Sindh Minorities Rights Commission

Sindh Assembly number game for CM Sindh elections

The Sindh Assembly passed on Thursday a law to establish the Sindh Minorities Rights Commission, which will be the driving force to resolve the human rights issues faced by minority communities in Sindh.

The private bill, titled ‘Establishment of Sindh Minorities Rights Commission 2015’, was tabled by Pakistan Muslim League – Functional (PML-F) parliamentary leader Nand Kumar, but was referred to standing committee on minorities in January, this year, for deliberation on the issue. After clause by clause consideration and a certain amendments by committee members, the bill was sent back to the assembly and subsequently passed unanimously.

“It will provide a platform to look into the various grievances of minority communities and to monitor and suggest the mechanism for accelerating pace of socio-economic development and protect the identity of minorities at provincial level,” said Kumar, adding that the bill will also reiterate the values of religious harmony, tolerance, respect and peace, which were inherent in the creation of Pakistan.

The bill also referred the landmark judgment of Supreme Court on 19 June, 2014, which said, “It is felt that there should be a Minorities’ Rights Commission at national and provincial level.”

According to the law, the commission will consist of 11 members (who will be nominated by the Sindh government) having knowledge and seven years of practical experience in the matters of minorities’ rights and human rights in general. “Six members including the chairperson shall be from among the minorities’ community,” the law states.

Regarding the members, the bill said that at least 33% of the commission will consist of female members belonging to all ethnic and religious groups from non-Muslims communities. “The government through public notice will invite suggestions from suitable persons for the appointment of chairperson,” states the law. “The members of the commission after proper scrutiny will appoint their head for the period of four years.”

Regarding functions of the commission, the law states that the issues of the minorities will be reviewed and the commission will suggest the repeal or amendment in existing laws or new law to eliminate discrimination and safeguard and promote the interest and welfare of non-Muslims.

“It will also sponsor, steer [and] encourage research to generate information [and] analysis and maintain database relating to minorities,” said the salient features of the bill, adding that the commission will also call the reports of various government departments and institutions while inquiring into complaints of violation of rights of minorities.

The commission while inquiring into the complaints under this law shall have the powers of a civil court trying a suit under civil procedure to summon and enforce the attendance of witnesses and examining them on oath.

According to the law, the statement recoded by the commission shall have status of Section 164 of Code of Criminal Procedure (CRPC) and every proceeding be deemed to be judicial proceeding for the purpose of Section 195 [of] CRPC, which says: “The prosecution for contempt of lawful authority of public servant, for offence against public justice or offences relating to documents given as evidence.”

For the speedy trial of human rights offences against the minority communities, the Sindh government may in consultation with the Chief Justice of Sindh High Court (SHC) by notification in the official gazette, specify a court of sessions to be the ‘Human Rights Court’ for the district to try such offences.

Though the bill pertaining to forced conversion of minorities was also on the agenda, it was deferred till next private day, which will fall on November 22.

Resolution passed

Sindh Assembly also passed a resolution directing the education department to take appropriate action to include learning of the Holy Quran as part of the education curriculum.

Ref: http://tribune.com.pk/story/1234756/time-inclusion-law-passed-establish-sindh-minorities-rights-commission/

HRCP report 2015: Pakistan witnesses significant drop in violence

More than 4,600 Pakistanis lost their lives in violent incidents in 2015 despite a 40 per cent drop in overall violence in the country. This is less than half of the 7,622 deaths recorded due to similar reasons in 2014, according to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan’s (HRCP) report for 2015.

Issued on Friday, the HRCP report titled ‘State of Human Rights in 2015’ said anti-state violence in Pakistan dropped below the 2008 levels, as 706 militant attacks took place, in which 1,325 people,  including 619 civilians, 348 security forces personnel, 325 militants and 33 pro-government razakars, were killed.

There were 31 per cent fewer suicide attacks as compared to 2014. During the year, 18 suicide attacks were reported.  Some 41 terrorist attacks occurred in 25 districts of the country in 2015. These attacks which targeted political leaders and workers claimed 57 lives and injured 75 others.

In 2014, the number of terrorist attacks stood at 56.

Pakistan emerged as one of the most dangerous places for journalists in 2015 as four journalists were killed and media workers were attacked with impunity during the year.  At least 15 attacks were carried out against journalists and human rights defenders.

Some 58 incidents of sectarian violence were reported from across Pakistan; however, no sectarian clash was reported. Hundreds of people lost their lives and many more were injured in faith-based attacks against religious and sectarian minorities.

Some 2,108 men and seven women were killed in police encounters across the country.

Punjab reported 3, 82,932 cases of crime in 2015. In 2014 the number of crime cases stood at 3,89,554. Sindh recorded a 42 per cent reduction in the number of murders as compared to previous year. Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan witnessed a 10 and one per cent surge respectively in total crime in 2015 as compared to 2014.

The HRCP said 939 women became victims of sexual violence, 279 of domestic violence. Despite the volume of cases, the rate of prosecution remained fairly low.

Around 777 women committed or tried to commit suicide. The HRCP reported 987 cases of honour crimes.

Some 3,768 child abuse cases occurred during this year. This figure indicates a 7% increase leading to an average of 10 cases a day. Out of the total number, 1,974 victims were girls and 1,794 boys. Most of the victims fell in the age group of 11-14 years.

The HRCP report said that there are approximately 10 million child workers in Pakistan.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 2nd, 2016.

Asphyxiating Minorities

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Ambreen Agha
Research Assistant, Institute for Conflict Management

Pakistan is increasingly failing to protect its minorities for two broad reasons: principally, rising religious intolerance and the space ceded to violent ideologies.

-Sherry Rehman, former Ambassador to the US, 2011

Little noticed amidst the ongoing pitched battle led by Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT), against the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N)-led Federal Government, a group of protesters from minority communities held a rally in Badin District of Sindh on August 16, 2014, against the current Government’s failure to protect minorities from communal atrocities, including kidnapping-for-ransom, killings on religious grounds and abduction of girls for forced conversion.Religious violence is endemic in Pakistan and the security situation of intra and inter-religious minorities is precarious. The National Assembly (NA) while observing the National Minorities Day on August 11, 2014, acknowledged the catastrophic proportions of the problem and unanimously adopted a resolution to condemn the “brutal killings” of religious minorities and rejecting all forms of discrimination against them in the country. The resolution, tabled by Religious Affairs Minister Sardar Yousaf, urged the Government to take concrete steps to establish and maintain interfaith harmony in order to safeguard fundamental rights of minority communities as enshrined in the Constitution.The resolution came in the wake of a recent targeted attack on a Sikh trader in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) Province. On August 6, 2014, unidentified masked terrorists shot dead a Sikh shopkeeper, identified as Jagmohan Singh, at Khushal Bazaar in the Hashtnagri area of Peshawar, the provincial capital. Lamenting the pervasive sense of insecurity, the chief of the Karachi-based Pakistan Sikh Council (PSC), Sardar Ramesh Singh, noted, “This is not the first time our community was attacked in KP. The Sikh community in the Province is under constant threat… many Sikh families have left the area over lack of security.” Recalling the acts of violence against the besieged Sikh community, Member of Provincial Assembly and PTI leader, Soran Singh, observed, “In the last one year, at least three members of the Sikh community have been killed in the settled Districts.”Incidents of violence against the Sikhs in Pakistan have a long history. In 2010, Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) terrorists exhibited their barbarism by beheading two Sikh men in the Khyber and Orakzai Agencies of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and sent their heads to theBhai Joga Singh Gurudwara (Sikhs place of worship) in Peshawar. The victims were identified as Jaspal Singh and Mahal Singh. Two of their companions, identified as Gurvinder Singh and Gurjit Singh, were held captive by the terrorists. This spine chilling incident came after repeated threats to the community to convert to Islam.  The seeds of violence against the Sikh community were sown in 2009. On April 30, 2009, the TTP Orakzai Chapter banished 50 Sikh families from the Agency for non-payment of jizya – a tax levied by the early Muslim rulers on their non-Muslim subjects. According to media sources, TTP had occupied the houses and shops of Sikhs and auctioned their valuables for PKR 0.8 million in the Qasim Khel and Feroz Khel areas of the Agency. The terrorists had demanded PKR 12 million asjizya but had only received PKR 6.7 million. This demand was a follow-up of an earlier precedent. On April 15, 2009, the Sikhs had conceded to TTP demands and had paid PKR 20 million as ‘protection’ money as a result of which the terrorists vacated occupied Sikh and also released an abducted Sikh leader, Sardar Saiwang Singh. The Sikhs were guaranteed protection, but the terrorist reneged on their promise. The latest August 6, 2014, incident exhibits the pattern of violence that has evolved over years against the unprotected minorities in the country.As temperatures of intolerance soar in Pakistan, its largest religious minority, the Hindus, representing 1.6 per cent of the then total of 132 million according to the 1998 Census, continue to face the fury of frenzied mobs over false or unverified allegations of blasphemy, and are also subjected to forced conversions. There are repeated incidents of burning of their religious books and places of worship. On March 15, 2014, for instance, an angry mob burnt a temple and a Dharamsala(rest house for pilgrims) in the Larkana District of Sindh over unproved allegations of a Hindu boy desecrating the holy Qur’an. A week later, on March 28, 2014, three armed assailants entered a temple and desecrated it in the Latifabad area of Hyderabad District. Later, on May 14, 2014, PML-N lawmaker Ramesh Kumar Wankwani told the NA that around 5,000 Hindus migrate from Pakistan to India and other countries every year due to religious persecution. The Hindus in Sindh have long been subjected to incessant intimidation and vandalism.Next in the line of fire is the second largest minority group, the Christians, who represent 1.59 per cent of the country’s population (1998 Census). This helpless community has faced the wrath and terror of the Islamist extremists, on the one hand, and politically motivated judicial discrimination, on the other. The abuse of the blasphemy law – which imposes a mandatory death penalty for any act under its purview – has led to the relentless persecution of the Christian community, resulting in large numbers among them seeking asylum abroad, particularly in Australia and Canada. Apart from Taliban violence, the asylum seekers are the ones who have been attacked for committing the ‘crime’ of blasphemy. According to the President of Pakistan Christian Congress (PCC), at least 90 per cent of Pakistani Christians favour Refugee Status from United Nations (UN) after rising violence.In the deadliest of attacks on Christians in the country, at least 79 worshippers, including 34 women and seven children, were killed, and another 130 were injured when two suicide bombers attacked a Christian congregation at the historic All Saints Church in the Kohati Gate area of Peshawar on September 22, 2013. TTP’s Jandullah faction claimed responsibility for the attack, declaring, in a statement to the media, “Until and unless drone strikes are stopped, we will continue our attacks on non-Muslims on Pakistani land. They are the enemies of Islam, therefore we target them.”There has also been a phenomenal increase in the number of blasphemy cases, another index of violence. Among the most notorious of these involves a Christian woman, Asia Bibi, who was arrested and sentenced to death by hanging on November 9, 2010 for committing blasphemy after an argument with fellow female workers at the farm where she worked. Asia is still languishing in jail and the case has sparked international reactions. It was this internationally recognised case that led to two high profile murders over the blasphemy issue. On January 4, 2011, the Punjab Province Governor Salman Taseer, was murdered by one of his bodyguards, Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri, for his public denunciation of the blasphemy law and advocacy for Asia Bibi. This was followed by the March 2, 2011, assassination of Federal Minister for Minority Affairs and leader of the Christian community, Shahbaz Bhatti, for openly speaking out against the controversial law. Blasphemy cases are overwhelmingly registered on flimsy evidence, often the testimony of a single Muslim witness with a personal animus against the victim. Worse, when acquittal results after years of incarceration, the victims have, in many cases, simply been murdered by terrorist formations on their release.There has been an increase in the number of blasphemy cases in Pakistan since 2001. A report by Center for Research and Security Studies, 2013, enumerated a single case in 2001, rising to 80 complaints in 2011. The Human Rights Watch (HRW) World Report 2013, notes that at least 16 people remained on death row for blasphemy, while another 20 were serving life sentences in 2012. Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) noted that, during 2013, as many as 39 cases of blasphemy were registered against Pakistani citizens, including Muslims, Christians and Hindus.Blasphemy accused, moreover, are not safe even after being acquitted. In one incident, on March 22, 2014, Ashraf Gola, a former chairman of a District Council, was shot dead while he was travelling along with a friend, Iftikhar Ahmed, in his car near Pind Dadan Khan in Jhelum District of Punjab. Gola had recently been acquitted in a blasphemy case, but remained under threat from extremists.Earlier, on October 19, 2012, a man, identified as Sajjad Hussain, who was acquitted in a blasphemy case by a District and Sessions Court in Lahore, was shot dead by two terrorists, identified as Sheikh Zeeshan and Awais Ahmed. The accused surrendered to the Police saying that they had killed a “blasphemer” and had no regrets over their action.Extremist groups successfully target religious minorities and anybody who dares to speak out in their defence, including Government officials. Judges and lawyers have also come under threat for defending and acquitting blasphemy defendants. On May 7, 2014, Rashid Rehman, a Human Rights lawyer and HRCP Regional Coordinator in Punjab, was shot five times by two unidentified militants at HRCP office on Kutchery Road in Multan District. He later succumbed to his injuries.  His assassination was preceded by death threats that he received for his human rights activities, especially his denouncement of repression of religious minorities and the misuse of blasphemy laws in the country. While defending the case of one Junaid Hafeez, an accused of blasphemy, on April 9, 2014, Rehman was threatened with death by four men, including two lawyers, identified as Zulfiqar Ali Sindhu and Sajjad Ahmad Chawan, in the court room in Multan Central Prison. No action was taken against those who threatened Rehman, nor was he provided any security. No further steps have been taken thus far, and the killers have not been arrested.Like inter-religious minorities such as Sikhs, Hindus and Christians, intra-religious minorities, particularly including, Shias and Ahmadis (but also including elements within Sunni sects, such as the Barelvis) have long been targeted and persecuted by Islamist extremists. According to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), at least 3,922 people have been killed in sectarian violence since 2001. Of these, 2,271 were Shias; were 173 Ahmadis; another 51 Tablighi Jama’at members (all data till August 24, 2014). .Taking note of the persecution of Ahmadis, the Annual report of the United States (US) Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) published on April 30, 2014, urged the US to add Pakistan to a blacklist of violators of religious freedom, observing that the Ahmadi community suffers “apartheid-like” conditions in the country. The US Commission’s concern was further extended to Shias and other non-Muslim communities, and the report voiced alarm over the treatment of Hindus, Christians and Shia Muslims, and urged Pakistan to improve its treatment of religious minorities.According to the USCIRF report titled “Violence towards Religious Communities in Pakistan”, published in August 2014, moreover, over the one-year period from July 2013 to June 2014, at least 430 people were killed in a total 122 attacks against minorities. These include 222 Shias in 54 attacks; 128 Christians in 22 recorded incidents; 10 Ahmadis in 10 such attacks; and two Sikhs in three attacks. There are four attacks recorded on the Hindu community in this period, with no fatality reported. 68 victims belonged to other religious/sectarian groups, in 29 attacks.In the corresponding period of the preceding year, a total of 567 people were killed in a total of 150 religiously motivated attacks, including 514 Shias killed in 54 attacks; 17 Ahmadis in 40 attacks; seven Christians in 32 attacks; two Hindus in 10 attacks; and one Sikh in 2 attacks. 26 ‘others’ were killed in another 12 incidents.Worrying over the worsening religious persecution in Pakistan, the US State Department in its Annual Report on International Religious Freedom, on July 29, 2014, pointed out that Pakistan’s Constitution and laws restrict religious freedom and practice: “Although the Constitution declares that adequate provisions shall be made for all citizens to profess and practise their religious beliefs freely, other constitutional provisions and laws impose limits on this right.”It is high time that the Nawaz Sharif Government breaks the silence over Pakistan’s pernicious and inequitable blasphemy law and ensures freedom and security to all its citizens. While Islamabad has come under international pressure to repeal the blasphemy law and take effective steps to protect religious minorities, the truth is that extremist and fanatical forces continue to persecute and murder under an umbrella of effective state protection, where cases against perpetrators of such violence are not registered, or are not pursued through serious investigation and prosecution. It is the state’s bigoted approach that has exacerbated majoritarian religious violence in the country, and religious and sectarian minorities live under a pall of enveloping insecurity and fear of persecution.http://www.satp.org/satporgtp/sair/Archives/sair13/13_8.htm

In cold blood: Yet another Sikh targeted in provincial capital

By Riaz Ahmad

Attacks against Sikhs have risen in recent weeks. Above, Sikhs protests at Parliament against the desecration of their holy books on May 23, 2014. PHOTO: FILE

KARACHI / PESHAWAR: 

Saturday was yet another day of mourning for Sikhs in the city when one more member of the religious minority was killed in a targeted attack by unidentified assailants in Nothia, Gulberg. While previous target killings of Sikhs have seen silent and even violent protests, this last attack left many fearful and frustrated by the sense of helplessness following each unresolved case.

Thirty-year-old Harjeet Singh was tending to business in his general store in Nothia Bazaar when the assailants entered the shop and opened fire at him. They then fled, leaving Harjeet severely injured. Locals took the shop owner to Lady Reading Hospital (LRH) where he breathed his last.

According to CCPO Ijaz Khan, the attack was carried out by two men and the pistols they used were fitted with silencers. It is an incident of target killing, said Khan.

“We will trace and arrest the culprits responsible for the murder,” he added.

A member of Harjeet’s family, requesting anonymity, told The Express Tribune the deceased had three children and was a resident of Mohallah Jogan Shah. “The attackers came to his shop, ordered something from the shelf and then shot him dead,” he said.

“Harjeet’s father Harban Singh used to help with the shop and was usually there, but today Harjeet was alone,” the bereaved relative added.

Silenced in rage

The cold-blooded murder, yet another in a series of violent attacks on Sikhs in the past few months, left the community enraged. Harjeet’s family even refused to allow an autopsy of his body.

“The police is trying to convince us that an autopsy is a legal requirement but we don’t care about such things,” said an elder on condition of anonymity. “So far, four Sikhs have been killed in targeted attacks and the murderers are still at large.” He added younger members of the community tried to hold a protest and take Harjeet’s body to Islamabad where the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf is holding a sit-in, but elders decided against as it they feel it will have no effect.

Harjeet’s body will be taken to Attock in the evening (Friday) for his last rites and cremation, said the elder.

Silenced in fear

“These continued attacks have spread a wave of fright among us. No one is willing to issue any statements to the media out of fear for their lives,” he added. “We feel insecure and the provincial government and police have failed to protect us.”

The subdued response of the Sikhs after Harjeet’s death is in sharp contrast to the last such attack.

Earlier this month, when 19-year-old Jagmohan Singh was gunned down outside his shop in Hashtnagri by unidentified assailants, enraged Sikhs took to GT Road carrying Jagmohan’s body. They blocked the road for over an hour and set fire to tyres. They then proceeded to the provincial assembly but after not being allowed to protest there, the rally headed to the CM House. The protest only came to an end after Khattak met the protesters and announced compensation.

The murder of Harjeet is the third such attack in the province of late.

On September 3, Amarjeet Singh was stabbed to death in his shop in Shaheedan Bazaar, Mardan, while on August 6, armed men opened fire at Jagmohan Singh, Paramjit Singh and Manmit Singh in Khushal Bazaar, Hashtnagri, killing Jagmohan and injuring the other two.

Words of condemnation

Khattak condemned Harjeet’s murder and gave a three-day deadline to catch the culprits. In a statement issued late Saturday, Khattak announced Rs500,000 in financial compensation for the slain shop owner’s family. Adviser to the CM on Minority Affairs Sardar Soran Singh also condemned the incident. Surendar Valasai, minority affairs adviser to PPP’s Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, also condemned the attack and urged Khattak to provide security to Sikhs who have been living in K-P peacefully for centuries.

http://tribune.com.pk/story/758915/in-cold-blood-yet-another-sikh-targeted-in-provincial-capital/

The Hindus facing eviction by Pakistan’s army

A poor Hindu community is facing eviction from an area in Pakistan’s garrison city of Rawalpindi where its members have lived for more than 80 years.

The Frontier Works Organisation (FWO), an engineering branch of the army, plans to build a barracks and educational complex by demolishing the main Hindu temple that serves the minority community and 53 slum dwellings.

With the help of a minority member of parliament, Isphanyar Bhandara, the community has been able to win a temporary stay on the eviction – the army has offered resettlement.

However, the community is reluctant to leave the well-guarded Gracy Lines area, given the threats to minorities in Pakistan, and because of an association that goes back generations.

The BBC tried to get in touch with the Pakistan army’s media wing for comment but calls were not returned.

retired government servant Allah Ditta 85 and his mother

Allah Ditta, 85, is a retired government worker who says his father and forefather were buried in Gracy Lines. With him is his mother, Sharfo Bibi, who is estimated to be about 100. Allah Ditta says his mother became senile after his father’s death in the 1971 war between India and Pakistan.

In her broken speech, she told me: “I have washed dishes for the army, cleaned up after them, worked for them, why do they want to kick us out?”

Welcome sign at Gracy Lines

There are 52 Hindu families living in small homes at Gracy Lines. They live among Muslims who converted after partition, and Christians. The area is surrounded by shiny new buildings built by the army’s Frontier Works Organisation.

Leaders of the community say that they could have left for India in 1947 but chose to remain here and served Pakistan by fighting in the wars with India in 1971 and 1965. They showed me a copy of the lease in perpetuity for the temple which was given to the Hindu community and which can be extended after 100 years.

Shakuntala

Shakuntala, 60, came to the settlement 40 years ago from Abbottabad when she got married. She says: “My in-laws have been living in Gracy Lines while the British were here. I used to travel to the Hindu temple by scooter. We don’t earn enough money to pay rents – where will we go?” The community says the average income is 8,000-10,000 Pakistani rupees ($78-$98) a month.

Ashok Chand

Ashok Chand is the father of three children with learning difficulties. He says: “We are being mentally tortured by certain officers. To put pressure on us, sometimes they cut off our water, or threaten to cut off electricity. We don’t want to get in the way of the army, because the army has protected us for so many years.”

Pandit Mir Chand Khokhar

Pandit Mir Chand Khokhar of the Maharishi Valmik Swamiji temple is standing next to the portion of the building that remained intact after it was set on fire in 1992 in retaliation for the demolition of the Babri Masjid mosque in India.

The government of Pakistan helped rebuild the temple – its foundation was laid in 1935 and it serves as the main temple of Hindus living in Rawalpindi.

Khurrum Shehzad

Khurrum Shehzad is a Christian whose family converted from Hinduism. “The founder of Pakistan Mohammad Ali Jinnah promised safety and security to minority communities in Pakistan, and a portion of the Pakistani flag is white representing us, the minorities. We want to continue to live here, near the temple, which serves as a focal point for the community.”

40 year old Farzana Ashraf

Farzana Ashraf, 40, is a Muslim who says that if the settlement is demolished, their community’s way of life will end.

“We all attend each other’s religious festivals – Eid, Diwali and Christmas. The Hindus come with us to our shrines and we come to their temple. Even if we are given a place elsewhere, this model of harmony will be broken.”

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-28970845