A week after the US State Department missed its legal deadline for designating ‘Countries of Particular Concern’ (CPC) – given to “systematic, ongoing and egregious” violators of religious freedom – a Pakistani journalist has suggested adding her country to the list would be “ineffective” anyway.
Pakistan was one of 16 nations recommended to the State Department for CPC designation by the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), which said the missed deadline “tells violators of religious freedom around the world that the United States is looking away”.
Huma Yusuf, writing for Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper, said: “It is unlikely that a designation would motivate Pakistan to check the blatant violation of religious minorities’ rights. Souring relations with the US, the astute recognition that religious freedom violations are not a high priority issue for the Trump administration, and a growing reliance on China for support at international fora mean that the designation – in the unlikely event that it were to occur – would be ineffective.”
She concluded that, as Pakistan has no “compelling reason” to check the “escalating persecution of religious minorities”, its “minorities are falling victim to political expediency, whereby the short-term gains for political parties and other power brokers of taking aggressive positions against the most vulnerable are too attractive to overlook.
“Pakistan’s minorities are falling victim to political expediency, whereby the short-term gains for political parties and other power brokers of taking aggressive positions against the most vulnerable are too attractive to overlook.”
“Ultimately, as a nation, we will have to find an internal motivating factor to support religious freedom. That motivating factor will have to be the realisation that if one group’s rights can be trampled today, then our rights (whoever ‘we’ may be) can be trampled tomorrow. Since there is no predicting who will hold power, whether political or institutional, in the decades to come, we can only take ease in the idea that our religious and other freedoms are protected no matter who’s in charge. Sadly, such insight is hardly our forte.”
Last month a group of influential US Senators lobbied for Pakistan’s inclusion on the CPC list.
In a joint letter, Senators Bob Menendez, Marco Rubio, Chris Coons, Todd Young, Jeff Merkley and James Lankford wrote: “Pakistan continues to perpetrate and tolerate systematic, ongoing and egregious religious freedom violations. Discriminatory constitutional provisions and laws, including the country’s blasphemy and anti-Ahmadiyya measures, continue to result in the unjust prosecution and imprisonment of individuals due to their faith.
“At least 40 people are currently sentenced to death or are serving life sentences for blasphemy. Religious minority communities, including Christians, Hindus, Ahmadis, and Shi’a Muslims, also experience religiously motivated and sectarian violence perpetrated by terrorist organisations and societal elements with relative impunity. Additionally, provincial textbooks with discriminatory content against minorities remain a significant concern.”
USCIRF, in its most recent annual report, said “designating Pakistan as a CPC would enable the United States to more effectively press Islamabad to undertake needed reforms”.
China, Eritrea, Iran, Myanmar, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan are the ten countries currently designated as CPCs because, according to the US State Department, they are “guilty of particularly severe violations of religious freedom under the International Religious Freedom Act”.