UNITED NATIONS: A UN resolution condemning damage and destruction of religious sites has irked India which tried to hide its long history of religious discrimination by objecting to Pakistan’s support to the resolution.

The United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) adopted the resolution on Thursday, which also asks the UN secretary general to convene a global conference to spearhead public support for safeguarding places of religious heritage.

During a UNGA debate on the resolution on Friday, India highlighted a recent attack on a Hindu temple in Karak to justify its argument that Pakistan should not have co-sponsored the resolution.

Pakistan, however, urged India to set its own house in order rather than feigning concern for minority rights elsewhere.

The resolution was proposed by Saudi Arabia and was co-sponsored by other Arab countries, including Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Yemen, Bahrain, Sudan, Oman, the United Arab Emirates and Palestine.

The non-Arab sponsors included Bangladesh, Cen­tral African Republic, Equatorial Guinea, Mauri­tania, Morocco, Nigeria, Pakistan, Philippines and Venezuela.

The United States and the European Union also supported the resolution, which was then declared adopted by the UNGA president Volkan Bozkir.

The resolution highlights the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, which are enshrined in the UN Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as well.

But ignoring the message, and the widespread support for the cause, India decided to focus on Pakistan’s name on the list of cosponsors.

A report by the Press Trust of India news agency quoted an Indian representative at the UNGA telling the august assembly that “the resolution cannot be a smokescreen for countries like Pakistan to hide behind”. Then the Indian delegate referred to an attack on a Hindu shrine in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s Karak tehsil last month.

Pakistan, however, rejected India’s “unwarranted assertions” on the Karak incident, reminding the world body that those responsible for the attack were immediately arrested and repair works at the temple had already started. Pakistan also pointed out that the highest level of judiciary took notice of the incident, and all senior government and opposition leaders condemned the attack.

“Whereas in India, blatant acts of discrimination against Muslims and other minorities take place with state complicity,” said the Pakistani delegate, Zulqarnain Chheena.

“This is not the first time India has tried to feign concern for minority rights elsewhere while being the most egregious and persistent violator of minority rights itself,” he added.

Mr Chheena also underlined India’s dismal record on human rights, calling it “a perennial purveyor of state-sponsored discrimination against its religious minorities”. “India is in no position to pontificate on the issue of minority rights elsewhere,” he said.

The Pakistani delegate also rejected India’s claim that the attack on the Karak shrine was carried out with the “explicit support” of law-enforcement agencies.

The Pakistani delegate cited India’s discriminatory Citizenship Amendment Act, the National Register of Citizens, the 2002 Gujarat massacre, the 2020 Delhi pogrom, the 1992 demolition of Babri Mosque and acquittal of the accused in 2020 to show how the Indian state supports attacks on religious minorities.

He pointed that even during the pandemic, Indian authorities blamed Muslims for spreading coronavirus, senior Indian officials raised the bogey of ‘love jihad’, cow vigilantism and termed West Bengal Muslims “termites”. He also highlighted extra-judicial killings of innocent Kashmiris and blatant attempts to turn Muslims into a minority in occupied Kashmir.

A report by the APP news agency quoted the Pakistani delegate as telling the UN General Assembly that “the RSS-BJP regime’s record is replete with instances of gross and systemic violations of the rights of minorities, in particular Muslims”.

He pointed out that “the Indian leadership is yet to condemn the perpetrators of the Delhi massacre in February 2020 let alone bring those criminals to justice”.

The UN resolution reminds the international community that “religious sites are representative of the history, social fabric and traditions of people in every country and community all over the world and should be fully respected as such”.

The resolution reaffirms that “addressing the destruction of tangible and intangible cultural heritage needs to be holistic, encompassing all regions”. It must also contemplate “both prevention and accountability, focusing on acts by state and non-state actors in both conflict and non-conflict situations, and terrorist acts”.

Published in Dawn, January 23rd, 2021

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