Leading the fight for religious tolerance abroad, failing at home

Ahle-Sunnat-Wal-Jamaat rally

Our diplomats achieved another notable success this week when the UN Human Rights Council adopted by consensus a resolution tabled by Pakistan on Combating Religious Intolerance and Discrimination. The resolution was presented on behalf of Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), an international organisation founded in 1969 consisting of 57 member states and has been presented as part of a broader effort to counter Islamophobia. Indeed, the resolution is an impressive achievement and worthy of praise. But we should be asking ourselves whether we are living up to our own demands.

Is is important to understand that the UN did not adopt a resolution condemning Islamophbia, it adopted a resolution condemning religious discrimination and intolerance. A full copy of the resolution is linked here so you can read it yourself.

It is worth noting that section 1 of the resolution:

“Expresses deep concern at the continued serious instances of derogatory stereotyping, negative profiling and stigmatization of persons based on their religion or belief as well as programmes and agendas pursued by extremist organizations and groups aimed at creating and perpetuating negative stereotypes about religious groups, in particular when condoned by Governments…”

This could easily be considered a description of the situation in Pakistan. Setting aside for the moment the issue of terrorist attacks and target killings, before any shot is even fired there is “derogatory stereotyping, negative profiling and stigmatization of persons based on their religion or belief.” Anti-Ahmedi conferences are held regularly which project hate and incite violence based on their belief.

Shia too are not only openly killed, but are openly defamed and stereotyped by groups like ASWJ that operate with impunity and some believe the support of the state.

The resolution tabled by Pakistan’s diplomats and approved by the United Nations is deserving of praise. Now it is time to prove whether our words are hollow.

Human rights movement strongly recommends Malala Yousafzai for the Nobel Peace Prize

Malala Yousafzai

Following statement was released by Asian Human Rights Campaign today:

In this age where women and girl children do not receive the protection promised to them by the constitutions of so many countries the challenge for the human rights community in this century is to uplift their rights and lives. The struggle must include equality for women and justice for the violence perpetrated against them.

In her valiant determination for the right to education Malala has become a symbol of this tremendous struggle.

On Friday, October 11, 2013, the Nobel Peace Prize will be awarded to a global champion of peace and human rights. Malala Yousafzai, a 16 year-old-girl from the Swat Valley of Northeast Pakistan, the youngest ever nominee of the prestigious award, is a deserving front runner for the prize for her courage in standing up to the Pakistani Taliban and fighting for her right to be educated.

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Pakistanis facing beheading in Saudi Arabia need immediate UN intervention: Asian Legal Resource Centre

Saudi Arabia beheading Pakistanis

A written statement submitted by the Asian Legal Resource Centre (ALRC), a non-governmental organisation with general consultative status

1. In view of the discussion on human rights, which is due to be held during the month of September 2013, the Asian Legal Resource Centre (ALRC) would like to direct the attention of the Human Rights Council (HRC) to denial of justice and fair trail being faced by several young Pakistanis detained in Saudi Arabia.

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The ‘burnt Malalas’ of Balochistan — Yousaf Ajab Baloch

Following is a cross post of an opinion piece published in The Daily Times on June 26th 2013. The writer is a Baloch author and human rights activist. Currently, he is a sub-editor at monthly Bolan Voice Quetta, a staff writer at The Baloch Hal and a freelance online columnist.

The question is raised why national and international human rights organisations are silent on the incident in Quetta while the outrage for Malala’s case was extraordinarily tremendous.

June 16, 2013 was a day of severe suffering for the parents in Balochistan when they received the burnt dead bodies of their daughters, whilst the rest of the world was gifting flowers to their fathers on Fathers’ Day. In Balochistan. fathers, with immeasurable pain, were trying to identify their daughters’ dead bodies that had been burnt in the June 15 suicide-bomber attack on a student bus of the Sardar Bahadur Khan Women’s University, the only women’s university in the city of Quetta with 3,000 female students, established in March 2004.

The bloody incident occurred on June 15 when about 40 students and teachers from English, Mathematics and other departments were in the bus going home after classes. It was the last day of their examinations and thus it was a regular day, although usually the university remains closed on Saturdays. A woman bomber got on the bus and detonated the bomb she was carrying, causing extensive damage, killing several students; 22 students were injured by the powerful blast. After the attack when the injured were shifted to the Bolan Medical Complex, a male suicide bomber and other heavily armed militants struck the building and fired indiscriminately.

As a result of multiple strikes the death toll rose to 26. The students who were killed in the bus were identified as Shagufta Jamali, Rehana Aurangzaib, Sayeda Noor-ul-Hain, Sajila Shahjahan, Mehvish Asif Bangulzai, Seydtahia Bibi, Sadaf Murad Baloch, Abida Baloch, Soman Magsi, Zehra Ahmed Kakar, Nadia Durrani and Hirah Javaid Rajput. At least 12 people including four militants, four nurses and the deputy commissioner of Quetta were killed in the nearly four-hour siege of the complex where the injured students were brought for treatment.

The banned sectarian militant organisation Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) claimed responsibility for the June 15 attacks on the bus and at the Bolan Medical Complex, claiming revenge for a raid against the group by security forces.

The attack on the students is a clear message for the people of Balochistan that this already backward province in all spheres of life is clearly occupied by religious extremists, allegedly given a free hand by the secret agencies of the state. More than 1,000 people from the Hazara community have been killed and thousands injured in the suicide attacks in Balochistan, mainly in Quetta. Prior to this some attacks were carried out against the Hazara community, whereas this time the victims were students of a women university and were Sunni Muslims. The attacks on the Hazara community and students are most strongly condemnable.

The question rises on the control of religious extremists in Quetta city, and it proves the allegations by the victims of this religious extremism that they are encouraged by the state-patronised elements. It is debatable whether the state has failed, it is blackmailed by extremists, or it has deliberately planned to now start killing Baloch female students to frighten others to give up their education plans.

According to a lecturer and some students of the institution, the students belonged to middle class families, and some of them are daughters of daily-wage workers, who are now unable to bear their medical expenses. Balochistan, with the smallest population with a poor literacy rate is marked for backwardness; educating females is not less than a dream. Educational backwardness or poor development is because of unequal opportunities and deficient interest of the federation. Though it is claimed that the tribal system is the biggest hurdle in the way of development of the Baloch people, yet the tribal Sardars (chieftains) have always been part of government and are the pampered babies of the establishment. On the other hand, the religious groups have been creating obstacles for the development of not only female education but also boys education. The female students who were attacked belonged to far flung areas of Balochistan. The courage of their parents must be eulogised who sent their daughters to get an education, and their daughters are also role models for other girls in Balochistan. In fact, students who are getting education in Balochistan are the Malalas of this land. Malala Yousafzai is famous for her struggle for female education in backward areas, On October 9, 2012, Yousafzai was shot in the head and neck in a murder attempt by the Taliban gunmen, while returning home on a school bus. Her story received international attention .But the question is raised why national and international human rights organisations are silent on the incident in Quetta while the outrage for Malala’s case was extraordinarily tremendous. International human rights organisations and media groups are to be censured here as they claim to be human rights defenders. But their silence on the burnt Malalas in Balochistan becomes questionable. Even the UN Secretary General just issued a simple statement against this ugly attack.

It becomes the responsibility of the state to ensure protection of common people. Apparently, we witness the failure of the state when it comes to protecting common people, notably female, whereas development of the state is contingent on the progress of women. This horrible extremism must come to an end now. Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Asian Human Rights and the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan should not consider the reporting of the violence sufficient; they must also pressurise the state to bring the perpetrators to book.

I conclude my write up with a poem by Nausheen Qambrani, a well-known Baloch poetess and an English language lecturer at the Sardar Bahadur Khan Women’s University in Quetta. She has written this poem after being in the process of identifying the burnt dead bodies and losing her students.

History dried, religions melted/Wisdom burnt, civilisations buried/Lord of darkness dances around/Spaces tremble on the evil’s sound/O’ killer of innocence, you turn to existence/Look at your face in the blood of the mirror/You find yourself just a pagan/Maybe a Shia, maybe a Christian/Follower of wit or follower of love/Follower of dove/Had you felt the touch of earth/You’d have known the pain of birth.


Gender and Justice

Women reject criminal justice system

For many, expressions of solidarity with Mukhtar Mai and calls for justice in her case were dismissed with the trendy oxymoron term “liberal fascism” and shameful accusations that the victim was somehow using her case to ‘get attention’. But it’s not just liberals who can see the painful injustice in this case. Even President JI Women’s Wing Samia Raheel Qazi termed the case as “unfortunate, cruel, and unjust” in a recent interview with Newsweek Pakistan. In the same interview, she complains that “Pakistan is a little too male dominated” and calls for greater education and freedom for women.

It might come as a surprise that a conservative Jamaati would be so outspoken against injustices faced by women, but it should not. Actually, a recent poll by Abu Dhabi Gallup Center found that only 40 per cent of women have confidence in the judiciary compared to 41 per cent who said they have no confidence.

What is the reason for this lack of confidence among women? Mukhtar Mai’s case may have received national attention, but there are countless other women whose abuses go unpunished across the nation. According to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan 2010 report, the bulk of rapes were reported not in the tribal villages but in Punjab. Violence and inhumane treatment of our own mothers and sisters has been on the rise across the country.

Last March, President Zardari signed the Protection Against Harassment of Women at Workplace Bill, and just a days ago he signed a draft law to expand political and legal rights to FATA that will help improve access to justice for women in the tribal areas. This year we also saw women parliamentarians crossing party lines and uniting to pass the Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill 2011, formerly known as the Acid Control and Acid Crime Bill 2010. These are all positive steps, but we must do more.

While political leaders should continue fighting to protect women’s rights in the National Assembly, this does not mean that we do not have our own role to play. Here, I am speaking specifically to my fellow men who must do more to speak out against the treatment of our sisters. It is a promising sign of progress that women leaders are willing to cross party lines and stand up for the basic human rights of Pakistani women. It will be a day of rejoicing when men find the courage to do the same.