Pakistan minorities await implementation of 'historic' ruling

Vested interests blamed for interfering with the progress of a Supreme Court judgment to protect minority rights

Kamran Chaudhry, Lahore

Updated: May 03, 2021 04:53 AM GMT

New research assessing the Pakistan Supreme Court's 2014 judgment to protect minority rights predicts its implementation will take more than two decades.

During this period, a Supreme Court bench has conducted 23 follow-up hearings and passed nearly six dozen orders, yet Pakistan stands 21 years away from the finish line of full implementation, considering the existing pace of compliance, the study states.

The federal government reported the least number of compliance reports. No report had been submitted from Gilgit-Baltistan and Azad Jammu and Kashmir. Reportage from the Ministry of Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony and Ministry of Federal Education was in particular missing.

Peter Jacob, executive director of the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ), virtually inaugurated his research titled Justice Yet Afar in Lahore on April 30.

Speakers expressed concerns at the state's lack of compliance with the 2014 Supreme Court judgment that mandated the federal government to create a national council for the rights of minorities and provincial governments to create task forces for religious tolerance, protect places of worship and crack down on hate speech, among other measures.

Religious minorities, leading jurists, politicians and human rights activists applauded the judgment, which came a year after the suicide bombing of a church in Peshawar, capital of restive Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, that killed over 100 people.

It is in the interests of Pakistan to make sure minorities have all rights and equality with majority citizens

The implementation gap is largely attributable to poor statecraft about minorities, institutional hiccups and lethargy or ineptitude. The vested interests benefiting from a lack of good governance and absence of rule of law interfered with the progress, the report states.

This negligence is evident, for instance, in pending legislation on Christian marriage and divorce laws, gaps in establishment of a task force for social and religious tolerance, enforcement of Article 22 of the constitution, inability to curb forced marriages and conversions, bride smuggling and failure to implement the job quota.

Article 22 (1) of the constitution prohibits the teaching of a religion to students other than their own. Last month Jacob and other education rights groups expressed dismay at Pakistan's National Commission for Minorities for rejecting a recommendation to exclude Islamic topics from compulsory textbooks.

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) urged the CSJ to hold broader consultations on the 2014 judgment.

It is in the interests of Pakistan to make sure minorities have all rights and equality with majority citizens. Unfortunately, the present environment is not suitable for any. Our country can only be saved by ensuring a tolerant society free of hate speech, said Hina Jillani, HRCP chairperson and former special representative of the UN secretary-general on human rights defenders.

This study informs us that despite clear orders in the verdict, the federal and provincial governments have not achieved beyond 24 percent compliance even after the lapse of seven years.

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