Saima Iqbal – another forced religious conversion in Pakistan


It is widely reported that each year, over 1,000 women and girls from religious minorities are being abducted, forcibly converted and subsequently wed to their abductors in Pakistan. Of the thousands of examples available, Croatian Member of European Parliament, Marijana Petir of the European People’s Party has highlighted the case of Saima Iqbal.

Saima is a Pakistani Christian and a mother to three children. She was abducted on the 25th of February, 2019, by a Muslim man named Khalid Sati. Over a week later, after repeated appeals from Naveed Iqbal, Saima’s husband, the police were able to recover Saima from Khalid Sati’s custody. It was then she was able to tell her husband what had happened to her. After being abducted, Saima was tortured by Khalid Sati and forced to convert to Islam. She was then forced into marriage with her abductor.

Once reunited, Saima and her husband had to go into hiding as she and her family were continually threatened by Khalid Sati and receiving little help from the police. They have continued to be vocal about the brutality she experienced and demand justice be brought to her assailant. She is still waiting.

In highlighting this case MEP Petir posed a question (E-001647/2019) to the European Commission. As Pakistan is a signatory on the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), and a core convention of the GSP+ from which Pakistan benefits, the Pakistani government is obliged to protect its citizens from forced conversion and forced marriage. In light of the EU’s relationship with Pakistan, MEP Petir asked two pointed question. The first being “what specific measures is the [European External Action Service] EEAS using to ensure that women and girls are protected from crimes of forced conversion and forced marriage in Pakistan”, which she followed with “what due diligence has the EEAS undertaken to protect women in Pakistan who are being failed by poor implementation of CEDAW”.

On June 27, 2019 Vice President Mogherini replied to MEP Petir’s question on behalf of the European Commission. Her response first reviews the structure and core conventions of the GSP+ program. Asserting that the “the EU’s main concern is to ensure that beneficiary countries continue to make meaningful progress towards meeting their obligations, including under CEDAW and the ICCPR”. She reported that “women’s rights, as well as the freedom of religion or belief also feature high in EU-Pakistan bilateral political contacts and were addressed by the EU-Pakistan Joint Commission and its Sub-Group on Democracy, Governance and Human Rights in November 2018, the EU-Pakistan Political Dialogue and the EU-Pakistan Strategic Dialogue in March 2019”.

Ms. Mogherini went on to emphasise the prioritisation of rights for religious minorities in Pakistan’s National Action Plan, as well as its inclusion in “several projects under the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights address both women’s rights and religious minority rights in Pakistan”. A more concrete sign of progress that Ms. Mogherini shared was the report that draft laws, like the Christian Marriage and Divorce Acts, are now at advanced stages of adoption.

In closing Ms. Mogherini claimed that the EU has “urged on all these occasions the swift approval and effective implementation of the draft interfaith harmony policy as well as the empowering of the National Commission on Minorities” and stated that “Pakistan’s progress in the implementation of CEDAW and the ICCPR will be covered in the next biennial GSP report” which is expected to be published at the end of the year.

Ms. Mogherini’s response, while detailed, shared very few pieces of concrete evidence that progress is being made on this issue. How can the EU agree to provide Pakistan with the majority share of the benefits of the GSP+ privilege while rates of forced conversion and marriage continue to increase. There must be consequences for the steady stream of violations to CEDAW being committed in Pakistan.

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