17 August 2016
The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination today concluded its consideration of the combined twenty-first to twenty-third periodic report of Pakistan on its implementation of the provisions of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.
Presenting the report, Kamran Michael, Minister for Human Rights of Pakistan, said that Pakistan was fully committed to the elimination of all forms of discrimination, and continued to uphold and implement the provisions of the Convention. Pakistan had recently adopted a National Action Plan on Human Rights, and human rights education was provided to law enforcement personnel and the judiciary. A National Commission on Human Rights had been established and made functional in 2015, with powers to take action in cases of human rights violations. Decades of conflict and instability in Afghanistan had had an adverse effect on the Pakistani society, with terrorists and extremists targeting all civilians regardless of their ethnicity or religion. A National Action Plan to Combat Terrorism sought to counter hate speech and extremist propaganda since December 2014, the Minister said. Pakistan had a free and vibrant media that continued to help countering extremist narrative and foster respect for religious and ethnic diversity.
During the review, Experts noted with concern that extremist religious violence constituted a grave challenge for Pakistan, and encouraged the Government to continue its efforts toward addressing this issue, including through human rights education and the promotion of tolerance. They expressed grave concern about the application of blasphemy laws, and about so-called “honour killings” and other forms of violence against women in some parts of the country. They regretted that Pakistan did not recognize the concept of racial discrimination, and only recognised religious minorities. They raised concerns about discrimination against ethnic minorities and about the situation of refugees. Experts regretted an overall lack of data collection and statistics, which prevented the Government from assessing the situation and taking appropriate measures to combat racial discrimination in the country.
In concluding remarks, Melhem Khalaf, Vice-Chairperson of the Committee and Country Rapporteur for Pakistan, shared the delegation’s view regarding the causes of the challenges faced by Pakistan today, particularly terrorism and radicalism. He reiterated concerns regarding the radicalization of some political parties, and some parts of the population, while recalling the tolerant vision of Pakistan’s founding fathers.
In his closing remarks, Mr. Michael said that he would take the Committee’s comments back to Pakistan for thorough consideration and reiterated his Government’s commitment to ensure that all enjoyed human rights and to continue combatting racial discrimination in all its forms. He reiterated Pakistan’s attachment to the work of the United Nations human rights mechanisms and underlined the importance of objectivity and of keeping in mind Pakistan’s specific context.
The delegation of Pakistan included representatives of the Ministry for Human Rights, the Ministry of Law and Justice, the National Assembly and the Permanent Mission of Pakistan to the United Nations Office at Geneva.
The Committee will next meet in public on Friday, 26 August at 3 p.m. when it will close its ninetieth session.
The combined twenty-first to twenty-third periodic report of Pakistan can be read here: CERD/C/PAK/21-23.
Presentation of the Report
KAMRAN MICHAEL, Minister for Human Rights of Pakistan, said that a series of consultative meetings at the provincial and federal levels had been held for the preparation of Pakistan’s report, during which more than two dozen civil society organizations had been consulted. Pakistan was fully committed to the elimination of all forms of discrimination, and continued to uphold and implement the provisions of the Convention. Racial discrimination, racism, xenophobia and related forms of intolerance negated core human rights principles. In Pakistan, there was no distinction made on race. Pakistan was a diverse country, constituted from successive migration waves throughout history. The concept of race in Pakistan had to be addressed with a great degree of nuances, as simplistic categorizations of race were not applicable and did not reflect the social context of the country. Mr. Michael said that there might be occasional instances of linguistic or ethnic groups lobbying for greater participation in Pakistan, but these could largely be attributed to perceived levels of differential development in various parts of the country. The Government was making tremendous efforts to address these concerns and ensure that development benefits reached all citizens.
According to the last census, the population of the country comprised several ethnic groups, including Punjabis, Pashtuns, Sindhis, Seraikis, Balochis, Kalash and Kashmiris, all living in peace and harmony. Decades of conflict and instability in Afghanistan had, however, had an adverse effect on the Pakistani society, with terrorists and extremists targeting all civilians regardless of their ethnicity or religion. Constitutional and Penal provisions strictly prohibited and criminalized any discrimination, the Minister said, referring to some specific Penal Code provisions. Furthermore, Pakistan had recently adopted a National Action Plan on Human Rights, which focused on policy and legal reforms, on access to justice, on key human rights priorities, on international recommendations, and on the establishment of a national human rights institution. Resources had been set aside for the realization of that plan, he said, including with regard to education, awareness raising and research in the field of human rights. Human rights education was provided to law enforcement personnel and the judiciary. A National Commission on Human Rights had been established and made functional in 2015, with powers to take action in cases of human rights violations. Also, the National Commission on the Status of Women had been further strengthened with financial autonomy and powers to take action in cases of violations of women’s rights.
A National Action Plan to Combat Terrorism sought to counter hate speech and extremist propaganda since December 2014, the Minister said. Since 2015, more than 1,777 cases had been registered across the country as part of the Government’s efforts against the publication of hate material, and 1,799 arrests had been made. In a landmark judgement in June 2014, the Supreme Court had stated that every citizen of Pakistan was free to exercise the right to profess, practice or propagate religious views, even against the prevailing or dominant views. Pakistan had a free and vibrant media that continued to help counter extremist narrative and foster respect for religious and ethnic diversity. At the international level, Pakistan remained at the forefront of the struggle against apartheid and continued to play an active role in the elimination of racism and xenophobia. It had actively participated in the Durban World Conference and Durban Review Conference held in 2001 and 2009 respectively. It had also co-sponsored General Assembly and Human Rights Council resolutions on these issues.
Questions by the Experts
MELHEM KHALAF, Vice-Chairperson of the Committee and Country-Rapporteur for Pakistan, noted the presence in Pakistan of several ethnic groups, despite the Government only recognizing religious groups. Pakistan today faced multiple challenges, which for the most part resulted from the split with India and the split within Islam. The split with India had left disputed territories, and had led to inequalities in terms of economic development among Pakistan’s provinces, leading to discrimination against non-recognized ethnic groups.
Religious groups such as Christians, Ahmadis, Ismailis and Shi’a Muslims were often persecuted and subjected to forced conversions, he said. Religious tensions between Sunni and Shi’a Muslims had led to persecutions against religious minorities, the imposition of Sharia law, and the proliferation of religious education glorifying Jihad and violence against Shi’a Muslims. These tensions threatened the Islamic unity of the country, which had historically been welcoming and tolerant to all Muslims. The Rapporteur explained that minorities in Pakistan continued to be persecuted and subjected to forced conversions, forced marriage, and physical violence. This had led to tensions and contributed to a ghettoization of concerned communities. Extremist groups sought to terrorise populations and destabilize Pakistan through attacks targeting human rights lawyers, human rights defenders and journalists.
Measures taken to combat terrorism had had negative effects on the population, such as massive displacement and judgement of civilians by military courts. The Rapporteur noted with concern cases of persons assassinated while awaiting trial under the 1986 blasphemy law. The country Rapporteur also referred to the case of a person with mental disability who had been put to death by a mob of 2,000 while he was being questioned in a police station. Because of the intimidation by Islamists, the State was incapable of amending the blasphemy law.
In this tense climate, the Rapporteur noted that minority groups were highly vulnerable and needed appropriate protection. The Bihari and the Bengali communities were not recognized and their members were denied Pakistani citizenship. Their children born in Pakistan had been denied birth certification. Children of Pakistani mothers and foreign fathers did not have a right to obtain the Pakistani nationality. He added that there were some two million refugees in Pakistan, mostly from Afghanistan, and many displaced persons fleeing conflicts and instability, and asked whether Pakistan would ratify the 1951 Refugee Convention. Women in Pakistan were subjected to harmful practices, such as forced marriage, forced conversions and honour killings.
During the first round of questions, Experts noted Pakistan’s security challenges, particularly in relation to terrorism, and praised the Government’s efforts to address human rights issues and to implement its obligations under the Convention.
Experts welcomed the methodology in which the State party’s report had been prepared, although they regretted delays in providing the Committee with answers to issues it had raised, as well as the absence of a core document. An Expert regretted that the report affirmed that racial discrimination did not exist in Pakistan, which was not something the Committee was usually pleased to read. Racial discrimination existed in all countries, including in Pakistan. The delegation was asked how civil society had participated in the preparation of the report, and how they had been chosen. Experts also asked several questions about the mandate and functioning of the National Human Rights Commission, and asked why it had not participated in the elaboration of the report.
Pakistan was asked whether it would allow the Committee to address individual communications, and whether the Convention was directly applicable before domestic courts. Another Expert asked for information concerning the application of the Convention and domestic laws in tribal areas.
Experts noted that only religious minorities were recognized in Pakistan, and asked for information regarding the definition of discrimination in Pakistan’s legal system.
Without statistics, the Government would not be able to appropriately tackle the issue of racial discrimination, Experts said, asking the delegation to provide statistics and figures on the implementation of reforms and policies aimed at combatting racial discrimination and racism. Experts asked for figures and statistics on the number of complaints received and the cases filed by mechanisms charged with combatting racial discrimination.
The blasphemy law was a matter of grave concern for Committee Members, who underlined its discriminatory application against religious minorities, particularly the Ahmadis. A Committee Member referred to the 2014 Supreme Court’s decision recognizing every citizen’s right to practice their religion.
Experts referred to terrorism as one of the main challenges faced by Pakistan today. An Expert noted, however, that terrorism should not only be combatted through the adoption of legislation, but also through education.
More generally, Experts underlined the importance of education and awareness-raising in combatting negative stereotypes and racism, and asked whether Pakistan used the Internet and modern technologies to prevent these phenomena. What measures had been taken to combat racism on the Internet?
Committee members asked a number of questions relating to the situation of women and girls. The lack of disaggregated data on women, showing problems they faced and assessing the impact of measures taken, was a problem.
The delegation was asked to provide information on measures taken to combat harmful practices such as forced and early marriage, as well as honour killings and their impact.
Referring to Malala Yousafzai, an Expert asked what measures had been taken to combat discrimination against women in access to education.
An Expert noted the high number of persons of African descent in Pakistan, and asked for measures taken to combat discrimination against them, and initiatives taken in relation to the Decade of People of African Descent.
Experts noted that refugees and displaced persons, particularly women, faced difficulties in Pakistan, and once again regretted the lack of statistics and disaggregated data allowing the Government to properly address their needs. An Expert asked whether Pakistan would consider the ratification of the 1951 Refugee Convention. It was recognized that Pakistan had done a lot to receive refugees from neighbouring countries. Experts asked how Pakistan made sure that these refugees were not victims of violence or discrimination.
What measures had been taken to combat forced labour and racial discrimination in the labour force?
The fact that Pakistan did not recognise the existence of a caste system was a grave problem, Experts added.
Another Committee member was concerned that the report contained no mention of Pakistani Gypsies, who should be recognized. Pakistan was also encouraged to provide documentation to them and to collect data on this community.
Replies by the Delegation
The delegation said that Pakistan, like many countries in the world, was facing challenges in the implementation of the Convention. The Government was, however, making tremendous efforts to overcome those challenges. Challenges facing Pakistan resulted from extremism in the region. Only a small number of people in Pakistan subscribed to such extremist views, and the overwhelming majority of the Pakistani society was resolved to combatting terrorism. This was illustrated by the fact that the action plan on combatting terrorism had been approved by all political parties. Media outlets were also all united on this issue.
The division between the Sunni and the Shi’a communities was not a reality in Pakistan, where tolerance prevailed and where mixed marriages continued to be frequent. Tensions were not the result of “Muslims killing Muslims”, but rather of a minority of extremists targeting the society as a whole. The attacks were desperate attempts by defeated terrorists to show the world that they could still undermine the Pakistani society. The responses provided by the Pakistani Government had been comprehensive, and ranged from poverty reduction measures, the adoption of the human rights action plan, and the empowerment of a vibrant and tolerant civil society and media.
There had been a large number of terrorist attacks against the Hazara community, unfortunately. Although most of the members of this community were Shi’a Muslims, some of them were Sunni as well, which showed that terrorism affected everyone. The Government had been taking specific measures to ensure the security of the Hazaras, including through cooperation with Iran.
Turning to the definition of racial discrimination, a delegate said that Pakistan did not have racial discrimination, as this was not accepted in its value system. The Constitution of Pakistan guaranteed fundamental rights for all citizens without discrimination. Specific provisions in the Constitution prohibited discrimination. The term “minority” in the Constitution referred to all minorities, including religious and ethnic minorities. The Penal Code criminalised discrimination on the basis of race, religion, caste or any other ground, and the publication of any material that would lead to violence or discrimination against any particular group.
On the applicability of the Convention, a delegate said that domestic courts had the competence to enforce Pakistan’s international commitments.
A budget had been set aside for a new population census to be held, the delegation said, and the Government hoped to organise it very soon.
The new National Human Rights Commission had been instituted as a statutory body of the Parliament, and had been given financial support and autonomy in accordance with the Paris Principles. It had also been given the competence to take on any alleged violation of human rights.
On access to information, the delegation informed that there were 100 television channels in Pakistan, and Internet was used extensively and was reaching more and more parts of the country. Measures had been taken to combat online hate speech.
Madrassas provided an important education system for children in Pakistan. The Government had taken specific measures to close unregistered madrassas that contributed to spreading extremist views.
Human rights education was becoming an increasing part of school curricula in order to combat radicalization and promote a culture of tolerance and understanding. Each provincial government was responsible for the elaboration of school curricula, and was taking necessary steps for the promotion of tolerance while taking into account local situations.
Important measures had been taken to better protect and empower women. Urbanization meant that more and more women were receiving education, and today 70 per cent of students were women. Difficulties continued to exist in some parts of the country. The National Commission on the Status of Women played an important role in updating legislation relating to women. Pakistan believed in the need for quotas for women in Parliament.
Comprehensive measures had been undertaken to address unacceptable acts of honour killings, the delegation said. Legislative measures criminalised honour killings, and new legislation would be adopted in that regard. Gender crime cells in police stations received complaints and collected data relating to cases of violence against women.
Measures had been taken to ensure girls’ access to education, the delegation said, including in remote areas. Pakistan was very proud to have Malala Yousafzai and of her winning the Nobel Peace Prize.
With regard to blasphemy laws, the delegation said that concrete measures had been taken to protect people from the misuse of such legislation. Making false criminal allegations against another person could indeed lead to prison sentences. Religious leaders had been condemning false allegations of blasphemy.
On refugees, the delegation said that Pakistan had not signed the 1951 Refugee Convention because it had not taken part in its negotiation process. The Convention contained certain parameters that were not appropriate for a developing country such as Pakistan. The delegation reiterated, however, that Pakistan had done a lot for refugees, often more than what signatories of the Convention did. The United Nations Refugee Agency was present in Pakistan to provide assistance to refugees, a delegate said, noting that there was no restriction imposed on refugees in terms of access to education and employment.
Terrorist activities in some regions of Pakistan had led to internal displacement, the delegation said. Measures had been taken, such as the creation of temporary facilities for the displaced. These included education and health facilities, as well as birth registration services. The process of resettlement of those displaced was currently underway.
On gypsies and nomads, the delegation reiterated Pakistan’s commitment to register all citizens. It was trying to raise awareness at the local level to reach out to those communities and encourage them to register. Some nomads were reluctant to register for fear of losing their autonomy.
Castes were absolutely discouraged in Pakistan. The Government had given up all reference to castes after the partition with India.
Discrimination against the Ahmaddiya community was a delicate and controversial issue, the delegation said. Several respectable members of the Ahmaddiya community worked in the Administration and at the political level. This community was considered a minority, and had to participate to elections for reserved seats.
Pakistan had ratified ILO conventions relating to the eradication of forced labour, and had made efforts to eliminate child and bonded labour, particularly in Baluchistan.
Questions by the Experts
Starting a new round of questions, MELHEM KHALAF, Vice-Chairperson of the Committee and Country Rapporteur for Pakistan, said that there was a high risk of Pakistan losing its Muslim cohesion, which was the pillar on which Pakistan had been built. Pakistan was a very rich county from a human point of view.
Threats against children could lead to Pakistan losing its human richness, the Rapporteur feared. The madrassas were a rather medieval system. He noted that these were dedicated to poor children, and asked what measures had been taken to open free State schools to all children, rich or poor. Another Expert noted the difficulty faced by many States to control religious teaching, but underlined the importance of efforts to avoid the spread of extremist views. The madrassas could indeed be places of medieval teachings that predisposed children to extremism. A third Committee member asked which communities were affected by madrassas. It was recalled by an Expert that some madrassas had become places for “diabolical” extremist views under the impulsion of the Taliban.
The Rapporteur asked about the budget of the National Human Rights Commission and its role in implementing Pakistan’s National Human Rights Action Plan. He asked why a new Commission had been established to replace the previous mechanism, and requested clarification and data on racial discrimination complaints in the country.
The Country Rapporteur reiterated his questions about minorities being denied the Pakistani nationality, which led to them being in a situation of statelessness.
An Expert welcomed efforts to prevent racism online.
A Committee member noted that the State had attempted to discourage castes in Pakistan, but asked whether the caste system still existed in practice.
Turning to “honour crimes”, a delegate asked for data on the identity and number of victims. Another Expert referred to the killing, by one of Pakistan’s Chief Justices, of his own daughter because he was not happy with her choice of life, and referred to reports that no action was taken to hold him accountable.
A Committee member asked for details regarding quotas for the representation of women and other minorities in Parliament. She asked whether women from minorities were represented at all in Parliament.
An Expert expressed concerns regarding a Constitutional provision obliging members of the Ahmaddiya community to declare that they are not Muslims, even though they considered themselves as such, in order to obtain a passport or to enjoy their right to vote.
With regard to family law, an Expert asked which legislation covered inter-faith marriages.
An Expert reiterated questions regarding the participation and selection of non-governmental organizations in relation to the elaboration of Pakistan’s periodic report.
Replies by the Delegation
Responding to the Country Rapporteur, a delegate said that Pakistan was located in a region of the world that had been affected by conflicts for decades. Pakistan had difficult relationships with India, and was a neighbour to Iran, which had had difficult relationships with the rest of the international community, and to Afghanistan, where the conflict had had regional implications.
The foreign intrusions in Afghanistan had destabilized the region, and had led to extremist groups entering Pakistan and engaging in terrorist activities there. These ideologies were new to Pakistan, and innocent people had paid a high price in consequence of these events. The people of Pakistan would not allow the terrorists and extremists to take over. The people of Pakistan would be appalled to hear that the cohesion of Pakistan was under threat, after all the sacrifices they had made.
Children had access to free education, a delegate said. Madrassas were places where education was provided. Efforts had been made to ensure secular education. The Government was aware of concerns relating to madrassas, and was taking measures to prevent radicalism from being taught through them. Madrassas per se were not a problem, the delegation said, underlining that they only thought to provide teaching of the precepts of Islam.
The National Human Rights Commission was funded from the regular budget, and had a broad mandate with regard to the rights of minorities and issues of discrimination. It would monitor the implementation of the National Human Rights Action Plan, a delegate added. Measures had been taken to provide free legal counsel for victims of human rights discrimination.
There was a 37 per cent quota for women in Parliament, a delegate said. In addition, a 10 per cent quota had been imposed to ensure that women were represented in the public service. Four women belonging to minorities were currently members of Parliament.
Members of the Ahmaddiya community, together with members of other minorities, could participate in electoral processes without discrimination. The obligation to register as a minority only concerned those who sought to engage in elections as candidates. There was no discrimination with regard to the issuance of passports or identification documents.
All minorities, religious minorities in particular, had the right to have their own family laws. The Christian Marriage Bill was currently being drafted, the delegation said.
MELHEM KHALAF, Vice-Chairperson of the Committee and Country Rapporteur for Pakistan, said that he shared the delegation’s view regarding the causes of the challenges faced by Pakistan today, particularly terrorism and radicalism. He underlined that he had never implied that Pakistan was responsible for terrorism. He also pointed out that what was at risk was not national cohesion, but rather cohesion among Muslims in Pakistan. He reiterated concerns regarding the radicalization of some political parties, and some parts of the population. The blasphemy legislation was fuelling this, he concluded, recalling the tolerant vision of Pakistan’s founding fathers.
KAMRAN MICHAEL, Minister for Human Rights, said that he would take the Committee’s comments back to Pakistan for thorough consideration. He agreed that Pakistan was facing many challenges, but reiterated the Government’s commitment to ensure that all enjoyed human rights and to continue combatting racial discrimination in all its forms. The Government would continue to take legal measures for a better implementation of the Convention, and would present progress achieved during the next review by the Committee. In conclusion, he reiterated Pakistan’s attachment to the work of United Nations human rights mechanisms, including treaty bodies, and underlined the importance of objectivity and of keeping in mind Pakistan’s specific context.
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