Yesterday, the U.S. Department of State released the annual list of “Countries of Particular Concern.” As required by the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, the list designates governments that have engaged in or tolerated systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom. In late December the Secretary of State re-designated 10 countries as “CPC’s – Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. Of great interest to activists, scholars, parliamentarians and citizens of Pakistan and the United States is the addition of Pakistan on a Special Watch List for severe violations of religious freedom.
21Wilberforce believes that Pakistan meets the criteria for a CPC and has been advocating for designation. Former Congressman Frank Wolf, Distinguished Senior Fellow at 21Wilberforce, said that “Pakistan is a signatory of the UN Declaration of Human Rights, but they have treated the responsibilities associated with it casually and with no consequences. The Special Watch List designation is recognition by the U.S. government that Pakistan meets the CPC threshold. My colleagues at 21Wilberforce and I thank the Administration for taking this important step. It is my hope that this will spur Pakistan to initiate long needed reforms.”
For the past 15 years, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has recommended that the U.S. government designate Pakistan as a Country of Particular Concern (CPC) for its egregious human rights and religious freedom violations against Ahmadis, Christians, Hindus, Sikhs and Shi’a Muslims.
One of the most respected experts on Pakistan is Farahnaz Ispahani. She is a Global Fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars and author of the book Purifying The Land of The Pure: The History of Pakistan’s Religious Minorities (Oxford University Press, 2017). Upon learning that Pakistan is now on a Special Watch List, Ispahani said that “For too long no one has really cared within the country. The freedom to believe and practice one’s faith and the freedom to not believe are an essential human right. Minorities in Pakistan have gradually been deemed both socially, and legally as sub-citizens or even in some cases as sub-human. The Special Watch List designation status given to Pakistan by the U.S. Secretary of State to Pakistan may help Pakistan’s religious minorities.”