On 9 May 2020, a Christian church in Pakistan’s Punjab province was desecrated in a land grab crime. On 11 May, 21 Hindu homes were set on fire in villages in the country’s Sindh province. In one village, a Hindu woman was sexually assaulted and her family attacked.
The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan’s 2019 Report states that on average, more than 1 000 forced conversions take place every year.
In Pakistan, not only are religious minorities attacked; they are also denied any government aid in relation to coronavirus.
EU funding to Pakistan under the Development Cooperation Instrument for 2014 to 2020 amounts to EUR 653 million. Pakistan is also a beneficiary of the Generalised Scheme of Preferences Plus (GSP+).
On 15 October 2020, Members of the European Parliament (MEPs), Carlo Fidanza (ECR), Peter van Dalen (PPE), Bert-Jan Ruissen (ECR), Cristian Terheş (ECR) and Joachim Kuhs (ID) filed a parliamentary written question to the Vice-President of the Commission and High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell.
In the light of his recent statement on human rights in the times of the coronavirus pandemic, MEPs asked the Vice-President of the Commission and High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Borrell to explain “what specific action is being taken to investigate and stop these violent discriminatory practices in Pakistan” and “what justification from the EU allows Pakistan to remain eligible for GSP+ when it has repeatedly failed to comply with international human rights conventions on religious freedoms?”
Finally, the MEPs enquired from the Vice-President of the Commission and High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Borrell on “how his statement will ensure that Pakistan addresses its human rights abuses, including the persecution of religious minorities?”
On 02 December, these questions were answered by the High Representative/Vice-President Borrell on behalf of the European Commission.
In his answer, the High Representative/Vice-President Borrell stated that “freedom of religion or belief (FoRB), including the problem of forced conversions, is among the top human rights priorities of the European Union (EU) in Pakistan and it is regularly addressed through high-level political contacts and constitutes a key element of EU advocacy within the scope of the Special Incentive Arrangement for Sustainable Development and Good Governance as part of the EU’s Generalised Scheme of Preferences (GSP+)”. He reported that “the FoRB was discussed extensively at the 5th EU-Pakistan Strategic Dialogue on 3 November 2020”.
The High Representative/Vice-President Borrell said that “being a standing agenda item of the Human Rights Sub-Group of the EU-Pakistan Joint Commission, it was discussed in its latest session in November 2019, and also raised by EU Special Representative for Human Rights Eamon Gilmore with Federal Minister for Human Rights Shireen Mazari on 27 June 2020”.
High Representative/Vice-President Borrell, as in his many prior answers on Pakistan human rights parliamentary questions, highlighted that “within the GSP+ monitoring process, the Commission sent a list of salient issues to Pakistan in June 2020 specifically inquiring about the adoption process of the Christian Marriage and Divorce Act, and, the implementation of the Hindu Marriage Act and the various Child Marriage Restraint Acts, given that most cases of forced conversion concern underage girls” and “a joint Commission services/European External Action Service GSP+ monitoring mission to Pakistan is planned to take place as soon as conditions allow”.
In closing, he reported that “the EU has recently supported the monitoring of the situation of FoRB and provided legal aid to FoRB cases and strategic litigation under the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR)” and “the EU, both in headquarters and through the EU Delegation and Member States missions, follows closely individual cases and seeks to assist through political advocacy and legal aid”.
Photo Credit : https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flag_of_Pakistan