- The Washington Times - Monday, June 4, 2001

Religion in Pakistan

A U.S. religious rights panel is calling on Secretary of State Colin Powell to urge Pakistan to protect religious minorities when he meets Foreign Minister Abdul Sattar later this month.

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom believes Pakistan´s leader, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, has failed to protect Christians, Ahmadis, Hindus and other non-Muslim religions.

In a letter to Mr. Powell, commission Chairman Elliott Abrams said, "Although the government … does not appear to be engaged in a systematic effort to prosecute religious minorities, it is clearly not doing enough to protect the religious freedom of all of its citizens. …

"The criminal laws against blasphemy are abused, resulting in detention of, and sometimes violence against, religious minorities as well as Muslims on account of their religious beliefs," he said.

"Organized groups of religious extremists among Sunni and Shi´ite Muslims engage in a significant level of sectarian violence."

Mr. Abrams, a former assistant secretary of state, said that in September, the commission held a hearing in Washington on religious violence in Pakistan. The panel also traveled to Pakistan in December for a firsthand probe.

He asked Mr. Powell to "urge [Mr.] Sattar to make serious and sustained efforts to promote and protect the religious freedom of all citizens of Pakistan."

The commission called on Pakistan to remove political restrictions on religious minorities, to rescind laws that criminalize the public practice of some religions, to modify blasphemy laws, to establish interfaith dialogues and to prevent sectarian violence.

The commission denounced "militant groups and any religious schools that provide weapons training" to perpetuate religious violence.

"We hope that … [Mr.] Sattar´s visit to Washington provides an occasion for a serious discussion of religious freedom, tolerance and sectarian violence in Pakistan," Mr. Abrams said in his May 11 letter, which was released Friday.

Mr. Sattar is due to visit Washington June 18-20.


U.N. picks U.S. envoy

The United Nations has appointed the U.S. ambassador to the World Trade Organization to a panel that oversees copyrights and other intellectual property laws.

Ambassador Rita Hayes was named Friday as one of two deputy directors of the Geneva-based World Intellectual Property Organization. Philippe Petit, France´s envoy to the U.N. agencies in the Swiss city, was appointed as the other deputy director.

Mrs. Hayes is expected to take over the position in November. President Clinton named her to the WTO in November 1997.

President Bush, who nominated her for the Geneva post, plans to replace her at the WTO with Linnet Deily, vice president of the Charles Schwab Corp.


Diplomatic traffic

Foreign visitors in Washington this week include:

Today

• Estonian Foreign Minister Toomas Hendrik Ilves.

Tomorrow

• Russian human rights advocate Elena Bonner, chairman of the Andrei Sakharov Foundation. She will discuss the human rights policies of Russian President Vladimir Putin at a hearing held by the congressional Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe at 9:30 a.m. in room 234 of the Ford House Office Building.

Wednesday

• French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine, who speaks at a dinner of the German Marshall Fund on trans-Atlantic relations. He meets Secretary of State Colin Powell on Thursday and also addresses the Brookings Institute to discuss the English-language publication of his book, "France in an Age of Globalization."

• Bogdan Gubsky, deputy chairman of the Ukrainian parliament´s finance and banking committee.

Thursday

• A delegation from the Slovak Republic that includes Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda, Deputy Prime Minister Ivan Miklos, Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan, Culture Minister Milan Knazko and Pavol Hrusovsky, vice chairman of the Slovak parliament. They will dedicate the new Slovak Embassy on Friday and hold a 9 a.m. news conference at the National Press Club.

• Anderson K. Mazoka, president of Zambia´s United Party for National Development and a candidate for president of Zambia. He speaks to invited guests at the Freedom Forum.


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