UNPO Briefs U.S Government on Religious Persecution in Pakistan
On 3 March 2020, a UNPO representative briefed members of the U.S government on the situation of religious persecution in Pakistan in 2020. The briefing focused specifically on the case of the Mehak Kumari, 14-year Hindu girl who was abducted on 14 January 2020 from a district town of Sindh and later forcibly converted and married to a Muslim man. The roundtable took place at the US Senate and was attended by more than a hundred participants from different governmental agencies, NGOs, think tanks and activists. During the encounter, UNPO also took the opportunity to introduce its report catalog on freedom of religion of unrepresented peoples.
The meeting took place under the Chatham House Rule and therefore this article only makes reference to the content presented by the UNPO, author of this piece.
During the high-level roundtable, The UNPO representative drew attention to the latest case of abuse against minority children in Pakistan. Following the abduction, forced conversion and marriage of Mehak Kumari, the minor was presented in court in February, where she stated her desire to return to her parents rather than staying with her abductor. Although the judge ruled that Mehak was underage and was not fit for marriage, the child was sent to a shelter home instead of being allowed to return to her parents. Meanwhile, religious extremists have threatened to resort to the Sharia Court if the girl is not brought to justice in a manner that they desire.
The Former vice chairperson of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, notes that 20 or more Hindu girls are abducted every month in Pakistan. In most cases the girls remain in the custody of the abductor during judicial proceedings so she is often subject to further threats, intimidation and coercion and therefore testifies in favour of the abductor. In light of the clear evidence that the judicial system and the overall political establishment in Pakistan is not doing enough to protect Pakistani children and minorities, UNPO recommended the U.S government to make use of the provisions of the International Religious Freedom Act and the designation of Pakistan as a Country of Particular Concern in November 2018 to impose targeted sanctions on offenders and to instruct the US Embassy to the European Union (EU) to pressure European Commission to stop certifying Pakistan as compliant with 27 international human rights conventions under GSP+.
During the roundtable, the UNPO representative also took the opportunity to introduce its recent catalog on freedom of religion of unrepresented peoples. The development of the catalog was motivated by the fact that more than one-fourth of all UNPO Members currently face some form of persecution based on their religion or belief. In light of this concern, this report provides a summary of the various cases of religious persecution affecting UNPO members and highlights three systemic issues: lack of adequate national representation; the silencing of unrepresented peoples (through the use of intimidation and violence, repressive regimes often manipulate the international system to block representatives of religious minorities); the lack of international pressure against perpetrators.