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Pakistan: UN experts condemn killing of Minorities Minister and urge protection of minorities in law and in practice

2 March 2011

GENEVA: “We express our outrage and condemn in the strongest terms the ambush and killing of Mr. Shahbaz Bhatti”, stated four United Nations human rights experts* today. Mr. Bhatti, the Pakistani Minister for Minority Affairs, was the cabinet’s only Christian minister and was gunned down today in broad daylight as he travelled to his office in Islamabad.

“This is not only an attack on an individual, but also an attack on the rights of all religious minorities and on human rights in Pakistan. Minorities and those who work to promote their rights must be free to do so without fear of violence. The shocking assassination of Mr. Bhatti will spark fear in all those who belong to minorities in Pakistan and the Government must respond in the strongest terms possible to protect them – both in law and in practice,” stated Gay McDougall, the United Nations’ independent expert on minority issues.

The experts highlighted that serious concerns have been raised with the Government of Pakistan, by the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council, following the assassination in January of Punjab Governor Mr. Salman Taseer, who also opposed Pakistan’s blasphemy laws.

“Mr. Bhatti had recently received death threats, fatwas calling for his beheading had reportedly been issued, and messages of violence were received,” said the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, Mr. Heiner Bielefeldt. “Any advocacy of religious hatred that constitutes incitement to violence or hostility must be prohibited by law and effectively prevented,” added the UN expert on freedom of expression, Mr. Frank La Rue.

“The Government has a positive obligation to take effective measures to protect the right to life; failure to do so is a violation of Article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights”, emphasized Mr. Christof Heyns, Special Rapporteur on summary executions. He also urged the Government to repeal especially those penal provisions which impose the death penalty for blasphemy.

“We fully support the press release issued today by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. The brutal killing of Mr. Bhatti must be investigated and the perpetrators brought to justice. It is crucial for the Government of Pakistan to act swiftly to fulfill its obligations to protect the lives and the rights of those belonging to religious minorities or advocating their rights,” underlined the independent experts.

(*) Independent Expert on minority issues, Ms. Gay McDougall; Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, Mr. Heiner Bielefeldt; Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, Mr. Frank La Rue; Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Mr. Christof Heyns.

END

“Special procedures” is the general name given to the mechanisms established by the Commission on Human Rights and assumed by the Human Rights Council to address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Currently, there are 31 thematic and 8 country mandates.

The Independent Expert on minority issues: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/issues/minorities/expert/index.htm

The Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/issues/religion/index.htm

Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/issues/opinion/index.htm

Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/issues/executions/index.htm

For more information and media requests, please contact Graham Fox (Tel.:+ 41 22 917 9640 / e-mail: gfox@ohchr.org).