US panel on religious freedom seeks action on Pakistan

An independent Congress-appointed panel on religious freedom has asked the Obama Administration to add Pakistan in the list of countries that violate religious freedom.

PTI| Last Updated: May 01, 2014, 11:51 AM IST

Washington: An independent Congress-appointed panel on religious freedom has asked the Obama Administration to add Pakistan in the list of countries that violate religious freedom.

The US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has recommended that the State Department add eight more nations to its list of "countries of particular concern," defined under law as countries where particularly severe violations of religious freedom are tolerated or perpetrated.

The countries recommended include Egypt, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, Syria, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Vietnam.

In its annual report, USCIRF has also recommended that the eight countries be re-designated as "countries of particular concern," or CPCs: Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Uzbekistan.

"Pakistan represents the worst situation in the world for religious freedom for countries not currently designated by the US government as countries of particular concern," the report said, adding the situation on religious freedom front has hit an all-time low due to chronic sectarian violence.

"The previous and current Pakistani government failed to intervene effectively against a spike in violence targeting the Shi`a minority community, as well as violence against Christians, Hindus, and Ahmadis," USCIRF said, adding that authorities have not consistently brought the perpetrators of such violence to justice.

Observing that Hindu marriages are not recognised by the state, the report said allegations of kidnapping of Hindu women, followed by forced conversions to Islam and forced marriages to Muslim men, continued to arise throughout the reporting period.

"USCIRF also received reports in April 2013 of approximately 500 Hindus from Pakistan leaving for India due to sectarian threats and poor economic conditions. Hindu boys were kidnapped in September, a mob dug up the grave of a Hindu man in province of Sindh in October, and in January 2014 a nine-year-old Hindu girl was raped and killed in Punjab province," the report said.

As such, USCIRF urged the State Department to designate Pakistan as "country of particular concern" USCIRF as required under the International Religious Freedom Act due to the government`s engagement and toleration of particularly severe violations of religious freedom.

It urged the US to work to reach a binding agreement with the Pakistani government on steps to be delisted and avoid Presidential actions.

The USCIRF urged the State Department to press the Pakistani government to protect religious groups from violence and actively prosecute perpetrators, both individuals involved in mob attacks and members of militant groups.

The report urged State Department to encourage the reestablishment of the Federal Ministry for Interfaith Harmony.