Open Complaint Letter to the UN Human Rights Council

Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights

Human Rights Council

United Nations Office at Geneva

Geneva, Switzerland

26 March 2019

Subject: Forced conversion of underage girls from minority communities in Pakistan

Excellency,

I am writing to seek the support of the United Nations Human Rights Council in a matter of vital importance for the rights of religious minorities in Pakistan. This letter specifically addresses the case of the abduction, rape and forced conversion of two girls belonging to the minority Hindu community in Pakistan.

I would like to specifically highlight the abduction and forced conversion of two girls (Reena and Raveena aged 14 and 16 years respectively)[1] belonging to the minority Hindu community in the Daharki town of Sindh’s Ghotki district.[2] The underage girls were abducted from their home on the  20th of March during the Holi festival. The victims’ family filed a First Information Report (FIR) at the Karachi’s Central Police Office, but were soon informed that the girls converted voluntarily and that the police were thus unable to take any action.[3] After widespread protests in Sindh by the minority Hindu community and national outrage over the issue, the Pakistan government directed its police authorities to investigate the case.[4] Two clerics who facilitated the forced conversion have been arrested, however, the main perpetrators have not been arrested and remain at large. Moreover, the underage girls have still not been rescued by the police authorities.[5]

Girls from religious minorities often disappear from their homes or workplace to later resurface as converted and married Muslim women.[6] Certificates state that the girl voluntarily converted or married, and that she now follows Islam. However, as stated under international law, the voluntariness of marriage or conversion is only valid if ‘such consent [is] expressed by [her] in person after due publicity and in the presence of the authority competent to solemnize the marriage and of witnesses.’[7] The official certificates presented in these cases are thus wholly unlawful and unenforceable. Nevertheless, as the local Pakistani governments and police forces are often corrupted and influenced by extremist religious groups,[8] these certificates are not contested on their legality and accepted as valid. This is common practice, which bars religious minority women and their family from effectively filing cases and complaints of these abductions and forced conversions. Government action against these violations on both national and local level remains absent, which enables perpetrators of a variety of gender-based crimes against women to go unpunished.[9]

This complaint is supported by Pakistan’s ratification of the International Covenant on Civil and Political rights (ICCPR) in 2010, International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) in 2008, Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) in 1996, Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT) in 2010, Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) in 1990 and the Optional Protocol on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography (OPSC) in 2011.[10]

However, regardless of these ratifications, Pakistan’s patriarchal political system as well as religious policies persistently deprive women, especially those from religious minorities, from equal access to opportunity in all layers of society including ‘the rights and freedoms to which every human being is equally and inalienably entitled.’[11] Religious minorities in Pakistan have reduced from 23% (1947)[12] to a mere 3.72% of the total population.[13] The blasphemy law,[14] as well as abductions, forced conversions and forced marriages of members within these minority communities seem to have caused this rapid decrease.

Excellency, considering the fact that Pakistan has  not accepted several individual complaint procedures attached to the above-mentioned international human rights treaties,[15] these violations may no longer be allowed to go unpunished. The most fundamental human right guaranteeing the right to life, must be ensured by the international community before religious minorities are completely eradicated in Pakistan. States have a duty to protect their nationals, and international bodies such as the United Nations Human Rights Council are specifically in place to remind states of these responsibilities.

Pakistan is not only neglecting its obligation to ensure human rights for all its nationals, but even actively demonstrating their support of religious persecution, which makes exhausting domestic remedies impossible for these minorities.[16] It is therefore that I stress the utmost urgent need for international action in relation to the violations in Pakistan, as no national mechanism seems to be capable.

I request that United Nations Human Rights Commission directs the state of Pakistan to initiate necessary action in order to facilitate the rescue of the underage girls and arrest the perpetrators.

Sincerely,

GHRD

 

 


[1] Pakistan Today, ‘Alleged abduction, conversion’ (Pakistan Today, 25 March 2019)<https://www.pakistantoday.com.pk/2019/03/25/alleged-abduction-conversion-police-arrest-marriage-attendees-officiator/&gt; accessed on 25 March 2019.

[2] Hafeez tunio, ‘Two girls allegedly kidnapped in Sindh’s Ghotki district’ (The Express Tribune, 21 March 2019) <https://tribune.com.pk/story/1934232/1-two-girls-allegedly-kidnapped-sindhs-ghotki-district/?amp=1&gt; accessed on 22 March 2019; The Week, ‘’Missing’ Hindu girls ’embrace’ Islam in Pakistan’ (22 March 2019) <https://www.theweek.in/news/world/2019/03/22/missing-hindu-girls-embrace-islam-pakistan.html&gt; accessed on 22 March 2019

[3] Ibid

[4] Shazia Hasan, ‘Protest against forced conversion of Hindu girls’ (Dawn, 25 March 2019) <https://www.dawn.com/news/1471638/protest-against-forced-conversion-of-hindu-girls&gt; accessed on 25 March 2019.

[5] Ibid.

[6] GHRD, ‘Human Rights Report 2019’ (GHRD, 1 March 2019) <https://ghrdorg.files.wordpress.com/2019/03/report-ghrd-2019.pdf&gt; accessed on 25 March 2019.

[7] UNGA Convention on Consent to Marriage, Minimum Age for Marriage and Registration of Marriages (Opened for signature and ratification 7 November 1962, entry into force 9 December 1964) Res 1763 A (XVII), art 1(1)

[8] BBC, ‘Asia Bibi: Pakistan’s Notorious Blasphemy Case’ (1 February 2019) https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/resources/idt-sh/Asia_Bibi accessed on 21 February 2019

[9] HRW, ‘Shall I Feed my Daughter, or Educate Her?’ (12 November 2018) https://www.hrw.org/report/2018/11/12/shall-i-feed-my-daughter-or-educate-her/barriers-girls-education-pakistan accessed on 15 February 2019

[10] OCHR database, ‘Ratification Status for Pakistan’ <https://tbinternet.ohchr.org/_layouts/TreatyBodyExternal/Treaty.aspx?CountryID=131&Lang=EN&gt; accessed at 22 March 2019

[11] Universal Declaration of Human Rights (adopted 10 December 1948 UNGA Res 217 A(III) (UDHR) Introduction (illustrated edition, 2015)

[12] Farahnaz Ispahani, ‘Cleansing Pakistan of Minorities’ (Hudson Institute, July 31 2013) para 3, <https://www.hudson.org/research/9781-cleansing-pakistan-of-minorities&gt; accessed at 22 march 2019

[13] Pakistan Bureau of Statistics, ‘Population by Religion’ (19 February 2019) pdf accessible at: http://www.pbs.gov.pk/content/population-religion

[14] Pakistan Penal Code (6th October, 1860) XLV of 1860, Ch. XV sec. 295-C

[15] UN Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner (OHCHR), ‘Acceptance of individual complaints procedures for Pakistan’ https://tbinternet.ohchr.org/_layouts/TreatyBodyExternal/Treaty.aspx?CountryID=131&Lang=EN accessed 15 February 2019

[16] Human Rights Watch, ‘Country Summary: Pakistan’ (January 2018) p. 3, https://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/pakistan_2.pdf accessed on 21 February 2019

 

 

 


GHRD – Human Rights Report 2019

 

In line with the Women’s Rights March organized by GHRD in The Hague on the 7 March 2019, the organization presented a report to the Dutch Parliament which detailed cases of human rights violations against women from religious minority communities in Pakistan along with legal recommendations. GHRD wants to remind the international community, as well as the individual governments, of their duty to act and speak out against these grave human rights violations.

This report will specifically examine the human rights violations against women from religious communities, whom are structurally affected by both gender as well as religious violence.

Download the report here to learn more about the human rights situation of women belonging to religious and ethnic minorities in Pakistan in 2019.

 

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