Support for UN religious rights expert detained in Pakistan

November 8, 2007

Six international human rights groups have appealed to the U.N. Human Rights Council to press Pakistan to release Asma Jahangir, the world body’s special rapporteur on the freedom of religion or belief. The Pakistani lawyer, a leading human rights campaigner in her country, was put under house arrest in Lahore when President General Pervez Musharraf declared a state of emergency on November 3.

Asma Jahangir presents 2006 Pakistan human rights report, Feb. 8, 2007The six groups — Amnesty International, The International Federation for Human Rights, Human Rights Watch, International Service for Human Rights, World Organisation against Torture and Pax Romana — also said Pakistan should lift a threat of detention against Hina Jilani , the U.N. special representative on the situation of human rights defenders who is currently outside of her native Pakistan but would be arrested if she returned. Jahangir and Jilani are sisters who have been active campaigners for women’s rights in Pakistan.

A group representing all 38 UN special representatives and working groups on human rights also protested against emergency rule in Pakistan and singled out the arrest of their colleague Jahangir and the detention order against Jilani. “We are concerned that placing a Special Procedures mandate holder under house arrest may adversely impact on his or her ability to carry out the activities necessary to fulfill the mandate. We are alarmed that a detention order remains in place against Hina Jilani, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on the situation of human rights defenders,” they said.

Pakistani blogs have posted an email they said was from Jahangir including a copy of her detention order which put her under house arrest by declaring her home a “sub-jail” for 90 days.

Jahangir, who also heads the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, has been the U.N. watchdog on freedom of religion since 2004. She visits several countries a year to monitor religious rights there and produces country reports and an annual report for the Human Rights Council in Geneva.

A Human Rights Council session in Geneva on Myanmar, Oct. 2, 2007In an interim report for the Security Council in August, she said she was preparing country reports after visits to Tajikistan and Britain. She also has invitations to visit Angola, India, Israel, Turkmenistan, Mauritania and Serbia to monitor religious freedoms there. In addition, she said she had started special studies on two issue of particular concern — the religious rights of refugees and the situation of people with atheistic or non-theistic beliefs.

The letter by the six human rights organisations reads:

Ambassador Doru Costea
Human Rights Council
Geneva, 7 November 2007
Dear Ambassador Costea

We are writing to seek your urgent intervention as President of the Human Rights Council, and that of the Bureau of the Council, concerning two of the Council’s Special Procedures, the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, Asma Jahangir, and the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Human Rights Defenders, Hina Jilani.

On 3 November 2007, the President of Pakistan, General Musharraf, declared a state of emergency that has led to the detention of hundreds of human rights defenders, contrary to Pakistan’s international human rights obligations. We have been informed that Ms Jahangir, the Human Rights Council’s Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, was placed under house arrest over the last weekend, subject to a 90 day order. This action effectively prevents her from discharging her responsibilities as a mandate holder of the Council.

We are concerned that Ms Jilani, the Special Representative on the situation of Human Rights Defenders, who is presently outside Pakistan, faces house arrest under a similar order when she returns to Pakistan. This threat is subjecting Ms Jilani to pressure that in itself affects the discharge of her responsibilities. If she returns to be placed under house arrest, she too will be entirely prevented from acting under her mandate.

Action restricting or preventing the Council’s mandate holders from discharging their responsibilities is intolerable under any circumstances. The fact that the action is being taken by a member of the Council makes the situation even more serious. General Assembly resolution 60/251 establishing the Council requires that “members elected to the Council shall uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights, (and) shall fully cooperate with the Council.”

We ask that the Bureau of the Council require Pakistan to account to the Council as a matter of urgency for its conduct in relation to the mandate holders in terms of its responsibility under the General Assembly resolution. Pakistan should be required to lift all restrictions on Ms Jahangir and Ms Jilani so that they are able to continue their work under their mandates from the Council without pressure, threat or interference.

We request an opportunity for representatives of our organisations in New York to discuss this situation with you personally and urgently. We ourselves will be seeking meetings with other members of the Bureau here in Geneva.

Yours sincerely,

Chris Sidoti for

Amnesty International, Irene Khan, Secretary General

Fédération Internationale des Droits de l’Homme, Souhayr Belhassen, President

Human Rights Watch, Ken Roth, Executive Director

International Service for Human Rights, Chris Sidoti, Director

Organisation Mondiale Contre la Torture, Eric Sottas, Director

Pax Romana, Budi Tjahjono, Coordinator
cc Permanent Representatives, Human Rights Council Member States

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