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Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Foreign and Commonwealth Office response to our recent Joint delegation with the British Sikh Council

Below I have copied word for word the response received today from Ben Stride of the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office. The letter received was in response to our Petition delegation on the 25th February 2010 (sic):

Thank you for letter to the Prime Minister of 25 February 2010 regarding human rights concerns in Pakistan. I am replying as a member of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s Pakistan Team.

The UK condemns all instances of violence and discrimination against individuals and groups because of their faith or belief, wherever they happen or whatever the religion of the individual or group concerned. The incidents that you highlight in your letter are tragic examples of the struggles that are often faced by members of minority communities in Pakistan.

We regard the treatment of minorities in Pakistan as a very serious issue. Along with our EU and international partners we regularly raise the issue of the treatment of the minorities with the Government of Pakistan. The most recent EU demarche in December 2009 called upon the Government of Pakistan to promote tolerance and take measures to protect freedom of religion or belief. Human Rights will figure as a core part of the forthcoming EU-Pakistan Summit on 21 April in Brussels. We are keen for Pakistan to have greater access to EU markets. However, in order for this to happen Pakistan will need to meet the eligibility criteria for such access, which includes ratifying the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the Convention Against Torture (CAT). We are encouraging them to take these steps.

The misuse of blasphemy laws in Pakistan is a particular concern. Incidents such as the attacks in Gojra, Korian and Sumbrial highlight the importance of ensuring that such legislation is correctly used. Following the attacks on Gojra and Korian our High Commissioner in Pakistan raised the need to ensure the protection of human rights for all of Pakistan’s minorities raised with the of the Punjab, Shahbaz Sharif. Both the Federal and Provincial Governments launched investigations into the attacks, and this resulted in a series of recommendations to local police forces and the Pakistani Government designed to prevent such attacks happening in the future. To support the Federal and Provincial Government designed in addressing the misuse of the blasphemy laws, we are funding a project analysing their socio-political impact. This will increase the capacity of law enforcement officials, government representatives and civil society to implement and monitor proper procedures in blasphemy cases.

The death of any child is tragedy, and the allegations that surround the case that you highlight make it even more disturbing. The UK is very clear that child labour should be banned, and our work is focused to achieve this end.

The UK has signed an agreement called the International Labour Organisation Convention Number 182. This is designed to protect children from the type of harm that you have highlighted. We have also signed a second agreement which is called Convention Number 138. This Convention means that children must have finished all compulsory education before they can start work, and that they should not start work if under the age of 15.

The case that you highlight is currently active in the courts of Pakistan. Since the case is sub judice, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) is unable to intervene directly with the authorities in Pakistan. However, we recognise the importance of making robust and regular representations to the Government of Pakistan on the issue of child labour. Together with our EU partners we have consistently raised the subject, most recently in the EU demarche of December 2009. Furthermore, child labour will be raise by European Union as part of the forthcoming dialogue on Human Rights. A Child Protection Bill is currently under discussion in the National Assembly in Pakistan. This Bill aims to prevent the abuse and mistreatment that you have highlighted. It is hoped that this Bill will be passed during 2010.

The issue of child labour in Pakistan is tied directly to the access to education. Progress on access to education for the poorest remains a significant challenge. The UK is providing £250 million for education and skills training Pakistan over the next five years. In late 2009, an Education Task force was set to work with the Government of Pakistan and federal and provincial ministries to support delivery of educational reforms and the National Education Policy.

The information alleged Sikhs in Pakistan is shocking, and the United Kingdom unreservedly condemns on such acts. The Government of Pakistan has been taking robust action against the Taliban in a sustained military campaign in Federally Administrated Tribal Areas (FATA) and in North West Frontier Province (NWFP) that has driven Taliban out of areas they used to control. It is important that such gains are followed up with reconstruction, development and improved governance. Through our 5-year £655 million development programme, the UK is supporting the Government of Pakistan to address the challenged that are faced, and assisting in the development of a strong, stable and democratic Pakistan that reinforces regional stability and upholds the rights of all minorities.

We must ensure the British Government continues to monitor the situation in Pakistan. It is only Through international pressure that we will see a change in fortune for minority groups in Pakistan. Moreover our petition for a fairer education for all in Pakistan will be submitted to 10 Downing Street when we have reached 200 signatures. So if you have not signed them yet ,we are urging British people to sign the petition directly to 10 Downing Street and all others to sign the i-petitions version. Thank you for your continued support

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