Articles

Reply to Dutch Human Rights Report 2017

Ministry of Foreign Affairs

The Kingdom of Netherlands

Attn: Mr. Stef Blok

SUB: Reply to the Human Rights report 2017 of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands

Hereby we would like to express our objections to the Human Rights Report 2017 issued by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Global Human Rights Defence (GHRD) is a non-governmental organization which focuses on human rights in South Asia (India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka). GHRD places emphasis on those areas and populations of the world where severe and extensive human rights violations have continued unabated over long periods of time and where structural help and global attention of Governments and international institutions have failed to reach.

GHRD recognizes that Christians are persecuted in Pakistan, as mentioned in the report, however, undue emphasis on one religion while ignoring the suffering faced by the other religious minorities could have catastrophic consequences. Religious minorities in Pakistan comprise of the Hindu, Sikh, Ahmadi communities, it is unfortunate that the Human Rights report of the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs altogether disregards these minorities. The ongoing human rights violations need to cease immediately in order to ensure that religious minorities are not completely wiped out from Pakistan.

The report sadly shows the duplicity of the Dutch government in predominantly funding and supporting those organizations which work for the Christian community. The other religious minorities in Pakistan are also in dire need of international attention.

The report is built on the underlying theme that the Christian minority is the only community which faces human rights violations all over the globe. Accordingly, the Human Rights report exclusively focuses on the issues faced by members of the  Christian community.

Moreover, it is observed that the funding of human rights organizations under the Netherlands Human Rights fund (2017-2020) has been allocated to those organizations which primarily focus on the Christian community. This has been done at the cost of overlooking other religious minorities, especially in South Asia.

The Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs under chapter 2 (page 20) of the report, titled “Freedom of religion and belief” proudly states that “through the Human Rights Fund, the Netherlands supports the Centre for Legal Aid, Assistance and Settlement (CLAAS), an NGO operating in Pakistan, by providing shelter and legal aid to minorities – mainly Christian minorities – that suffer violence and miscarriages of justice on the basis of their religion.”

This begs the question as to why the Dutch government is funding an organization which primarily focuses on Christian minorities in Pakistan. This comes at the cost of ignoring the other religious minorities. The Ahmadis, Sikhs and Hindus are also a part of the religious minority in Pakistan and require immediate international attention.

The Ahmadis are branded as heretics by the majority Sunni community because of their religious beliefs. The Ahmadis are deemed to be non-Muslims under the Pakistani constitution, and the law specifically prohibits Ahmadis from practicing their religion in public. They are not allowed to call for prayers, read religious texts, and they are also banned from undertaking the Haj pilgrimage.

The Islamabad High Court even went to the extent of stating that Ahmadis should not be allowed to conceal their identity by adopting a Muslim name. This goes against the basic rights of life, liberty and security of an individual. It is clear that the persecution has been institutionalized though unjust and repressive laws.

The members of the Hindu community are constantly targeted and attacked for their religious beliefs. Hindu temples and religious places are pillaged and destroyed. Moreover, Hindus are being forcibly converted to Islam. According to reports at least 1000 minor girls (mostly belonging to the Hindu community) are abducted and forcibly converted to Islam in Pakistan every year.

Members of the Hindu community are not allowed into the armed forces or the judiciary, this is corroborated by the insignificant number of Hindus who hold high positions in government or civil society. They face constant discrimination in areas of education and employment. Moreover, discrimination against Hindus is buttressed though the hate propaganda dispersed through the school curriculum and main stream media. Hindus in Sindh are forced to work as bonded labour in the fields of rich landlords. They are unable to escape the vicious cycle of illiteracy, poverty and slave labour. They are also targeted under the infamous blasphemy laws of Pakistan.

Members of Sikh and Buddhist community also face serious human rights violations. They are attacked for their religious beliefs and their religious places are targeted by fundamentalist elements in the Pakistani society. The impotency of the civilian government to maintain law and order gives the fundamentalist majority a free hand to attack the religious minority.

GHRD issues the strongest statement against the hypocrisy of the Dutch government. GHRD emphasizes that resources of the Dutch people need to be used to support all minorities and religions, undue emphasis to only Christian community violates the basic premise of freedom of religion and belief. Art. 26 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) mandates that all persons must be treated equally under the law and the law must prohibit any discrimination on the grounds of religion. This is also reiterated under Art. 1 of the Dutch Constitution which states that all persons in the Netherlands shall be treated equally in equal circumstances and clarifies that discrimination on the grounds of religion shall not be permitted.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs must uphold its international treaties which emphasize that all persons must be treated equally under the law. The government must work towards empowering the minorities as a whole, rather than dividing them on basis of their religious beliefs.

The Human Rights report prioritizes the needs of the Christian community, which shows that the Dutch government disregards the human rights violations faced by other religious minorities. The government must rethink its strategy and foreign policy which needs to be redesigned in order to protect all religious minorities. It is imperative that this change is effectuated in policy and implemented on the ground by reaching out to the other minorities.

Moreover, since the funds for the years 2017- 2020 have already been depleted, there is an exigency to renew these funds, so that the other organizations which focus on the benefit of all religious minorities can be supported.

The ministry has an obligation to accurately portray the situation of human rights in Pakistan, and by focusing on a particular community, the report leads to a manifestly misleading picture about the minorities in Pakistan. GHRD demands that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs must make public the internal reports on basis of which it has come to adopt this distorted foreign policy. It is paramount that the foreign ministry ceases to rely on inaccurate reports which only emphasize on the suffering of a particular religious community.

We await your reply with great interest.

Thank you,

Mr. Sradhanand Sital

Chairman

Global Human Rights Defence