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UN Human Rights Rapporteurs Concerned by Rape, Forced Conversion and Marriage to Rapists in Pakistan

In Asia, Cultural Bridges, Current Events, Human Rights, NGOs, Solidarity, Spirituality, Track II, United Nations, World Law on January 21, 2023 at 8:41 PM

By René Wadlow

The Human Rights Council, building on the earlier practice of the United Nations (UN) Commission on Human Rights, has a number of Special Rapporteurs devoted to certain themes – usually specific violations of human rights – or to specific countries. These Special Rapporteurs are independent experts selected by the Council. They usually report their findings at each session of the Council. When violations concern more than one issue, there can be joint Reports to the Council or joint Appeals to a government. Such a collective Appeal to the government of Pakistan sent on October 26, 2022 was made public on January 15, 2023.

The joint Appeal by six Special Rapporteurs concerned the sequence of rape of young women, forced conversion to Islam, followed by marriage to the rapist. The Appeal was led by the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, the Special Rapporteur on Sexual Exploitation of Children, the Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women and Girls, and the Special Rapporteur on Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children. The subject of the Appeal is not new, having been raised previously by Nongovernmental Organizations (NGOs), including by the Association of World Citizens (AWC).

However, the Appeal by the Special Rapporteurs clearly identifies a systemic problem on which the Pakistani government has failed to act. The girls raped are usually minors under 18 years of age and belong to Hindu and Christian minorities of the country, often rural and poor. Most Christians in Pakistan are converts from low caste or “untouchables” (Dalit) Hindus. Seeing no future within the Hindu-influenced caste system, they converted to Christianity which has no caste structure. Most of the Pakistani Hindus and Christians are illiterate and have little or no political influence.

A peace tour arranged by different social activists and minority rights activists in Lahore, Pakistan, with the participation of Muslim, Christian and Hindu youth. (C) RedMiNote

The Pakistani police and the court employees are agents of these human rights violations. Illiterate parents sign with a thumbprint document that they do not understand and are then filled in by the police to attest that the girl is older than 18, the legal age for marriage. If the girl or her family agrees to the marriage with the rapist, the rapist cannot be arrested and tried for the rape. As the practice takes place usually in rural areas, there are few if any NGOs to take up the specific cases. Urbanized Christian groups in Pakistan have made some protests of the practice but are often unaware of the specific rural cases.

NGOs have brought evidence of the practice to the attention of the Geneva-based Special Rapporteurs. When a human rights violation is given to the UN human rights secretariat, it is sent on to the Geneva-based Ambassador of the country mentioned. The Ambassador may not reply at all or more usually will reply saying that the facts are incorrect or deliberately misleading. However, as in the Pakistani case, the evidence piles up. In this current situation, there is, two months ago, a newly appointed High Commissioner for Human Rights, Volker Turk, formerly UN Undersecretary-General for Policy. The Special Rapporteurs may have wanted to see how he will act on violations of a powerful country. The situation in Pakistan merits close watching.

Prof. René Wadlow is President of the Association of World Citizens.

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