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Pax Christi recognises rights groups in Pakistan

GENEVA (SE): The Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace and the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan were jointly awarded the Pax Christi International Peace Award for 2016 at a ceremony in Geneva, Switzerland, on November 17.

Cecil Chaudhry, from the Justice and Peace Commission, accepted the award from Greet Vanaerschot, the secretary general of Pax Christi International, on behalf of both groups.

In making the presentation, Vanaerschot said, “Your tenacious work, performed in very difficult circumstances and at great personal risk, offers a sign of hope, courage and healing to those in your country who are facing tremendous suffering, violence and trauma in their daily lives.”

Chaudhry responded on behalf of the two groups, reflecting the immense gratitude they hold for the people of the International Catholic peace organisation that made the award possible.

He said that he appreciates the massive support that Pax Christi International gives to the voice of marginalised religious minorities at the International Forum, which has been highly productive and supportive in a concrete manner.

Chaudhry added that he believes that the award is really a recognition of the effort of every person who is or has been associated with or part of the 30-year struggle for justice of the commission in Pakistan.

He particularly mentioned students, community members, fellow human rights advocates and all those who have raised a voice for those who are unable to speak up for themselves.

He said that this award recognises the good they have done by questioning social injustice and defending the rights of minority groups within Pakistan.

Chaudhry said that Pakistan is currently facing numerous social issues, such as disruption of the peace, instability, an ongoing war on terrorism and religious intolerance, all of which is isolating the minority religious communities.

He acknowledged the efforts of the government to move in the direction of peace, security, protection and promotion of religious minorities, but stressed that the Justice and Peace Commission will continue to strive for a just and peaceful Pakistan; where all citizens, irrespective of their faith, are accorded the equal rights guaranteed in the constitution of the country.

He highlighted the need to understand the root causes of the issues, citing a distorted history and the religiously biased material in the school curriculum.

He emphasised, “Only when our children… are nurtured through their schooling with textbooks free from religious bias and hatred towards different communities because of their faith, only then will we be able to promote a society that respects the cultural, ethnic and religious diversity that Pakistan has to offer.”

Chaudhry pointed out that the country does have heroes from the religious minorities in both development and security, who should be presented as an inspiration for the students and a guiding principle of humanity.

The Pakistan government also is recognising the work of the Justice and Peace Commission in promoting human rights. 

On December 10, Bishop Joseph Arshad, the chairperson of the commission, was presented with the National Human Rights Award 2016 by the president of Pakistan, Mamnoon Hussain.

“We appreciate the government for recognising the commission which has been involved in human rights advocacy, especially for religious minorities, since 1985,” Father Barkat, the director of interfaith and ecumenism in Faisalabad, said, in receiving the award on behalf of the bishop.

Fifty-two-year-old Bishop Arshad served for 14 years as a nuncio in several places. He has also worked with prisoners in the jails of Gujranwala and Karachi.

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