The Council of the EU adopted conclusions on Pakistan on 17 July where they once-more condemned the world’s third largest Muslim nation for its lack of freedom of religion, and in particular for its abusive blasphemy laws, stating that the EU has a clear interest in a stable, secure, and democratic Pakistan.
The Conclusions refer to the Action Plan to improve the human rights situation in Pakistan recently adopted by that country’s government and states that the “EU remains ready to support the implementation.” The problem with such action plans adopted by serial human-rights abusers is that the often lay gathering dust on the shelf. The Foreign Ministers of the 28 EU Member States meeting in Council could surely have gone further and pushed Pakistan to meet its international obligations. The previous Council Conclusions on Pakistan were adopted on 18 July 2016 and sadly not much progress has been made on human rights in the intervening period.
For its part, the European Parliament adopted a Resolution on Pakistan on 15 June 2017 which goes further than the diplomatic language preferred by the Council. Where the Council refers to the “misuse of the blasphemy laws”, the Parliament calls on Pakistan to abolish these infamous laws outright.
As Parliament states it is “deeply concerned at the continued use of the ‘blasphemy law’, and believes this is heightening the climate of religious intolerance; notes the findings of the Supreme Court of Pakistan that individuals accused of ‘blasphemy’ ‘suffer beyond proportion or repair’ in the absence of adequate safeguards against misapplication or misuse of such laws; calls, therefore, on the Pakistani Government to repeal Sections 295-A, 295-B and 295-C of the Penal Code, and to put in place effective procedural and institutional safeguards to prevent the misuse of ‘blasphemy’ charges; calls also on the government to take a stronger position in condemning vigilantism towards alleged ‘blasphemers’, and urges it not to use the ‘blasphemy’ rhetoric itself”.
Pakistan is consistently near the top of the list of countries which restrict religious freedom and commit human rights abuse. Many Christians languish in prison, some under death sentences like Asia Bibi, accused of blasphemy under the country’s barbaric laws. Not only do Pakistani political leaders fail to address these problems, they continue to stoke up violence against religious minorities by inflammatory rhetoric, or actions such as a recent campaign on social media to encourage citizens to report to the authorities tweets or facebook posts which they consider blasphemous. This follows the decision of Pakistan’s Prime Minister in March this year to extend the blasphemy laws to cover social media.
So there is no sincerity on the side of Pakistani authorities when they enter into talks with the EU on trade, investment, security and other matters which interest them. The EU on the other hand needs to move beyond making the same gentle pleas to Pakistan each year and take a firm stance on human rights and religious freedom, if necessary linking these issues to trade or other considerations.