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"Protecting human rights of religious minorities is essential for conflict prevention”

  • Human rights experts urge action at UN Forum on the Protection of Human Rights of Minorities

  • 18 countries in the Asia Pacific region have blasphemy laws that violate international human rights law

New Delhi (7 September 2021) – How can we prevent religious minorities from suffering under conflict? Today, human rights experts addressed this question at the UN Asia-Pacific Regional Forum on Conflict Prevention and the Protection of the Human Rights of Minorities.  

Speaking at the event, Tehmina Arora, Director of Advocacy, Asia, for ADF International said: “Protecting the human rights of religious minorities is essential for conflict prevention. The exclusion of and discrimination against minorities are the main root-causes of most contemporary conflicts. We must ensure their protection through the implementation of their human rights.”  

Vague and arbitrary laws have an adverse impact on the rights of Christians and other religious minorities as is clearly evident from the blasphemy and anti-conversion laws across the globe. 18 countries in the Asia Pacific region have blasphemy laws that violate international human rights law. In South Asia in particular, these laws have been noted to have a chilling effect on freedom of speech and expression and freedom of religion. It is imperative that these countries take all necessary action to repeal such laws to ensure that religious minorities are able to freely practice their faith,” she continued.  

The dangers of blasphemy and conversion laws 

A recent example of the dangers of blasphemy laws is the case of a Pakistani Christian couple who spent seven years on death row over false blasphemy charges. Shagufta Kausar and her husband Shafqat Emmanuel had been living in poverty with their four children in Punjab, Pakistan. On 18 June 2013, allegedly blasphemous text messages, were sent to a cleric and a lawyer from a phone seemingly registered in Shagufta’s name. The parents were arrested and charged with blasphemy on 21 July 2013. Shagufta and Shafqat are illiterate and would not have been able to write any text messages at all. Shagufta explained that her phone had been missing for a month at the time of the incident. It is uncertain who sent the messages and for what reason. In 2014, a session court sentenced the couple to death by hanging. After the Lahore High Court overturned their death sentence in early June, the parents of four faced death threats and were forced to flee the country. 

Anti-conversion laws restrict religious conversions by regulating how one’s faith or belief is shared with others and also by creating bureaucratic hurdles such as inquiries by local government authorities or police to determine if the conversion is genuine. Vague legal provisions and often severe penalties, however, lead to harassment of both those sharing their faith and those who want to change their faith. 

Objectives and outcomes of the Forum 

Convened by the UN Special Rapporteur on minority issues Fernand de Varennes, the Regional Forum is being held online from September 7-8 and brings together 200 representatives from States, UN and regional organisations, and civil society groups. The Forum informs the work of the Special Rapporteur on minority issues for his report to the 49th session of the UN Human Rights Council in March 2022 and provides recommendations for the 14th session of the UN Forum on Minority Issues taking place in Geneva in December 2021 

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