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Home Media Reports 2004 UN Urged to …
UN Urged to Help Stem Growing Religious Bigotry in Asia
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UN Urged to Help Stem Growing Religious Bigotry in Asia

06 April 2004

NEW DELHI, Apr 6 (OneWorld) — A leading Asian human rights body has urged the United Nations to help stem increasing religious intolerance in Asia, where governments are enforcing laws that violate the right to religious freedom.

The Asian Legal Resources Centre (ALRC), affiliated to the Hong Kong-based Asian Human Rights Commission, has asked the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva to protect minority rights, increasingly under threat in countries such as India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

“The freedom of religious belief and expression is a fundamental human right, protected in both the Universal Declaration on Human Rights as well as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights,” the ALRC says in a statement submitted last week to the 60th session of the Commission.

The director of the New Delhi-based communication and information bureau of the Delhi Catholic Archdiocese, Dominic Emanuel, stresses that religious intolerance is rising across the world.

“In India, supporters of the right-wing political parties in power have been given a free rein on religious issues,” he holds.

The legal wing of the regional human rights body has expressed concern over legislation being enforced in several Asian nations that “legitimize discriminatory” policies towards minorities, often denying people the right to change their faith.

“Particularly disconcerting is the heightened use of state-sanctioned harassment and torture to control and regulate the religious beliefs of individuals,” it points out. The ALRC cites the example of a law enacted in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu that prohibits religious conversion.

In April last year, a similar law was passed by the government in the western Indian state of Gujarat — where protracted violence against minority Muslims left at least 2,000 people dead in 2002.

“In Gujarat, following the anti-conversion law, arbitrary questioning of non-Hindus was implemented,” it says. “The state police carried out a house-to-house questioning of Christian nuns and priests, asking how many people had converted.”

The statement stresses that the situation in Nepal is “not promising” either. “It is the only country that declares Hinduism as its national religion in its constitution. Caste based discrimination is on an ever-increasing rise in Nepal,” it says.

In Sri Lanka, while the law upholds all religions, there has been a rise in attacks on Christian institutes. “The attacks on churches have increased this year while the police have stood idly by,” it comments.

The ALRC cites several instances of attacks on Christians in Sri Lanka last year in which pastors were beaten up, churches damaged and Christian literature destroyed.

“No convictions have yet been made in relation to these events,” it discloses, adding, “The Asian Legal Resource Centre is deeply concerned that further attacks will be encouraged by the apparent impunity with which the perpetrators are allowed to operate.”

Emanuel points out that similarly in India, those behind the widespread violence against Muslims in Gujarat are still to be punished. “Nobody has been punished for these attacks which encourages the perpetrators,” he emphasizes.

Despite international and domestic pressure, there have been several instances of religious intolerance in Pakistan, the statement to the UN says. In the Punjab province of Pakistan, a non-Muslim woman was abducted at gunpoint and forced to marry a Muslim man in December 2003.

The controversial Blasphemy Law — a stringent law often used against Non-Muslims in Pakistan to settle personal scores — has also come under attack. “The Blasphemy Law contributes to legitimizing religious intolerance in Pakistan,” it says.

It cites the case of Anwar Masih, a Christian, who was arrested by the police in November last year on charges of defaming the name of Prophet Mohammed. The statement explains that the complainant had a personal enmity with Masih.

The ALRC also highlights the status of the Ahmadiyyas — a minority Muslim sect — in Bangladesh. In January this year, the government of Bangladesh, “bowing to pressures from Islamic fundamentalists,” banned all publications of the Ahmadiyya sect.

It also withdrew cases against 12,000 anti-Ahmadiyya activists who had been charged with attacking an Ahmadiyya mosque in Dhaka and assaulting policemen last December.

“Overall, it seems that states are not doing enough to prevent violence from occurring, or protecting religious minorities during periods of violence, bringing justice to victims, arresting perpetrators, providing proper compensation and taking preventive measures for the cycle of religious violence to be extinguished,” according to the statement.

The ALRC has urged the international community to pressure Asian governments, especially in India and Sri Lanka, to scrap domestic laws that violate the “inalienable” right of freedom of religion.

It calls on the United Nations to “instruct all states in Asia to ensure that they adequately protect religious minorities, particularly through pre-emptive securing of places of worship and other areas of potential violence, especially during religious festivals, holidays and elections.”

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