Lives which could have been saved…

It was young Fizza Malik’s third day at work. She had returned to Pakistan to practice law, wanting to make a difference to her country. She was one of the eleven people killed in a brutal attack in a local court in Islamabad in March 2014. A promising life was cut short.

Irfan Ali, 19, died in a massive bomb blast that killed over 100 people in Quetta in January 2014 in Pakistan. His mother died as well, hearing the sad news.

“We were praying in church and in the middle of the prayer the blast took place. Too many people lost their lives, mostly women and children,” said Peter Masih, describing a bomb attack at a church in Peshawar in a TV interview.

Why should anyone be killed because of his or her religious faith and practice? The article 18 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights clearly states that: Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. And, as per the Article 27 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights: In those States in which ethnic, religious or linguistic minorities exist, persons belonging to such minorities shall not be denied the right…to enjoy their own culture, to profess and practice their own religion…

In spite of such clear provisions in the international law, sectarian violence is on the rise in several parts of the world. Innocent people are being killed. The issue was discussed at several side events at the recently concluded 25th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva. The annual report of the UN Special Rapporteur: Tackling manifestations of collective religious hatred- was also launched at this session. A video based on media coverage of sectarian violence in Bahrain, Malaysia and Pakistan was shown in one of the informal events. It can be seen at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YwOjKH5J4rk

I attended a few of these side events and informal discussions of civil society organizations and activists. Some of the highlights of the discussions are as below:

– There was a consensus that religions don’t cause hatred and violence. Tolerance, peace and harmony are messages common to all religions. Sectarian violence, therefore, is engineered or ‘caused by human action’ as is mentioned in the report of the Special Rapporteur.

– The state has the primary role to protect rights of its people; immediate confidence- building measures are called for, inter-faith dialogue needs to be continued; education systems need to be revitalized to promote tolerance; and media has to play a very important role.

I heard some reassuring messages: we need to create a society in which diversity is celebrated; minorities become a majority when they come together, we need to stand up and fight together, etc.

One hopes these words will not be lost. Organizations will come together and work with governments and the UN to take action, both in short and long term. Another important issue that must be looked into is the psycho-social and economic support that needs to be provided to the families who have lost their near and dear ones. Charitable organizations are making their contribution but long term sustainable programmes need to be put in place. Families should have a regular source of income and children should not be deprived of education.

Will there be some concrete follow up and action till the next session of the Human Rights Council? There must be. It is not just the issue of right to religion, it has become the issue of right to life.

My apologies, Fizza, I couldn’t argue your case properly.

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