Our Introduction. The country has been subjected to martial law rule at three different occasions during its history for a period of almost three quarters of its entire existence since 1947. During the last martial law rule of eleven years, General Zia-ul-Haq allowed the orthodox fundamentalist religious leaders (Ulema/Maulvis) to enjoy political, economic and social clout and gains in order to obtain religious legitimization for his illegitimate rule. The result of this cynical use of conservative religious leaders was the spread of fundamentalism and obscurantism at a very foundation level in the society. During this period oppressive and discriminatory pieces of so-called Islamic legislation were introduced. These include the Hadood Ordinance Laws relating to Zakat and Ushr, the Qissas and Diyat Ordinance, the Qanoon - e - Shahadat (Law of Evidence) and finally the most draconian of all laws, the "Blasphemy Law" or Pakistan Penal Code 295 - C. Pakistan's religious minorities have been made politically impotent through the separate electoral system. The marginalisation of non Muslims from the political process has consequently resulted in a wider marginalisation. As their votes do not count to the general vote bank, the majority Muslims ignores non-Muslim citizens and their issues.
All these pieces of sectarian legislation have promoted an atmosphere of intolerance in the country which not only encourages sentiments of religious prejudice and bigotry against non Muslim citizens but also poses a serious threat to basic human rights of citizens in general and thus jeopardizes the whole process of democratization.
The laws are interpreted with prejudice against non-Muslims and the courts are also influenced by sectarian intolerance. For example, minor girls from Christian and Hindu families are abducted with impunity by Muslim young men. The girls are forced to embrace Islam and have marriages registered under Islamic law. The parents of the abducted girls face hardships in having cases registered for abduction and rape because it is argued that since the girls have embraced Islam, their Christian or Hindu parents are not entitled to custody.
on Blasphemy which was amended in 1991 to provide mandatory capital punishment
is being abused for setting personal scores. The instigation of criminal
cases against new converts to Christianity is on the increase. Local fundamentalists,
and in some cases the local maulvis, get criminal cases registered against
such converts on false accusations of insulting the Islamic faith and the
Holy Prophet. The police are usually prejudiced in favor of the fundamentalists
and therefore do not fulfill the normal legal obligations. The motive for
registering cases is evidently religious relation. The lower functionaries
of the state do not even project the victims of these nefarious acts against
mob violence and there have been many extra judicial murders with the police
just standing by.
year rule of martial law left the country not only economically handicapped
but it also crippled the democratic institutions and the structure of civil
society. A large part of our populace is so terrorized that it has lost
the will even to protest against its victimization. It meekly acquiesces
in to the spread of this terror.
for setting up CLAAS. Since
religious minorities are often victimized by accusing them of blasphemy
(under section 295 B&C of the Pakistan Penal Code), human rights groups
and activists are agitating against these excesses, but it is not practical
for them to come to the rescue of every victim of religious or political
intolerance and oppression. Further, it has been observed that the
victims of the minority communities in particular do not open up before
Muslim lawyers or human rights activists, due to the culture of silence
of which they have been victims for many years. They feel more comfortable
if they are able to approach minority human rights activists, social workers
and lawyers for help.
Therefore a group of concerned Christians along with some of their concerned Muslim colleagues have formed the Center for Legal Aid Assistance & Settlement in Lahore to help victims of oppression mentioned above by aiding them with legal and settlement assistance and support. The group operates at secular and ecumenical level. It works with Muslim human rights activists who share the same concerns. This integration is also visible in the Board of CLAAS.
CLAAS was begun in 1992 to address human rights issues faced by the disadvantaged groups which includes religious minorities, women and children. The main objective of CLAAS is to provide legal assistance, protection and settlement to the victims of violence. The acute need was to make these services accessible to people.
objective of this project is to provide legal aid assistance, protection
and rehabilitation to the survivors of religious intolerance, sexual abuse,
domestic violence and all sorts of oppression.
work of CLAAS. Although
CLAAS began with the intent of addressing religious minority issues it
has evolved to addressing wider and diverse issues as well.
CLAAS has responded to provide legal aid, protection and rehabilitative support to the innocent victims. CLAAS efforts have resulted in acquittal of minority citizens and has saved their lives. CLAAS has also provided safe lodgings for the victims for extended periods in collaboration with other individuals and organizations. Similarly CLAAS has provided relief to women and children victims of violence and sexual abuse by extending legal aid and protection.
Due to the exigencies of man-power and limited funds, CLAAS has tended to focus its activities in and around the Punjab; this however is not to say that CLAAS has not had a wider outreach. While it has reported and helped victims discrimination and abuse, CLAAS now feel that it should also strategies for means to stem the root cause of such discrimination.
In order to provide better services to the community CLAAS understands that it will have to priorities what it sees as important.
There are a number of cases where the level of hostility and bigotry in a community reaches the points where even if the court decides in favor of the victim, she or entire family may not have the possibility of surviving in a given locality. In these cases CLAAS has, on a number of occasions helped these victims in resettling in other localities away from the places where they known and could be victimized in the future.
Eighteen families in village Khan Jajja (Sialkot District) where ejected from their ancestral homes because of religious bias CLAAS provided legal assistance and long term support to these families. These families have now been resettled in different villages. This activity involved an entire community including men, women and children.
In a few cases this has meant even to relocating these victims outside the country because of the national level of the threat due to the exposure these cases have received in the national media. CLAAS has been involved in relocating the two Blasphemy victims Salamat and Rehmat Masih outside the country.
not possible for CLAAS to work on all issues like development, education,
child labor, political education etc. Since we share similar concerns over
these issues therefore we support all organizations who are working on
these issues, by participating in different activities (attending the court
hearing, participating in demonstrations, press conferences etc.) which
are carried out to highlight the issues.
CLAAS works in close association with a number of NGOs including Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) , War Against Rape(WAR), Church World Service, Justice and Peace Commission of Pakistan and the theater group Lok Rehas. This is an informal relationship and CLAAS feels it is important to maintain the nature of such relationships for these remain the backbone support, both morally and intellectually, of CLAAS activities. CLAAS has a good solid relationship with both NGOs and government and would like to see these growing in strength.
In those cases where CLAAS collaborates with like mind organizations on issues on common interest, resources in kind or facilities are shared with these organizations. This local contribution improves our outreach and our ability to handle more cases than we normally can.
CLAAS also maintains documentation of incidents of human rights violations. After six months we take out an update report on cases reported and handled by CLAAS. Based upon legal and shelter support, we publish bi-monthly newsletter taking up news items, articles, reports and cases studies on violations of human rights mainly focusing on women, children and religious minorities issues. As staff members of CLAAS are members of HRCPs investigating team, majority of the stories is based on first hand reports. A large number of our newsletter and update reports are sent abroad to the human rights organizations, church organizations, NGOs, news agencies and individuals. This helps us in awareness raising and sensitizing people on issue of violence and human rights. It helps us in bringing such issues to the notice of international media and mobilizing the opinion of Western community on these issues.
CLAAS is represented on several national committees like Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, War Against Rape, Front Against Terrorism and Joint Action Committee.
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