Why Should Pakistan Sign The First Optional Protocol To The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)
On December 12, 2016, a mosque owned by the Ahmadi community in Pakistan for many years was attacked by a mob that initially demanded the Ahmadis to vacate the place. This incident took place and police failed to provide protection despite there being a prior warning of threat. The case is still pending.[i] In Pakistan, this is not the only incident of its kind as minorities have constantly been disadvantaged, sometimes by the extremists and sometimes at the hands of our government and its poor policies. Ahmadis, in the era of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, were declared non-Muslims and since that time they have either been brutally killed for opening up about their religious status or have been deprived of their rights one way or the other.
Pakistan is a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) but it has not yet signed the first Optional Protocol of the ICCPR which provides options to individuals to file complaints or seek advice if their rights are being infringed by the state, which itself initially promised certain rights through the ICCPR and Constitution of Pakistan. Ahmadis should not be differentiated on the basis of a religious or cultural context. The government should not be a silent spectator when it comes to basic rights of all citizens. According to the ICCPR, it is not just article 6 -that mentions the inherent right to life to be protected by law- but also article 18 -that provides for religious freedom of every individual- which is violated. Even though the state of Pakistan has made a reservation with respect to article 6 and 18, it has recently mentioned applying these articles to the extent that they are not repugnant to the Constitution of Pakistan and sharia law. The right to life and the right to have religious beliefs is not in conflict with the Constitution of Pakistan. The question is not about whether they should be called Muslims or non-Muslims, the issue is about their precious lives and properties being taken away in the guise of religion while the state does nothing about the gravity of the situation.
The reason why Pakistan should sign the Optional Protocol is self-evident. When a Constitution declares a group of people as non-Muslims and starts tagging every word they say as amounting to apostasy or blasphemy, when the killing of these people does not affect the authorities and there is no follow-up on their murder cases, when the remedies available in a country are exhausted or not applied because judges are sometimes biased or avoiding due diligence, then an outer force is required to cope with the prevailing anarchy and injustice. The Optional Protocol is needed to let people seek out justice and help in improving the existing mechanism of law and justice. Recommendations offered by the Committee on the Optional Protocol can serve as jurisprudence which can refine the state’s understanding of its duties if a violation occurs towards its citizens.[ii] This shall keep a check on the government to strictly adhere to the articles of ICCPR through strengthening its domestic laws while steps shall be taken to ensure that no person shall be deprived of his or her inherent rights. This shall also stimulate changes in discriminatory laws that are the root-cause of such violations.[iii] If Pakistan signs the Optional Protocol, there must also be awareness among the people about their rights. When the Committee gives a decision, it requires the states that are party to the Covenant to publish the communication and inquiries made. This shall help not just the victim but other people as well in knowing their rights and knowing who to consult and where to seek redressal of grievance when such a violation occurs. Signing of the Optional Protocol shall also provide minorities with the knowledge of their rights and security of life and beliefs. They will have not just local remedies in their hands but also an external option to which they can resort to when the state fails to entertain eve basic rights such as the right to life.
Since at present individuals are not given the right to file a case against human rights violations on the basis of religious biases, even though articles of ICCPR are being violated, people are hardly left with any solution to voice their sufferings. Due to lack of domestic remedies and an ineffective mechanism of law enforcement, thousands of people are being killed in the name of blasphemy, apostasy and conflict of religious beliefs. People like Khaliq Ahmad, Hameed Ahmad Dawood [iv] and many others have been killed due to religious hatred while their murderers are still roaming around without any liability and the state remains silent.
[i] DAWN, Nabeel Anwar Dhakku https://www.dawn.com/news/1302240
[ii] UN women, Why an Optional protocol? http://www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/cedaw/protocol/why.htm
[iv] DAWN, Imtiaz Ali https://www.dawn.com/news/1266124
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