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In this section, SAC teams in Afghanistan and Pakistan report on the progress made – or lack of it – in the lead-up to the Fourth Cycle of the United Nations Universal Period Review (UPR). Our focus is on minority rights and the freedom of religion or belief (FoRB), and broader civil and political rights, particularly as they apply to marginalised communities.

Similar analyses from Bangladesh, India and Nepal can be found in our previous bulletin, available here. Bhutan and Sri Lanka will be covered in the next edition. (Click here to subscribe)

Country Latest UPR (Third Cycle) Next UPR (tentative) (Fourth Cycle) Analysis of Progress
Afghanistan January, 2019 May, 2024 Link below
Bhutan May, 2019 November, 2024 Subscribe here
Bangladesh May, 2018 November, 2023 Previous edition
India May, 2017 November, 2022 Previous edition
Nepal January, 2021 January, 2026 Previous edition
Pakistan November, 2017 January, 2023 Link below
Sri Lanka November, 2017 January, 2023 Subscribe here

Last evaluated: January, 2019 (Third Cycle)

Previous evaluations: January, 2014 (Second Cycle) and May, 2009 (First Cycle)

Next evaluation: May, 2024 (Fourth Cycle) (tentative)

S. No. Key Recommendations Analysis
136.252 Establish an independent mechanism to assess how religious and ethnic minorities can be better protected against violent attacks.

Recommending state: United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland   Afghanistan’s response: Supported
Afghanistan is a multi-ethnic society with dozens of religious and ethnic groups. However, given the diversity of ethnic and religious identities, non-dominant minority communities throughout the history of Afghanistan have been marginalized and have been vulnerable to violence and exclusion. Examples of violence against ethnic minorities can be seen in the massacre of Hazaras during the Taliban era, the exclusion of Sikhs and Hindus, the torture of Jews or the recent targeted attacks in Dasht e Barchi, a pre-dominantly Hazara concentrated area of the Afghan capital, Kabul.   Despite these, Afghanistan unfortunately has not taken any serious measures to fulfil its international commitments for the protection of minorities.   A survey conducted in 2020 showed that minorities are not represented in the national processes such as the Afghan peace process. 79.1 percent of the study participants stated that they were not included in any peace-related initiatives. 80 percent asserted that they wished their communities were consulted in the ongoing talks. Concerning post-peace settlement, they overwhelmingly (98 percent) stressed that the agreement must guarantee the protection of the rights, values and customs of ethnic and religious minorities. There have also been no practical steps taken toward the protection of the minority communities.   Recently, minority communities have become even more vulnerable to violence and targeted attacks across Afghanistan. More specifically, with the Taliban Islamist group that target minorities for exclusion, ethnic and religious communities such as Sikhs and Hindus as well as Jews (the only Afghan Jew in the country) remain extremely concerned.   However, no comprehensive and feasible mechanisms have been taken, either by the Afghan government or by civil society organizations in order to protect the rights and opportunities of the ethnic and religious minorities in the country. On several occasions, the Afghan government, after attacks, has promised to develop a security belt specifically for the Hazara-residing area of Dasht Barchi in Kabul. Yet, months after the announcement, no practical steps are taken. As such, targeted killings and attacks on minority communities continue.   Some human rights and civil society activists have made efforts to investigate the cases of targeted attacks on minority communities. As an example, the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) along with the UN agencies such as High Commissioner for Human Rights have showed strong reaction and requested the UN Human Rights Council for a proper Fact-Finding Mission, in an attempt to investigate the cases of systematic violence and killings of religious and ethnic communities specifically the Hazaras.
136.251   Intensify efforts to protect and promote freedom of religion or belief and the rights of persons belonging to religious minorities.   Recommending state: Italy Afghanistan’s response: Supported   Despite the vulnerabilities faced by ethnic and religious minorities of Afghanistan to violence and discrimination, minority communities do have space, to practice their rights in political and economic participation. But these do not translate into substantive guarantees. Afghanistan parliament has a representative of the Sikh community, but as the MP Anarkali Honaryar laments, Sikh children still do not have rights to proper schooling and public education , a right that the rest of non-Sikh Afghans have. It is reported that Sikh children are left to attend only religious temples, which have been the targets of direct attacks of terrorist groups throughout the past years.
136.121 Ensure freedom of expression, offline as well as online, and improve work concerning the prevention and investigation of attacks against journalists, media workers and media offices.

Recommending state: Estonia Afghanistan’s response: Supported
With the escalation of violence in Afghanistan amid the peace-talks underway between the Taliban, the US and Afghan government, freedom of expression has become a casualty. Press agencies such as journalists and TV performers, have become targets of direct attacks, and as such many journalists and media workers have been killed in the last couple of months.  the Joint Committee on the Protection of Journalists, a body established by the Afghan government in 2016 to address the security risks faced by media workers, has made some limited efforts to stem the violence.
136.94 Investigate and punish the perpetrators of enforced disappearances, extrajudicial executions, arbitrary detentions, intimidation and threats against the population, in particular against human rights defenders and journalists.

Recommending state: Argentina Afghanistan’s response: Supported
This has also not been taken into account especially in case of religious and ethnic minorities. For example, the attack on the Said al Shuhada High School in a predominantly Hazara area of Kabul, left at least 90 persons killed and injured. While speedy investigation was promised to bring justice for the families of victims, these have not led to any action. Likewise, the cases of killings of civil society and human rights activists and journalist have not been investigated properly. Where they have, little legal action is seen forthcoming. As an example, the Afghan government have failed to investigate the case of killing of Yama Seyawash, a well-known journalist. Alternatively, Yama’s family have lodged a complaint with the UN Security Council over the current handling of the case into their son's death, stating that the Afghan government failed to address their demands to launch an investigation into the murder or arrest the perpetrators who planned the murder.
136.117 Continue efforts aimed at mitigating ethnic, tribal and sectarian tensions among Afghans, and prohibit by law any call for national, racial or religious hatred.

Recommending state: Senegal Afghanistan’s response: Supported
The Afghan government has not made any serious steps to avoid the spread of hatred and divisions based on ethnic tensions among different ethnic groups. For instance, while the issue of hate speech itself is not penalized in the Afghan constitution, Afghan officials themselves are complicit in hate speech and incitement that questions their commitment to protection of ethnic groups. As an example, Amrullah Saleh, first Vice President Nominee for President Ghani, had posted derogatory and racist remarks against Hazaras on Facebook that triggered a serious wave of angry criticism.

Last evaluated: November, 2017 (Third Cycle)

Previous evaluations: October, 2012 (Second Cycle) and May, 2008 (First Cycle)

Next evaluation: January, 2023 (Fourth Cycle) (tentative)

Out of the 289 recommendations received by the Pakistan government, 168 were supported, 4 rejected, and 117 noted. The rejected recommendations were made by India, and were relevant to terror-financing, Kashmir, improving consular access to foreign nationals, and stopping the crackdown on political dissent in Sindh, Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. (Source: UPR-Info Database) There has been little to no progress on the commitments made in 2017, especially after Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf’s assumption of power after the 2018 elections. The ensuing analysis identifies five key recommendations regarding religious minorities, and notes relevant developments pertaining to them in the period October 2020-January 2021.

S. No. Key Recommendations Analysis of action taken
152.87 Ensure that minority groups, including scheduled castes, are not discriminated against in education, health care, employment and other basic services and that perpetrators of hate crimes against them face the full force of the law.

Recommending state: Sierra Leone Pakistan’s response: Noted
Religious minorities in Pakistan have been consistently experiencing discrimination in education, employment and healthcare, exacerbated by the onset of the pandemic and new legislations aimed to reform these services.   A survey conducted by the Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI) concluded that religious diversity is not an active concern of the teachers in private and public institutions, who rather adopt a nationalist identity heavily premised on religious exclusion. It can be inferred, on a minimum level, that religious tolerance isn’t actively prioritized by these teachers. This has a direct impact on the quality of education accessible by religious minorities.   The Single National Curriculum (SNC) was introduced in 2020, demanding a restructuring of the entire education system, along with the syllabus. However, it is exclusionary towards religious minorities in several ways. Firstly, it works on the premise of a non-inclusive homogeneity, risking an oversimplification which may create further chasms between the different peoples of Pakistan instead of moving it towards greater unity. This is reflected in the syllabus.   The SNC violates this fundamental right of non-Muslim Pakistani citizens by prescribing lessons in Urdu and English courses that are already a part of the Islamiat curriculum. Urdu textbooks begin with a hamd and a naat (Islamic phrases poems in praise of the Prophet) and there is always a segment on the life of the Prophet (PBUH). A lesson on the life of the Prophet (PBUH) is also included in English textbooks of all grades. This disregards how the Islamiat course (which all adolescent school-aged Pakistani students are compulsorily taught) already has these elements heavily included.   The responses of the Ministry of Federal Education and Professional Training indicate that they refuse to correct the wrong. Instead, they have suggested solutions that further exclude religious minorities: that the non-Muslim students can leave the class, or that teachers could exempt them from answering the questions. Unless the latter is institutionalised, teachers are not likely to be sensitive to minority students.   As per the declared curricula for grades I to V, the new course on Islamiat is far heavier in content than any previous Pakistani school curriculum for this subject. When compared with the Islamiat taught in madrassas at this level, public and private schools will actually now be teaching more religion. Similarly, the Urdu and English syllabus is loaded with moral lessons e.g., honesty, truthfulness, etc., on which textbook writers have heavily relied on Islamic history. Requiring non-Muslim students to read those lessons also violates Article 22(1) of Pakistan’s Constitution.   In employment, job quotas for religious minorities are not properly enforced, and are of limited utility, as other structural barriers within the educational system and bureaucracy hinder participation of minority individuals.   The healthcare discrepancy is evident by the notorious case noted in the first five months of 2018. 250 children died as a result of malnutrition in Tharparkar – a Hindu-majority district. Despite the National Commission for Human Rights and the SCP taking a Suo Moto notice of the situation, these fatal harms continue to exist.  
152.147 Finalize and fully implement the national policy on interfaith harmony, in order to, among other things, protect the rights of religious minorities.

Recommending state: Namibia Pakistan’s response: Supported
There has been talk of a federal-level policy for interfaith harmony in Punjab but the political will behind the acceptance and implementation of it is under considerable doubt. The federal government devolved the Ministry of Interfaith Harmony to provincial administrative units in April 2019 and till date the Punjab government has not come up with any concrete policy/guidelines for the ministry. To help the government in this respect, some civil society organizations prepared a draft recommendation based on multiple consultations. These sessions were attended by religious scholars from different faiths and sects, representatives of civil society, youth, officials of Punjab Human Rights Ministry and others.   A range of suggestions were given, which included setting criteria for employing clerics in local mosques, especially in non-urban centers. The draft not only recommended removing religious bias deeply ingrained in the education system and syllabus, but also recommended making interfaith harmony an active focus via teacher trainings, mandatory inclusion in syllabus and other strategies. It included the recommendation to introduce a law barring people to name mosques after sects, and invited lawyers and bureaucrats to join consultation sessions under the project.   To check hate speech, the new policy proposes implementation of the Loudspeaker Act, sensitisation of khateebs about hate speech and law, and issuing them certificates without which they should be barred from oratory. Above all, the policy has proposed that every speech shall carry the message of peace, tolerance, harmony and acceptance in the light of religious teachings. The policy demanded that the government hold cultural festivals like Besakhi, Lohri, Basant (without kites), etc. because they are not linked to any religion. Other suggestions were to reward orators, clerics and religious leaders who spread the message of peace, harmony and tolerance, and highlight contributions of citizens from religious minorities. However, there has been no response and follow-up from the Ministry of Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony.
152.183 Strengthen measures to ensure the participation of minorities in all spheres of national life.

Recommending state: Zimbabwe Pakistan’s response: Supported
Blasphemy charges inadvertently limit the extent to which religious minorities feel safe in occupying public spaces. Police data shows that at least 586 persons were booked on charges of blasphemy in 2020, with the overwhelming majority from Punjab. Data from the Ahmadiyya community indicates that at least 24 cases were registered against members on religious grounds, including a jeweller who was booked in Toba Tek Singh for having sacrificed a cow and distributed the meat among Sunni Muslims. At least three members of the Ahmadiyya community were killed in separate targeted attacks, including an elderly person accused of blasphemy, who was shot dead inside a courtroom. The right to worship freely continued to be constricted: when the government announced that a Hindu temple was to be built in Islamabad, the right-wing fringe groups and mainstream political parties protested and successfully prevented the construction.   The institutionalized discrimination faced by minority citizens (men and women) under the Constitution of Pakistan, 1973, still hinders their participation as Pakistani citizens. Articles 41(2) and 91(3) bar non-Muslim citizens from holding the offices of the President and Prime Minister respectively. Article 31 assigns the Government freedom to impose the Islamic way of life, Article 203E (4); prohibits non-Muslim lawyers from pleading cases in the Federal Shariah Court, and Article 260 (3) defines religion(s) of citizens in narrow brackets. 9. Furthermore, Article 36, part of the section on the Principles of Policy, stipulates equality of rights of minorities with ‘legitimacy’. No definition or explanation of what purports to be ‘legitimate’ has been provided anywhere. Importantly, Article 36, dealing with rights of the minorities, is the only proviso where the term “legitimate rights”, has been used in the Constitution of Pakistan.   There has been no increase in the reserved seats for minorities in the National Assembly (lower house of Parliament), and the four Provincial Assemblies since 1985, even though the number of General Seats have increased by over 65 percent in the National Assembly and by at least 23 percent in the Provincial Assemblies, resulting in reduced representation of religious minorities.
152.184 Strengthen the protection of minorities by having a fully inclusive electoral roll without discrimination or religious bias and by establishing an independent National Commission for Minorities from all faith communities, which should appoint its own representatives.

Recommending state: United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland Pakistan’s response: Noted
In June 2014, the Supreme Court of Pakistan in the Peshawar church bombing case mandated the federal government to form a national council for minorities. Till 2018 no such Commission was formed. So, the Centre for Social Justice, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan and the Cecil and Iris Chaudhry Foundation filed a public interest litigation in the Supreme Court to have the judgement implemented. On 19th February 2020, the Ministry of Religious Affairs and Inter-faith Harmony requested the Supreme Court to give more time for the formation of the commission and the Court gave 2 months to form the commission.   The commission comprises six official and 12 non-official members including the chairman for a term of three years. The 6 official members includes Council of Islamic Ideology, secretary of the Ministry of Religious Affairs and other official government position-holders. The 12 non-official members include 2 Muslims, 3 Hindus, 3 Christians, 2 Sikh, 1 Parsi and 1 Kalasha members.   Representatives of the Ahmadiyya community were excluded from the Commission. A resolution seeking their inclusion was submitted in the Pakistan assembly in which it was said that Ahmadiyya representatives could be included in the Commission, if their top leaders submit that the Ahmadiyya are non-Muslims.   Civil society actors have expressed their dissatisfaction with the Commission, pointing out that it has become a convenient excuse to exercise further discrimination against religious minorities. The Hindu Sudhar Sabha criticized the Commission for excluding Scheduled Caste Hindus, who constitute the majority of the Hindu community. Peter Jacob, the Catholic director of the Centre for Social Justice said that the Minority Commission is under the Ministry of Religious Affairs and has no statutory powers. He added that the minority commission was supposed to be formed under an act of parliament. Another criticism is regarding the inclusion of Muslim members, who are not minorities and are given undue influence over matters concerning the religious minorities.

Cover image credits: Mariam Zuhaib/AP (Kabul) | A.M. Ahad/AP (Dhaka) | Danish Siddiqui/Reuters (New Delhi)
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