London: August 15, 2018. (PCP) The appointment of Lord Tariq Ahmad as UK Special Envoy for Freedom of Religion or Belief, at the same time as the US launch a Genocide Recovery and Persecution Response programme reveals concerns about Global international freedom. But what good will these roles actually do?
Freedom of Religion and Belief is important everywhere and must be guarded and appreciated to be kept in trust for future generations. Only recently leading experts on religious freedom converged at the EU Parliament in Brussels on June 5th to highlight concerns about the erosion of freedom of belief for Christians in Europe (click here). The need for a conference of this type in Europe is alarming as the west is often believed to be a safe haven. However encroachments into our religious freedom are often subtle and incremental rather like a frog in a kettle, which instead of jumping out of the heat adjusts to its change in environment to its own detriment. This might be one reason why senior official position like Human Rights or Religious Freedom Envoys are so important.
Most nations and humanitarian organizations have them, these are individuals set apart to scrutinize human rights abuses, to report stats and make swelling speeches that stir the conscience of politicians. Like watchdogs they are often the first to notice that something is wrong. However, a certain sensitivity is necessary to address matters most countries, if given a choice, would keep in the dark. Very often the envoys find themselves needing to employ keenly honed soft skills to be given an opportunity to say anything.
The problem is that politicians, even those the human rights envoys are designated and mandated to inform, do not always listen. Leaders and politicians rather like the idea that they care enough to give it some consideration, the process massages their egos and stimulates their moral conscience making them feel like they are people of good will. However, it is not always a given that action will be forthcoming on any particular issue. When people are suffering they do want to be heard, but they hope for something more than platitudes and warm wishes.
We shared an example with you; After the EU's Human Rights Envoy's ardent efforts to prioritize the plight of Asia Bibi were aborted due to the EU's overshadowing trade negotiations, Pakistan British Pakistani Christian Chairman Wilson Chowdhry said, "Europe has been reluctant to follow through with measures to protect Christians even when they acknowledge them. They may acknowledge them with some bravado but there is not always a palpable will to see change despite the efforts and good will of those who are set up as watchdogs. The pragmatic disrespect for the human rights watchdog is one sign of tolerance for persecution ... there is a desire to raise a standard but not a desire to deal with the issues of implementing it..."
It is hard for any special envoy to know when they are being effective when they are simply pressing to be heard. In April 2018 EU Envoy on Human Rights outside of the EU Jan Figel who is a man of goodwill and had hoped the EU would withdraw GPS+ Status (most favoured trade status) until blasphemy victim Asia Bibi was released, found himself disappointed by the EU's lack of response. Mr Figel said: "It's time to move but at least on one last point on Pakistan. Yeah, I was there, twice refused then re-invited by Pakistani Authorities, so this was good signal that something is moving. I can say that I was and I am disappointed by non-decison, not only on Asia Bibi case but many others.
My message in December to many different representatives of political or religious, judicial non-governmental space was status quo is not enough for Pakistan, for better future of the country - people there and secondly Justice delayed is justice denied. There were 19 people expecting execution because of blasphemy the first lady, the first woman, Asia Bibi is famous is known in this country - in Europe -she is honorary citizen of Paris. So many people know and many people expect that justice will be delivered.
I would love to see European Union more principled because I think what we need to see is justice in the world. Justice is important for peace - p eace is fruit of justice in the Middle-East in South-East Asia - everywhere. If we care for then we are credible inside and outside. Beginning of justice is beginning of freedom everywhere..."
While EU Special Envoy Figel expressed disappointment at the EU's inaction on the proposed sanctions he seemed pleased that they had at least considered her case and that Pakistan had essentially threw him a bone by re-inviting him after being refused twice. He took this as a sign "something is moving" but Pakistani Christians whose hopes had been raised and then dashed by inaction have seen this before. While it was initially heartening that Asia Bibi was discussed at this level, it seems that Pakistan needs to only make slight political gestures without any effective follow-up to be praised.
There needs to be more than expressed hopes to make a difference. There is ostensibly no desire to enforce economic penalties on Pakistan, a nuclear power, or to forfeit cheap goods for the cause of justice. If special envoys are to be effective in improving human rights conditions for religious minorities, they must be listened to at some point by the government appointing them. Though it may also be that a role as a religious freedom or human rights "watchdog" will historically demonstrate that the nation appointing them neglected justice while knowing better.
A hopeful measure was enacted when the UK Special Envoy for Freedom of Religion or Belief was recently chosen from a community that is a persecuted religious minority. Prime MInister Theresa May put British-Pakistani Lord Ahmad who is AhmadiMuslim on guard for Freedom of Religion or Belief in Great Britian. BPCA has reached out to congratulate Lord Amhad and we look forward to dialoguing with him to improve the plight of Pak-Christians, but also to work for better community harmony here in the UK.