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Thursday, 9 June 1994
Page: 1689

(Question No. 1223)

Senator Bourne asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs, upon notice, on 15 March 1994:

  (1) Has there been an increase in the number of human rights violations occurring in Pakistan including against Ahmadi Muslims.

  (2) Is the Australian High Commission monitoring the human rights situation in Pakistan.

  (3) What representations has the High Commission made to authorities recently in regard to human rights violations including against Ahmadis.

  (4) What progress has Pakistan's National Commission on Minorities made in reviewing legislation and practices which discriminate against minorities.

  (5) Is the National Commission on Minorities also examining issues of discrimination against women in Pakistan.

Senator Gareth Evans —The answer to the honourable senator's question is as follows:

  (1) There was no significant change in the overall human rights situation in Pakistan in 1993 and problems remain in several areas. Instances of arbitrary detention, arrest, torture and abuse of prisoners and detainees continued to be a serious problem despite widespread expressions of concern both local and international. There have been no significant efforts made to reform the police or judicial systems or to prosecute and punish those responsible for abuses. Members of the Ahmadi community in Pakistan continue to be inhibited in the practice of their religion and there is evidence that people are still being charged for contravention of the Pakistani law, particularly on blasphemy. This law, as interpreted by the full bench of the Supreme Court of Pakistan, prohibits the Ahmadis from using Islamic terminology in respect of the observance of their religious practises. Since the inception of the law in 1986, 107 Ahmadis have been charged with blasphemy, however, none of these have been convicted. Advice from Pakistan supports the view that recently there has been a slight decline in the number of violations committed against members of the Ahmadi community.

  (2) The Australian High Commission in Islamabad closely monitors the human rights situation in Pakistan.

  (3) The High Commission has made a number of representations to the Government of Pakistan on Australia's concerns about reported human rights violations in Pakistan. The most recent discussion of Australia's human rights concerns in Pakistan took place when the High Commissioner called on the Minister of Interior on 1 March 1994. During discussions with Ministers and senior officials, the High Commissioner and his staff have frequently expressed Australia's concerns about the human rights situation in Pakistan and our wish to see that internationally accepted standards of human rights are observed. These discussions have included references to the rights of religious minorities in Pakistan, both in terms of their rights to the free exercise of their religion and in terms of their entitlements as citizens. In this context, specific mention of the situation of Ahmadis as well as of Christians and Hindus has been made.

  (4) Pakistan's Interim (Qureshi) Government established the National Commission on Minorities in late 1993. The Commission's progress has been slow to review legislation and practices that discriminate against minorities in Pakistan. The Government of Pakistan recently announced the setting up of a Cabinet Committee on Minorities. The Committee has been given a broad agenda that includes a review of legislation which allegedly discriminates against minorities and is required to prepare a report on the treatment of minorities within a month.

  (5) The issue of discrimination against women in Pakistan does not fall under the purview of the National Commission on Minorities. Social convention and several legal constraints continue to place women in a subordinate position in Pakistani society. The issue has, however, attracted the personal attention of Prime Minister Bhutto. The Prime Minister has established a Committee on the Status of Women and has given it a mandate to study discriminatory laws against women and make recommendations to the Government.