Report foreign affairs committee meeting in Dutch House of Representatives

Activity: special hearing
Location: foreign affairs committee of the Dutch parliament, The Hague, Netherlands
Date: Tuesday 4th March
Time: 1800-1900 CET
Subject: human rights violations of ethnic and religious minorities in Pakistan

On Tuesday 4th March, Middle East Forum for Development organised a special hearing regarding the human rights situation of minorities in Pakistan in the Dutch House of Representatives. The foreign affairs committee hearing, which was chaired by Pieter Omtzigt, Member of Parliament (MP) from the Christian Democrats, was attended by fellow MPs; Michiel Servaes of the Labour Party and Joël Voordewind of the Christian Union.

In this hearing, Pieter Omtzigt received a delegation of Pakistan experts comprised of professor Desmond Fernandes, a leading expert on genocide and author of the recently published book “The Targeting of Minority ‘Others’ in Pakistan”, Mehran Baluch, Baloch representative to the United Nations Human Rights Council and European Union, and Wilson Chowdhry, Chairman of the British Pakistani Christian Association (BPCA). In attendance was also Mosa Zahed, founding director of Middle East Forum for Development. The meeting focused on targeted minorities in Pakistan, in particular on the plight of Christians and the “kill and dump” policy which is carried out with impunity by Pakistan’s security forces in Baluchistan province.

Professor Fernandes emphasised during the meeting that the situation of minority groups in Pakistan has become much worse. He said “If you look at the situation in 2013, atrocities against minority groups, including Christians substantially, has actually increased”. On the issue of the blasphemy laws, Fernandes raised his concerns regarding the recent ruling by Pakistan’s Federal Sharia Court, which specifies that life imprisonment is not enough for blasphemers and that the only permissible punishment is the death penalty. “This suggests that there are specific directions and orders from the highest level, suggesting that the situation is just going to increase in terms of deterioration of circumstances for Christians and certainly for a lot of others”, Fernandes reiterated.

Fernandes also pointed to reports from genocide scholars and others relating to the genocide of the Hazara Shia, Ahmadis and others. According to Fernandes, in Baluchistan the Pakistani security forces enjoy total impunity which has resulted in a total abuse of power. Fernandes underscored that “law enforcement and security agencies now have unlimited powers to search houses without warrants, to shoot suspects on site, to confiscate property, tap telephones and hack computers”.

Mehran Baluch argued that Pakistan’s secret service agencies have given a freehand to Islamic extremists to target the people of Baluchistan and that a similar atrocity is taking place in Sindh and Punjab provinces. He said, “The situation in Baluchistan is much worse than other parts of Pakistan where Pakistani intelligence agencies and armed forces are committing heinous crimes, not only against ethnic and religious minorities but against humanity”. Mehran Baluch further argued that the Hazara community face a genocidal process at the hands of extremists. He emphasised that “there have been numerous deadly attacks against Hazara which have claimed the lives of hundreds of people”. Mehran Baluch appealed to the international community to undertake necessary measures and pressure the government of Pakistan to stop human rights violations against Baloch people and other minorities.

The hearing on Tuesday regarding human rights in Pakistan is a follow-up to a meeting last April, which was also organised by Middle East Forum for Development. Wilson Chowdhry, who also attended that meeting, focused on the potential for “Special Status” for Pakistani Christians. He emphasised to the Dutch MPs that “this will make the asylum process for Pakistani Christians more bearable in the Netherlands”. The Chairman of the BPCA further highlighted the issues of persecution and discrimination of people of various faiths, cultural identities and several Muslim sects in Pakistan.

The Dutch MPs were keen to hear from the Pakistan experts what approach the Dutch government could adopt in order to stimulate improvement of the human rights situation of minorities. Joël Voordewind from the Christian Union argued that his party, in collaboration with other political parties, requested the Dutch government offer Pakistani Christians and Ahmadis special status last year due to the fact that they are being heavily persecuted. The Dutch government did offer such a status to Ahmadis however not to Pakistani Christians. Voordewind further said that he and his colleagues appealed this decision and expect an answer by June of this year.

Recommendation

The Dutch MPs seemed to be very well aware of the human rights situation in Pakistan, particularly regarding the situation of Pakistani Christians. MPs Pieter Omtzigt, Joël Voordewind and Kees van der Staaij (MP from the Christian Reformed Political Party who was not in attendance this time, but last April) have been monitoring the situation of Christians in Pakistan very closely and undertook specific steps over the past year to ease their hardship. As MP Joël Voordewind pointed out in the meeting, Parliament is currently awaiting the decision of the government regarding the ‘Special Status’ for Pakistani Christians by June of this year. However, the human rights situation of ethnic and religious minorities in Pakistan is deteriorating; the Dutch MPs wish to know which mechanisms to implement in order to force the government of Pakistan to improve its human rights record and to eradicate extremist elements. Professor Fernandes and Wilson Chowdhry pointed out that developing a sanction regime might be the best way forward. However, this suggestion is considered to be abstract by the Dutch MPs and they would like to see a very concrete policy plan that addresses in details various mechanisms which the MPs could scrutinise and, if in agreement, suggest to the foreign office. The Netherlands is a very important trade partner to Pakistan as it is the fourth largest international investor in Pakistan and Pakistan’s fifth largest export partner. The Dutch imports from Pakistan are fabrics, knitted fabrics and linens. The Netherlands exported mainly oil and oil products, machinery and chemicals to Pakistan. Perhaps we can elaborate more through a policy paper on the topic of a sanctions regime, as was pointed out by Wilson Chowdhry and Professor Fernandes, in our future activities.