New Rights Body Should be Inclusive, Independent, Empowered

(New York) – Pakistan’s government has excluded the long-persecuted Ahmadiyya community from a new government commission aimed at safeguarding the rights of the country’s minorities, Human Rights Watch said today.

On May 5, 2020, Pakistan’s cabinet established the National Commission for Minorities (NCM) and adopted the position of the Ministry of Religious Affairs and Inter-faith Harmony not to include Ahmadis among its members. Information Minister Shibli Faraz stated after the cabinet meeting that Ahmadis did not “fall in the definition of minorities.” An estimated 4 million Ahmadis live in Pakistan, a country of 212 million, and face widespread abuse and discrimination.

“The Ahmadis are among the most persecuted communities in Pakistan and to exclude them from a minority rights commission is absurd,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. Keeping Ahmadis off the commission shows the extent to which the community faces discrimination every day.”

The government should immediately reverse its decision to exclude Ahmadiyya community members from the NCM, Human Rights Watch said. It should ensure that the new commission is independent and empowered to make policy recommendations, investigate human rights violations, and propose remedies.

The media reported that on April 15, the Religious Affairs Ministry had initially recommended including Ahmadis on the NCM, an unprecedented proposal since Ahmadis remain unrepresented in most government institutions. However, on April 29, the minister of religious affairs, Noorul Haq Qadri, denied that the government was considering allowing Ahmadis on the commission. None of the cabinet members objected to excluding Ahmadis.

The persecution of the Ahmadiyya community is embedded in Pakistani law and encouraged by the Pakistan government. In September 1974, the Pakistani parliament declared the Ahmadis to be non-Muslims. In 1984, Pakistan amended its penal code, giving legal status to five ordinances that explicitly targeted religious minorities and two laws specifically restricting the activities of Ahmadis, including prohibiting them from “indirectly or directly posing as a Muslim.” Ahmadis are prohibited from declaring or propagating their faith publicly, building mosques (or even referring to them as such), or making the call for Muslim prayer.

Pakistan’s electoral law effectively excludes Ahmadis. To register to vote, Ahmadis must either renounce their faith or agree to be on a separate electoral list and accept their status as non-Muslim.

The authorities routinely arrest, jail, and charge Ahmadis for blasphemy and other offenses because of their religious beliefs. In several instances, the police have been complicit in harassment and filing of false charges against Ahmadis, or stood by in the face of anti-Ahmadi violence.

Pakistani laws against the Ahmadiyya community violate Pakistan’s international legal obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), including the rights to freedom of conscience, religion, expression, and association, to profess and practice their own religion, and to vote and be elected at genuine periodic elections. Pakistan ratified the ICCPR in 2010.

Prime Minister Imran Khan has previously excluded Ahmadis from government positions because of outside pressure. Hardliners objected when he appointed a Princeton University economist, Atif Mian, an Ahmadi, to his advisory council in September 2018.Khan initially said he would “not bow to extremists,” but later he removed Mian from his post. Two members of the advisory council resigned in protest.

Minority rights groups in Pakistan have rejected the NCM’s proposed constitution because it does not meet the standards set out for national human rights institutions in the UN Principles relating to the Status of National Institutions (“the Paris Principles”). Since 1990, the government has created several ad-hoc minority rights commissions, though they have remained non-functional and without statutory authority. The cabinet has not defined the powers of the new commission.

Under the Paris Principles, anyone holding a political office cannot become a member of a national human rights institution. However, the cabinet has nominated leaders of the ruling Pakistan Threek-i-Insaf as members of the commission.

“Pakistan needs an independent and inclusive national human rights institution, and not an exclusionary government-controlled one,” Adams said. “Excluding Ahmadis from the NCM is just the latest sign of its deeply discriminatory policies towards this persecuted group.”

This article was published by HRW