HRWF (02.05.2022) – On April 28th, there was an informal hearing in the European Parliament (EP) to ask what the European Commission has done in response to the 29 April 2021 EP Resolution calling for suspension of Pakistan’s GSP+ favoured nation trading status in the light of that country’s failure to honour its human rights commitments. That resolution had been adopted by 681 MEPs; only three MEPs had opposed it. It was calling on the Commission and the European External Action Service (EEAS)
“to immediately review Pakistan’s eligibility for GSP+ status in the light of current events and whether there is sufficient reason to initiate a procedure for the temporary withdrawal of this status and the benefits that come with it, and to report to the European Parliament on this matter as soon as possible.”
The hearing was hosted by Fulvio Martusciello MEP (EPP group).
The moderator was Willy Fautre, director of Human Rights Without Frontiers.
Before the hearing, MEP Martusciello sent EU Commissioner Valdis Dombrovskis a number of questions on issues which have been a source of deep concern for a long time for human rights organizations.
Questions addressed to EU Commissioner Valdis Dombrovskis
The following questions were forwarded to EU Commissioner Valdis Dombrovskis in advance of the event.
In April 2021 the European Parliament called on the European Commission to and the European External Action Service to to immediately review Pakistan’s eligibility for its continued GSP+ status in the light of continued human rights abuses in that country, drawing particular attention to the highly controversial ‘Blasphemy laws.’
Since April 2021, what concrete steps have the European Commission and the European External Action Service taken to pressure the government of Pakistan to address the human rights issues raised by the European Parliament?
What dialogue has taken place between the European Commission, the European External Action Service, and the government of Pakistan with the view to urging the latter to abolish the blasphemy laws?
What is the current situation concerning Pakistan’s GSP+ status?
Will the European Commission and the European External Action Service assure us that these issues will be prioritised with the new Prime Minister of Pakistan, Shehbaz Sharif, and indicate when this will be done?
Civil society organizations are waiting for the Commissioner’s response. Hopefully as soon as possible.
In this regard, Manel Msalmi international Affairs Advisor to Mep (EPP Group) and president of the European Association for The Defense of Minorities said “What we expect from the commissioner is to put human rights issues as well as minorities rights on the top of the agenda and urge the government of Pakistan to abolish blasphemy laws. We also would like to learn about the current situation concerning GSP+ status and a guarantee that human rights issues will be prioritized in the dialogue between the EEAS and the new PM of Pakistan Shehbaz Sharif.”
And Gary Cartwright from EU Today added: “Pakistan was granted GSP+ status as an incentive to address serious human rights issues. This has not happened and so the status must be suspended. Otherwise, what message is the Commission sending out to other regimes which show little or no regard for human rights.”
The blasphemy laws in the dock
During the introduction, the moderator explained why those blasphemy laws were an acute problem for religious minorities in Pakistan and for the international human rights community. He was quoted as saying:
“Blasphemy laws are the single most draconian laws that undermine freedom of thought, religion or expression. It literally suffocates the religious minorities, instills deadly fear of mob violence and forces religious minorities into submission to the whims and authority of the majority.
Government efforts towards Islamization of Pakistan’s civil and criminal law, which began in the early 1980s, have dangerously undermined fundamental right to freedom of religion and expression, and have led to serious abuses against the country’s religious minorities. The broad and vague provisions of a series of laws known collectively as the “blasphemy” laws, which strengthen criminal penalties for offenses against Islam, have been used to bring politically motivated charges of blasphemy or other religious offenses against members of religious minorities as well as some Muslims.
The blasphemy laws have also contributed to a climate of religious bigotry which has led to discrimination, harassment and violent attacks on minorities – abuses which are apparently tolerated, if not condoned, by some political leaders and government officials.
In its Resolution last year, the European Parliament stressed that
- the blasphemy laws incite harassment, violence and murder against those being accused
- people who are accused of blasphemy have to fear for their lives regardless of the outcome of judicial procedures
- blasphemy laws are often abused by making false accusations that serve the personal interests of the accuser.
Moreover, blasphemy laws make it dangerous for religious minorities to express themselves freely or engage publicly in religious activities.
Any attempt to reform the laws and their application or to discuss these issues in the media have been stifled by threats and assassinations.
According to the Centre for Social Justice in Pakistan, at least 1855 people have been charged under the blasphemy laws between 1987 and February 2021, with the highest number of acusations taking place in 2020.
Our organization, Human Rights Without Frontiers, has a database of 47 documented cases of believers of all faiths in Pakistan who are in jail on the basis of the blasphemy laws. These include 26 Christians, 15 Sunni Muslims, 5 Ahmadis and 1 Shia Muslim. But there are certainly more. Sixteen have been sentenced to death; another 16 have been sentenced life imprisonment, ten have been sentenced to prison for years and in the other cases, the status is not known.”
Photo: Hearing about blasphemy laws in Pakistan at the European Parliament on 27 April 2022. Credit: HRWF