy “complete freedom” in Pakistan.

That, unfortunately, is as far away from the truth as the human rights situation in Pakistan is away from that in the European Union.

Gender disparity

Being a woman herself Ms Mazari would hopefully be aware of the fact that for three years running Pakistan has been ranked the second worst in the World Economic Forum’s gender equality list.

This year’s Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) notes over 10,000 acts of violence against women in 2017, and considering that these are just the reported numbers, the report maintains that the “correct figures are therefore likely to be many times the numbers provided”.

There is an entire province, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, ironically one that was governed by Ms Mazari’s party from 2013 to 2018, which doesn’t even recognise domestic violence against women as a crime.

There also remain jirgas and panchaayats in the country where a parallel justice system endorses karo kari, badal-e-sulah and other crimes against women.

“An effort was made, through two laws enacted in 2016, to bring ‘honour’ killings and rape/gang-rape outside the purview of the qisas and diyat law loopholes. However, in terms of its application, no marked improvement was observed or recorded during 2017, either in the form of decreased crimes of VAWG, or increased convictions of the perpetrators. In fact, new loopholes emerged, in the form of legal definitional technicalities, such as ‘what is or is not an “honour” killing?’” reveals the HRCP’s State of Human Rights report.

This is not even factoring the rising gender pay gap, the dearth of health and reproductive rights.

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“When HRW Asia Director asked the Pakistani PM to focus on addressing a list of human rights violations in his tenure, two points on that list pertained to women. The organization asked Imran Khan to prioritize violence against women and girls’ access to education,” says Aisha Sarwari, founder of Women’s Advancement Hub and author of Feminism: Fight by Fight.

“Women have always been an ignored constituency for elected politicians, policymakers and power brokers. However, no government has blatantly responded to an important partner in the march to humanity with such deflection and ridicule,” she adds.

Sarwari continues: “As perhaps the worst on almost all gender indicators, not only does Pakistan have zero moral ground to be arrogant and preachy, it is actually ludicrous to allude to HRW’s lack of credibility and then to ask them to fix the rest of the world first.

“Ms. Mazari, the human rights minister has pushed forward as a woman on several fronts in a largely misogynist culture. While we celebrate her genius and bravado, we also call on her to be more astute in making such statements.”

No love for LGBT

The Pakistani Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender (LGBT) community rejoiced when their Indian counterparts won their battle against Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code which criminalised homosexuality. The Section 377 continues to exist unchallenged in the Pakistan Penal Code, with even the talk of its removal of course eons away.

Pakistan’s Islamist sanctioned homophobia has meant that the country has challenged United Nations’ bid to uphold LGBT rights. In 2003 and 2008 Pakistan was among the states that derailed the voting, while in 2011 and 2015 – when the UN finally recognised LGBT rights – Pakistan was among the countries that voted No.

Ms Mazari should note that these UN resolutions didn’t call for legalising gay marriage, or an endorsement of homosexuality, merely that the LGBT should be recognised as humans who should have human rights.

Yes, this year’s transgender rights bill has given the trans community recognition, but the other sexual minorities not only are deprived of those, owing to the Hudood Ordinances in the Penal Code, they are constantly under proximity of violence.

“Legislation alone will not eradicate the violent crime that transgender people have to endure,” notes the HRCP report. “In June, shortly after Pakistan made headlines for issuing a passport with the gender marked ‘X”, a video emerged of a crowd of men of all ages harassing and molesting two transgender women… In August, armed men opened fire on a group of transgender people, killing one… In October, Peshawar police recovered the body of a brutally tortured transgender person… In November, a transgender person was shot dead… In December, armed men attacked three human rights and trans rights advocates,” it adds.

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LGBT rights activist Salman Khan says, “As a LGBTQI human rights defender, I’ve often tried to register complains related to human rights abuses at the NCHR [National Commission of Human Rights] but have been unsuccessful in doing so. Even the media of Pakistan faces censorship and rarely reports on the human rights situation of the gays and lesbians of the country.”

“[D]espite our efforts in pointing out to… grotesque examples of abuse and violence against the Pakistan’s transgender community in recent months, our human rights minister Shireen Mazari continues to remain silent and unmoved by the pain and suffering of her own people,” he continues.

“I simply ask Shireen Mazari, are transgender persons not the citizens of this country or even considered human that  our “human rights minister” has all the time in the world to tweet about the rights of Kashmiris, Palestinians and European Muslim but is uninterested in even condemning such “horrifying murders” of the transgender community?”

Islamic supremacism

While Ms Mazari has exhibited evident delusion with regards to the human rights situation in the country, across the board, the primary focus of her delusional grandeur have been religious minorities.

A prominent example came in the aftermath of the mob attack on an Ahmadi ‘place of worship’ near Faisalabad last month when Ms Mazari was more interested in defensive tweets targeting her critics than issuing any message of support towards the Ahmadiyya community.

Despite the fact that the federal minister cannot even support a community after its members were targeted in a violent attack, owing to the backlash that the support in question would ensue, she feels that religious minorities enjoy ‘complete freedom’ in Pakistan.

In addition to the official excommunication of the Ahmadis by the Constitution, and the Penal Code sanctioning their apartheid by taking away their right to profess their religion, there are the blasphemy laws that not only act as a guillotine for the Ahmadiyya community, but target other religious minorities and even non-conforming Muslims.

“The situation for Ahmadis in Pakistan is getting worse day by day. If we talk about human rights, the basic principle is that all citizens should be equal – that’s something that Ahmadis don’t have at any level,” says Amir Mehmood, in-charge of the Ahmadiyya Media Cell.

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“The greatest manifestation of this are the anti-Ahmadiyya laws. Any state’s laws are the same for everyone, but there are laws in Pakistan that are specifically discriminatory against the Ahmadis. This is the greatest human rights violation,” he adds.

“Similarly, those rights enshrined in the Constitution, like freedom of speech, freedom of religion or freedom of assembly, they’ve all been completely denied to the Ahmadis. We can’t propagate our faith, and forget preaching, our literature has been banned for our own community’s use as well. The literature of the community’s founder can’t be kept by the community members either.”

Pakistan’s Constitution sanctions Islamic supremacism, and does so blatantly, giving the most radical interpretation of the religion’s complete sovereignty, which not only makes a mockery of its claims of being a democracy but also lays bare its human rights claims.

This is not even mentioning the growing number of people shunning religion, who instead of being given their due recognition through the freedom of conscience that the Constitution selectively provides, fear death for apostasy and atheism, under Hudood Laws.

Any state that legally establishes the inequality between its citizens by upholding one community over the rest should at least have the courtesy to embrace its supremacism instead of becoming a global laughing-stock with ridiculous claims over freedom and human rights.

Human wrongs

Pakistan’s human rights abuses aren’t limited to religion, gender or sexuality of course, the discrimination spans a wide spectrum.

This ranges from economic and social classism – depravation of children and labour rights – negligence over health, environment and education – problems with rule of law, its establishment and issues with the law itself – and of course the absence of the freedom of conscience, religion, assembly, movement, and expression.

Before Pakistan can claim to be providing its citizens human rights, and any freedom to minorities, it should first fix its Constitution and Penal Code, which take away those very rights.

That, as the Federal Minister of Human Rights, should be Ms Mazari’s primary responsibility.

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Kunwar Khuldune Shahid

The author is a Lahore-based journalist. He is a correspondent for The Diplomat, and The Asia Times and contributes to various Pakistani and international publications. He tweets @khuldune

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