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2014-06-24

ASIA/PAKISTAN - Historic decision: the birth of the "National Council for the rights of minorities"

Lahore (Agenzia Fides) - There is a glimmer of hope for minorities in Pakistan with a historic decision, the Supreme Court has ordered the government to establish the "National Council for the rights of minorities", an independent state body that will act as observatory, monitoring the status of ethnic and religious minorities, and cases of violence and discrimination. The decision came via a measure by the chief judge, Tasaduq Hussain Jillani, after a proceeding initiated in the aftermath of the attack in the Christian church of Peshawar, in September 2013, where 81 Christians were killed and many seriously injured. The new Council will have the task to ensure religious harmony and protect the dignity and privileges of the citizens of religious minorities. The measure - a 32-page verdict - takes a stand against "hate speech propagated on social media" and "against the abuses perpetrated on children, because of their faith". The Court expressese regret because "the constitutional provisions on the protection of minority rights have not been respected in Pakistan" and orders the executive to establish a special "task force" to protect the places of worship of religious minorities.
Speaking to Fides, the Catholic layman Cecil Shane Chaudhry, Executive Director of the Commission "Justice and Peace" of the Pakistani Bishops, welcomes the step as a "historic decision in the judicial history of Pakistan", given that "so far no one had ever talked about the issue so clearly".
"It is a historic day for Christians and other religious minorities who for years have asked the various governments to establish an independent commission to protect their rights" says to Fides Nasir Saeed, coordinator of the NGO CLAAS. "We hope that the Pakistani government opens its eyes to the suffering of minorities and adopts concrete measures, allowing minorities to be able to live in the country without fear of persecution".
Kashif Aslam, of the Commission "Justice and Peace", explains to Fides that "the intervention of the Chief Justice reestablishes force to the rule of law". Ten months ago, the Christian lawyer Saleem Michael had sent a letter to the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Tasaduq Hussain Villani, who wanted to investigate the facts. During the hearing, in May last year, Jillani said that the Supreme Court had asked the government to form a "special force to guarantee security to minorities", inviting minority leaders to provide written directions. "I received letters and testimonies - says Kashif Aslam - regarding issues such as prejudice against minorities in textbooks; forced marriages and conversions of minorities; the desecration of places of worship. The judge held that these issues must be addresseded in a specific manner, in order to respect the Constitution. Hence the decision to establish the new Council". (PA-KA) (Agenzia Fides 24/06/2014)

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