GENEVA: Pakistani authorities have been accused by rights groups of turning a blind eye to the banned sectarian militant groups and their relentless attacks on vulnerable communities such as Shia Muslims and other minority groups.
During a side event at the 25th Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) on the topic of ‘The Rise of Religious Intolerance’, Pakistani campaigners alleged that the Pakistani government lacks will to tackle the issue of sectarian killings of Shias head on, helping the growth of perception amongst Shias that they have no one to turn to for their protection in this time of crisis. The session was hosted by the International Imam Hussain Council, International Association for Religious Freedom and Human Rights without Borders.
Rubab Mehdi Rizvi, Chair of the Imam Hussain Council, told members of the NGOs, campaigners and the UN officials that over 21,000 Shia Muslims have been killed in the last three decades in Pakistan “for which not a single one of the killers has been brought to justice”.
“When the alleged assassins are arrested, they are freed after a few weeks, or they somehow manage to escape. It is in the interest of mankind that terrorism be eliminated, and the United Nations General Assembly adopted a Counter-Terrorism Strategy and a Plan of Action for this purpose.”
She said that the appeasement of terrorists, giving them a platform in the media; failing to bring them to justice; failing to protect citizens from their attacks; allowing them to stand in elections, and allowing hate speech including incitement to murder are not only weakening Pakistan’s internal peace and stability but are damaging the country as a partner in the international community’s counter-terrorism strategy.
She feared that all current indications point to the likelihood that attacks of this nature will intensify across the country in the coming months. “We have come here to reclaim a vibrant and diverse Pakistan that belongs to all of us, not just one hard-line minority group.”
Syed Ali Abbas Zaidi of Pakistan Youth Alliance said that militant groups such as the supposedly banned Lashkar-e-Jehangvi (LeJ), Sipah-e-Sahaba (SSP) and their various affiliates operate with impunity across Pakistan. This despite the fact that they have openly declared their mission to ‘purge’ Pakistan of Shias and others, including majority Sunnis, who differ with their extremist ideology, he said.
He stressed that these groups claim responsibility for terror attacks, continue to engage in hate speech against the Shia community through their madrassah networks, mosque sermons, through distribution of literature and vocal presence on social media but the government agencies don’t act.
“This is a violation of the rights guaranteed by the Pakistani Constitution, a major factor of instability within Pakistan and its also in direct breach of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, particularly Article 3 and Article 18,” Zaidi said.
Hazara Human rights activist Dr Saleem Javed claimed that almost 1,500 Hazaras in 135 attacks have been killed in sectarian attacks in Quetta.
“Most of Hazara govt employees have quit their jobs in fear of getting killed. Traders, businessmen and shopkeepers who were doing small scale business with Afghanistan & Iran have either sold out their properties at throwaway prices or have closed down temporarily.
Hazara students have dropped out of university in Balochistan in entirety as their buses were targeted. The community has been effectively ghettoized in Warsaw like condition in their enclaves. The governments have done nothing practical to stop the killings rather engaged in a blame game,” he said, calling on the Pakistani govt to fulfill its promises and provide a full-fledged protection and bring the culprits to justice.
The conference called on the government to increase law enforcement capacity in Shia-majority areas and during Shia religious gatherings to protect those who are most at risk; take steps to rein in madrassahs that are responsible for inciting violence and hate speech; draft legislation that makes incitement to violence against any individual or community a criminal offense; and work with educational institutions, civil society and religious scholars of various sects to implement programmes that focus on interfaith harmony.