Pakistan rejects the US move to include it in ‘religious freedom violation’ blacklist

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan rejected the US State Department’s move to include the country to its blacklist of countries that “violate religious freedom” as “unilateral and politically motivated”.

Following this, the Trump administration has waived potential sanctions for Pakistan which can be expected to hit countries downgraded in the US’s rankings of nations that it says infringe on religious freedom.

Pakistan had previously been on a special watch-list for religious freedom. The downgrade means that the US government is obliged to exert pressure on the blacklisted countries to end freedom violations.

However, US State Secretary Mike Pompeo waived the potential penalties for Pakistan in the US national interest.

The Foreign Office, in its response to Pompeo’s statement, said; “Besides the clear biases reflected from these designations, there are serious questions on the credentials and impartiality of the self-proclaimed jury involved in this unwarranted exercise.”

Pakistan is a multi-religious and pluralistic society where people of diverse faiths and denominations live together. Around four percent of our total population comprises citizens belonging to Christian, Hindu, Buddhists and Sikh faiths. Ensuring equal treatment of minorities and their enjoyment of human rights without any discrimination is the cardinal principle of the Constitution of Pakistan, it added.

The Foreign Office highlighted, “Special seats have been reserved for minorities in the Parliament to ensure their adequate representation and voice in the legislation process. A vibrant and independent National Commission on Human Rights is functioning to address concerns on violation of the rights of minorities.”

Successive governments have made it a priority that the rights of citizens belonging to minority faiths are protected as guaranteed by the law and the Constitution. The higher judiciary of the country has made several landmark decisions to protect the properties and places of worships of minorities, it further stated.

As a party to 7 out of the 9 core human rights treaties, Pakistan is submitting its compliance reports on its obligations with regard to fundamental freedoms. The government of Pakistan has devised well established legal and administrative mechanisms to safeguard the rights of its citizens, the Foreign Office statement said.

Pakistan does not need counsel by any individual country how to protect the rights of its minorities, the Foreign Office asserted.

Sadly, the proponents of human rights worldwide close their eyes on a systematic persecution of minorities subjected to alien domination and foreign occupation such as in the occupied Jammu and Kashmir. An honest self-introspection would also have been timely to know the causes of the exponential rise in Islamophobia and anti-Semitism in the US, it concluded.

Earlier, a statement that was released from the US Department of State said, “The countries were added to the list under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 for having engaged in or tolerated systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom.

Moreover, Pompeo said that he had designated Pakistan among the “countries of particular concern” in the congressionally-mandated annual report, which means that the US government is obliged to exert pressure in order to end freedom violations.

In far too many places across the globe, individuals continue to face harassment, arrests, or even death for simply living their lives in accordance with their beliefs. The United States will not stand by as spectators in the face of such oppression,” Pompeo said in the statement.

These designations are aimed at improving the lives of individuals and the broader success of their societies. I recognize that several designated countries are working to improve their respect for religious freedom; I welcome such initiatives and look forward to continuing the dialogue, he added.

It was further stated that nine other countries including China, Eritrea, Iran, Myanmar, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan remained in the list of Countries of Particular Concern”. However, Uzbekistan was removed from the list but is still on the watch.