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Thursday, 6 March 2014

Dutch parliamentarians indicate desire to learn how best to deal with Christians seeking Asylum from Pakistan

Wilson Chowdhry Chair of the bPCA with Pieter Omzigt chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Netherlands.

Middle East Forum for Development in conjunction with the BPCA organised a special hearing on Tuesday 4th March 2014, regarding the human rights situation of minorities in Pakistan.  The meeting was held at the Dutch House of Representatives and presided over by the foreign affairs committee, which was chaired by Pieter Omtzigt, Member of Parliament (MP) from Christian Democrats Party.   Fellow MPs; Michiel Servaes of the Labour Party and Joël Voordewind of the Christian Union were also in attendance.

In this hearing, Pieter Omtzigt received a delegation of Pakistan experts comprised of professor Desmond Fernandes, a leading expert on genocide and author of the recently published book “The Targeting of Minority ‘Others’ in Pakistan”, Mehran Baluch, Baloch representative to the United Nations Human Rights Council and European Union and Wilson Chowdhry, Chairman of the British Pakistani Christian Association (BPCA). In attendance was also Mosa Zahed, founding director of Middle East Forum for Development. The meeting focused on targeted minorities in Pakistan, in particular on the plight of Christians and the kill and dump policy which is carried out with impunity by Pakistan’s security forces in Baluchistan province.

Professor Fernandes emphasised during the meeting that the situation of minority groups in Pakistan has become much worse. He said, “If you look at the situation in 2013, atrocities against minority groups, including Christians substantially, has actually increased”

On the issue of the blasphemy laws, Fernandes raised his concerns regarding the recent ruling by Pakistan’s Federal Sharia Court, which specifies that life imprisonment is not enough for blasphemers and that the only permissible punishment is the death penalty. 

“This suggests that there are specific directions and orders from the highest level, suggesting that the situation is just going to increase in terms of deterioration of circumstances for Christians and certainly for a lot of others” Fernandes reiterated.

He further argued that genocide scholars and others have referred to the genocide of the Hazara Shia, Ahmadis and others. According to Fernandes, in Baluchistan the Pakistani security forces enjoy total impunity which has resulted in a total abuse of power. Fernandes underscored that “law enforcements and security agencies now have unlimited powers to search houses without warrants, to shoot suspects on site, to confiscate property, tap telephones and hack computers”.

Mehran Baluch argued that Pakistan’s secret service agencies have given a freehand to Islamic extremists to target the people of Baluchistan and that a similar atrocity is taking place in Sindh and Punjab provinces. He said,

 “The situation in Baluchistan is much worse than other parts of Pakistan where Pakistani intelligence agencies and armed forces are committing heinous crimes, not only against ethnic and religious minorities but against humanity”. 

Mehran Baluch further argued that the Hazara community face a genocidal process at the hands of extremists. He emphasised that “there have been numerous deadly attacks against Hazara which have claimed the lives of hundreds of people”. 

Mr Baluch appealed to the international community to undertake necessary measures and pressure the government of Pakistan to stop human rights violations against Baloch people and other minorities.
The hearing of last Tuesday regarding human rights in Pakistan is a follow-up to a meeting of last April, which was also organised by Middle East Forum for Development. Wilson Chowdhry, who also attended the meeting of last April, focused on the potential for “Special Status” for Pakistani Christians. He emphasised to the Dutch MPs that “this will make the asylum process for Pakistani Christians more bearable in the Netherlands”

The Chairman of the BPCA further highlighted the persecution and discrimination, including all the various faith, cultural identities and several Muslim sects in Pakistan.  He challenged the Dutch representatives to engage in stronger dialogue with Pakistan.  He said,"Dialogue is essential to creating a fairer society in Pakistan, areas of Pakistani law infringe on international human rights, this is replicated in the constitution of Pakistan.  The Government of Netherlands provides £7million  aid to Pakistan and this should now be used as a tool to lever change."

The Dutch MPs were keen to know from the Pakistan experts which approach the Dutch government should adopt in order to stimulate improvement of the human rights situation of minorities. Joël Voordewind from the Christian Union argued that his party, in collaboration with other political parties, requested last from the Dutch government to offer Pakistani Christians and Ahmadis a special status due to the fact that they are being heavily persecuted.  However, the Dutch government has offered such status to the Ahmadis but not to Pakistani Christians. Voordewind further said that he and his colleagues have sent an appeal for this decision and expect an answer by June.

Wilson Chowdhry detailing his concerns about the current plight faced by Pakistani Christians.

The panel of MP's and clerk listened attentively to the reports on Pakistan.

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