Human Rights Commission of Pakistan’s (HRCP) National Interfaith Working Group held its inaugural meeting the other day where it discussed the facilitation of interfaith dialogue and collective advocacy, awareness and action to protect the fundamental rights of religious minorities.
Members of civil society, media, government and political parties were present in the meeting which discussed the group’s future strategy and plan of action.
Former senator Farhatullah Babar said that despite constitutional guarantees, religious injunctions and international covenants signed by Pakistan, the rights of minorities have been shrinking, and intolerance toward them by the state and by society increasing.
He suggested that the HRCP engage bodies like the National Commission on Human Rights, the Ministry of Human Rights, the human rights committees of the Senate and National Assembly to combat this problem and promote interfaith peace in the country. Babar asserted that attention should be given on setting up caucuses, similar to the women’s caucus, in parliament and provincial assemblies to take up the causes of religious minorities.
Former senator Afrasiab Khattak also emphasised the importance of democratic struggle in this regard and called for a need to establish an interfaith committee to address the issues faced by the religious minorities.
Criticising the government for removing renowned economist Mian Atif from the Economic Advisory Council, MNA Bushra Gohar said that for the last 70 years, religion has been considered to be a personal matter and the state’s only role is that of a facilitator. She also said that political parties step back and play a defensive role when they face pressure from extremist groups.
A representative of the Hazara community, Fatima Atif, present at the meeting said their community has not officially been declared a minority but is still suffering because of their faith.
Romana, a Christian, also criticised organisations that believed Christians were there to work as cleaners and sweepers.
A circular, issued at the end of the meeting, read: “Apart from regular interaction with local and provincial stakeholders, including political representatives, the group will also carry out fact-finding exercises to monitor and promote freedom of religion and belief across the country, based on local realities and needs.”
It added that given the wave of religiously motivated violence this year alone, the HRCP believes it is critical that policymakers and civil society be prepared to take bolder and more consistent stances of freedom of religion and belief.