This article examines the recent Jaranwala incident in Pakistan where violence erupted owing to unverified blasphemy allegations. The article delves into the contradictions between Pakistan’s international commitments to human rights and its domestic challenges such as weak law enforcement and lack of open discourse. The article explores how these contradictions stand in opposition to the principles outlined in international law, particularly the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights(ICCPR). It underscores the urgency for Pakistan to bridge the gap between commitments and reality through comprehensive reforms, strengthened law enforcement and the fostering of open dialogue. The article concludes by highlighting the transformative potential of aligning actions with international ideals for a just and inclusive society.
The disturbing incident that recently unfolded in Faisalabad’s Jaranwala area has drawn global attention to the grave consequences of misplaced fervour under the guise of blasphemy allegations. The incident involved an enraged mob that vandalized churches, attacked Christian homes and created an atmosphere of terror, all triggered by an unverified case of blasphemy. This event serves as a stark reminder of the dangers posed by extremist reactions based on religious sentiments and the pressing need to adhere to international human rights standards.
The incident originated with allegations of desecration of several pages of the Holy Quran near a house inhabited by Christian residents. The spread of rumours regarding the alleged desecration was rapid and facilitated by mosque announcements which fueled anger and incited individuals to take matters into their own hands. The situation escalated as extremist elements joined the tumult, exploiting religious fervour to instigate violence against the Christian community. The result was the destruction of churches, attacks on homes and an atmosphere of fear that gripped the area. This incident brings into sharp focus the dire consequences of misguided zeal linked to blasphemy accusations. The fervent response in the name of blasphemy can lead to an erosion of law and order as individuals bypass legal processes and resort to vigilante justice. The incident underscores the hazardous outcomes of mob violence driven by religious sentiments and intolerance.
The incident also serves as a stark reminder of the critical imperative to uphold international human rights norms – a cornerstone of fostering just and equitable societies. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR)—a foundational document—underscores the inherent right to freedom of religion, expression and fair trial. It recognizes that these freedoms are essential for the dignity and wellbeing of individuals and form the bedrock of any democratic society. Moreover, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)—a legally binding treaty—reinforces the commitment to safeguard human rights. It explicitly outlines the right to life, security and protection against discrimination of any kind.
In this context, the manipulation of blasphemy allegations to justify violence stands in direct opposition to these principles. The UDHR and ICCPR enshrine the sanctity of individual beliefs and the right to express these beliefs without fear of persecution. The act of inciting violence, regardless of whether or not it is based on unverified allegations, not only violates these principles but also erodes the fundamental tenets of human rights protection underpinning the global legal order. Within the framework of international law, specific legal instruments address the misuse of religious sentiments to fuel violence and hatred. Article 20 of the ICCPR assumes particular significance in this context. It explicitly prohibits the advocacy of religious hatred which incites discrimination, hostility or violence. This article aims to articulate the responsibility of states to curb any form of expression which promotes enmity or prejudice among religious groups. In doing so, it also underlines the imperative of maintaining social harmony and ensuring that the freedom of expression does not infringe upon the rights and security of others.
Furthermore, the principles enshrined in Article 20 of the ICCPR find resonance in regional agreements as well. Notably, the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and the American Convention on Human Rights reflect similar commitments to combat hate speech and incitement to violence based on religious affiliations. These regional agreements highlight the collective international resolve to address the dangerous ramifications of using religion as a pretext for violence.
Pakistan’s international commitments to human rights stand in stark contrast to its recent domestic realities, exemplified by incidents like the one in Jaranwala. Weak law enforcement—particularly in cases involving violence tied to blasphemy allegations—undermines the country’s obligation to protect citizens and maintain public order, as outlined in international law. A country that has been a great victim of terrorism has witnessed, in recent times, an extraordinary increase in vigilante violence only because of sentiments trumping over the rule of law and the administration of justice.
Moreover, the lack of open discourse on sensitive topics, such as blasphemy, perpetuates misconceptions and hinders understanding. This absence of meaningful dialogue prevents the dispelling of extremist narratives and contributes to incidents driven by anger and intolerance. These contradictions between Pakistan’s international obligations and its domestic actions highlight the urgency of strengthening law enforcement mechanisms and promoting open discussions. Bridging this gap is essential to align the country’s actions with its international commitments and foster a society which respects human rights, diversity and coexistence.
The Jaranwala incident serves as a sombre reminder of the urgency to uphold international human rights standards and thwart the manipulation of religious sentiments for violent purposes. With incidents such as the Jaranwala case, Pakistan faces a critical disconnect between its global pledges and local challenges. Weak law enforcement and a dearth of open dialogue are in contrast with the international ideals of justice and coexistence. Urgent reforms are needed to bolster law enforcement and foster open conversations, bridging the gap between commitments and actions. Through these efforts, Pakistan can pave the way for a more harmonious society—one which upholds human rights, embraces diversity and aligns with the spirit of international law.
An earlier version of this article appeared in Dawn. Republished here with permission.
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