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US panel wants Pakistan added to list of religious freedom violators

world Updated: May 03, 2016 10:55 IST
US panel

A Christian woman mourns the death of her son in a suicide bombing in Lahore, Pakistan, that killed over 70 people.(AP File Photo)

A federal body on international religious freedom, formed by the US Congress, appealed to Obama administration on Monday to list Pakistan among the worst violators of religious freedom.

“In 2015, the Pakistani government continued to perpetrate and tolerate systematic, ongoing, and egregious religious freedom violations,” US Commission for International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) said in its annual report.

USCIRF recommended the State Department to designate Pakistan a “country of particular concern” (CPC) -- under the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA). Its recommendations are non-binding and Pakistan has not been designated as a CPC country by the State Department.

The panel also recommended seven other countries to be listed as CPC -- Central African Republic, Egypt, Iraq, Nigeria, Syria, Tajikistan and Vietnam.

CPC-designated countries are Myanmar, China, Eriteria, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.

“Religiously-discriminatory constitutional provisions and legislation, such as the country’s blasphemy law and anti-Ahmadiyya laws, intrinsically violate international standards of freedom of religion or belief and result in prosecutions and imprisonments,” the report said.

The actions of non-state actors, including US-designated Foreign Terrorist Organizations such as Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (Pakistani Taliban), continue to threaten all Pakistanis and the country’s security, it said.

Religious minority communities, including Shia and Ahmadiyya Muslims, Christians and Hindus, experience chronic sectarian and religious violence from terrorist organisations and individuals within the society, it added.

The government’s failure to provide adequate protection for likely targets of such violence or prosecute perpetrators has created a deep rooted climate of impunity, it said, noting that discriminatory content against minorities in provincial textbooks remains a significant concern, as are reports of forced conversions and marriages of Christian and Hindu girls and women.

“While the Pakistani government has taken some steps over the last two years to address egregious religious freedom violations, it has failed to implement systemic changes,” the report said.

“For years, the Pakistani government has failed to protect citizens, minority and majority alike, from sectarian and religiously-motivated violence,” USCIRF said.

USCIRF expressed its disappointment over US’ policy towards Pakistan. “Human rights and religious freedom have not been among the highest priorities in the bilateral relationship,” it said.