International Religious Freedom sign on letter and roundtable

Today, UNITED SIKHS signed on to a joint letter that will be sent to the Secretary of State, Hillary Rodham Clinton, to urge the State Department to list Pakistan as a country of particular concern, or CPC under the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA), in order to encourage the Pakistani government to take action to protect the religious freedom of minority religious groups. Sikhs in Pakistan face many threats to their religious freedom and their personal safety. For more information on the threats to the religious freedom of Sikhs in Pakistan see our 2010 Global Sikh Civil and Human Rights report -you can find the report on Pakistan on page 98. You can also read the text of the sign on letter below.

The UNITED SIKHS legal team attends bi-monthly religious freedom round tables in Washington, DC to discuss ways of better promoting and protecting international religious freedom through IRFA. This round table is comprised of a diverse array of NGO’s and non-profits that are committed to the cause of religious freedom for all. UNITED SIKHS is able to discuss concerns of the Sikh community at these roundtables and by doing so raises awareness about the threats to religious freedom that so many Sikhs face around the world. Recently, we brought to the attention of the roundtable the following two issues: the forcible turban removal in Mohali, India and the kirpan ban in Quebec. Additionally, we consistently discuss the religious profiling that occurs both domestically and abroad at airports and through these meetings we are able to educate partner organizations and government officials about the increasingly discriminatory policies that the Transportation Security Administration is implementing.

The IRFA was passed in order to promote religious freedom as an important part of the foreign policy of the United States. For more information about IRFA, click here.

Read the sign on letter below:

May 12, 2011

The Honorable Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
U.S. Department of State
Washington, DC

Dear Madam Secretary:

We are deeply concerned about Pakistan.  The murders of Governor Salman Taseer and Federal Minister Shahbaz Bhatti, as well as the “systematic, ongoing and egregious violations of freedom of religion or belief” described in the 2011 Annual Report of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), lead us to respectfully urge you to designate Pakistan as a “country of particular concern” (CPC) under the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA).  Further, the U.S. should supplement the designation by working behind the scenes to convince Pakistani authorities of the value of advancing religious freedom in order to undermine extremism and terrorist sanctuaries.

To date, the Pakistani government has proven unwilling to implement needed reforms, and the USCIRF again recently recommended that Pakistan be so designated.  Pakistan is glaringly absent from the CPC list and unquestionably meets the statutory threshold.

The IRFA standard for “particularly severe” violations of religious freedom is actions “engaged in or tolerated” by the government in question.  Pakistani laws and constitutional provisions explicitly repress the religious freedom of all Pakistanis, Muslim and non-Muslim alike.  The well-known blasphemy law carries the death penalty and three individuals during the past year have been sentenced to death or had death penalties confirmed on appeal.  The anti-Ahmadi provisions in the constitution and criminal code are shockingly discriminatory and criminalize many of their religious activities.  The lack of any effective government response to an increasing number of violent acts perpetrated by non-state actors against Muslims and non-Muslims also meets the “tolerated” provision of IRFA.  The two prongs of IRFA, government sins of commission or omission, so to speak, clearly describe the situation in Pakistan.

After the assassinations of Taseer and Bhatti, the Pakistani government has not only avoided, but has run away from, any serious efforts to reform the blasphemy law or to prevent further attacks.  A CPC designation would help to change the political calculations of Islamabad and encourage the Pakistanis to move forward, not backward.  The increase in violent religious extremism threatens all Pakistanis, particularly women and religious minorities, but also the majority faith community.  Acts of violence and the repressive laws have fostered a culture of vigilante violence, which is destabilizing Pakistan, with dangerous implications for our and their national security, let alone human rights protections.

Because we recognize that Pakistan is critical to the United States on a number of levels, we urge you to designate Pakistan a CPC.  But since we also realize that this designation, by itself, could merely aggravate our deteriorating relations, we urge you to work to convince Pakistani authorities of the value of advancing religious freedom in order to undermine extremism and the culture of violence.  The negative CPC designation should be supplemented with positive foreign policy actions that encourage the development of legal, educational and cultural institutions and procedures that can change state and societal behavior in Pakistan.

Sincerely,

CC:      William Burns, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs
Maria Otero, Under Secretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs
Michael Posner, Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
Marc Grossman, Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan

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