Pro-minority judgement bites dust in Pakistan

    Eight years after Pakistan’s Supreme Court passed a judgement to protect minority rights, the overall compliance is lagging far behind, claim human rights activists.

    The apex court in its judgement on June 19, 2014, had ordered the setting up of a national council (commission) for minorities, curbing hate speech, implementing job quotas, developing a curriculum for peace, and inculcating religious tolerance among a host of measures to safeguard minorities.

    The order by former chief justice Tassaduq Hussain Jillani was passed in the wake of the deadly Peshawar church bombing in 2013 that killed 85 Christians.

    “The federal and provincial governments have achieved 22 percent compliance in eight years,” said Peter Jacob, executive director of the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ), while pointing out that at this rate it would require 24 years to ensure full implementation of the judgement.

    Punjab province, which is home to 2.06 million Christians, scored a zero for its failure to implement the measures.

    Speaking at a media conference organised by CSJ to mark the eighth anniversary of the pro-minority judgement on June 18, Jacob cited “the lack of good governance, indifference towards human rights, non-serious practices and the plight of minorities amongst legal duty-bearers” as the main reasons for the continued failure to protect minorities.

    “A Supreme Court bench had conducted 28 follow-up hearings that passed 80 supplementary orders to the federal and provincial governments for implementation of seven original orders given in 2014,” he said.

    A one-man commission on minority rights was constituted in 2019 to oversee the implementation of the judgment, but according to data collected by CSJ, the federal and provincial governments failed to promptly act against violations of minority rights.

    In Punjab, the provincial government, instead of introducing religious studies in the school curriculum, went on to establish an Ulema Board made up of Muslim scholars to review all textbooks.

    Christian attorneys continue reporting deliberate delays by trial courts when hearing blasphemy cases, a highly sensitive issue in Pakistan, citing alleged pressure from hardline religious and political groups.

    Advocate Saroop Ijaz termed the non-compliance with the 2014 judgement as a missed opportunity.

    “The findings and directives of the landmark judgement had the potential of reforms and scope to contribute to advancing religious freedom and building a tolerant society,” he said.

    He said it was unfortunate that governments failed to realise equality of rights and respect for diversity in Pakistan, which he said could be due to a lack of political will or institutional capacities.

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