Pakistan Must Protect Rights of Minorities and Freedom of Speech Better

Heidi Hautala met on 19th of May with Mr Shahbaz Bhatti, Federal Minister for Minorities in Pakistan, to discuss freedom of religion and rights of ethnic and religious minorities in Pakistan. [:]Mr Bhatti acknowledged that Pakistan faces remarkable challenges in countering terrorism and aiming to promote human rights at the same time. Ms Hautala urged the minister to not compromise the need to protect human rights even in time of challenge.The European Parliament adopted on the same day a resolution on freedom of religion in Pakistan, calling for better implementation of the Constitution of Pakistan that guarantees the freedom of religion and rights of minorities and condemned the misuse of blasphemy laws. In this regard Chairwoman Hautala stressed that one must be careful, as while it is of tremendous importance to promote the rights of ethnic and religious minorities everywhere in the world, it must be ensured that the approach is strictly based on aiming to guarantee fair rights for all, not on aiming to promote rights of only one group or religion.

Ms Hautala expressed her concern over the attempts to introduce the concept “defamation of religions” into the international law and is aware of the key role Pakistan has in this as the coordinator of the OIC at the UNHRC. Indeed, the resolution adopted by the European Parliament expressed concern over this contradiction between the government of Pakistan’s commitment to freedom of religion and its leading role in the OIC in endorsing the “Combating Defamation of Religion” agenda at the United Nations.

Ms Hautala maintains that the international human rights law already protects individuals and groups and better protection is a question of better implementation of these norms. Furthermore, inserting rights of abstract ideas into law is undesirable as this can lead to restrictions of freedom of speech by suppressing discussion of religion in the name of protecting it from defamation. Moreover, the open-ended concept would in practice allow governments to decide which beliefs and views are acceptable in the society and which are not. Not least worryingly, this can fuel an atmosphere of intolerance towards minorities and other critical voices.

Chairwoman expressed her wishes that in the future Minister Bhatti would take part in dialogue with the European Parliament especially with regards this matter.