US slams Pak's treatment of religious minorities
By Arul Louis
United Nations, Aug 23 (IANS) The US has criticised the "persecution" of religious minorities in Pakistan by both the government and terrorists.
The US Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom, Samuel Brownback, told the Security Council on Thursday: "In Pakistan, religious minorities continue to suffer from persecution, either at the hands of non-state actors or through discriminatory laws and policies."
"Non-state actors" is a reference to terrorist groups that have attacked religious minorities, including the members of the Ahmadiyya and Sufi sects of Islam.
He was speaking at an informal Council session on the safety and security of religious minorities in conflict that was convened by Poland, which heads the Council this month, and presided over by the country's Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz.
Brownback said he appreciated Poland inviting Naveed Walter, the President of Human Rights Focus Pakistan, "to speak today about the challenges to religious freedom in Pakistan".
"He has been a courageous advocate for the persecuted, whether Christian, Ahmadiyya, Hindu, or others," he said.
Walter said that there was shocking treatment of Christians, Hindu, Bahai, Ahmadiyya, Sikh Muslim and Jewish minorities in South Asia.
He mentioned the treatment of Ahmadiyyas in Pakistan, Bahais in Iran, and what he called "lower castes" and minorities in India as well as China's actions towards its minorities.
The attacks on places of worship in Sri Lanka, Pakistan and New Zealand, the religious conflicts in Nigeria and the exodus for the Rohingya from Myanmar gave an idea of the alarming situation of religious minorities around the world.
Churches have been attacked by extremists in Pakistan and Sri Lanka and mosques in New Zealand.
Walter said that in many countries minorities faced blasphemy laws, abductions, forced conversions, forced marriages of girls and even religious tax.
"We remain deeply concerned about the Chinese government's escalating, widespread, and undue restrictions on religious freedom in China.
"Many members of religious groups in China - including ethnic Uyghur, Kazakh and other Muslims, Tibetan Buddhists, Catholics, Protestants, and Falun Gong - face severe persecution and repression, and we call on the Chinese government to end its war on faith and to respect religious freedom for all," Brownback said.
He appealed to Muslim countries "to join our calls for better treatment of Muslims and others in China".
A British minister of state and Prime Minister Boris Johnson's envoy for religious freedom, Tariq Ahmed, also criticised Pakistan's treatment of Christians, as did the Canadian representative.
A delegate of Pakistan defended his country's treatment of minorities and said that by following the principles of the country's founder Mohammed Ali Jinnah, his country respected their rights and protected them.
He did not directly name the US or other Western countries in his rebuttal, nor did he make any mention of India.
India was next on the roster of speakers but declined to speak when called upon by the chair.
China's Deputy Permanent Representative Wu Hatao defended his country's treatment of the Muslim Uyghur minority, which was criticised by western countries.
He said that China was trying to prevent terrorism by only trying to deradicalise and educate them, and 51 countries had written letters of support for its programme.
Wu said that the US was indifferent when China suffered a terrorist problem and was using religious freedom as an excuse to interfere in other countries.
The US was turning a blind eye to its treatment of minorities and the proliferation of gun violence, he added.
(Arul Louis can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @arulouis)