APPG for International Freedom of Religion or Belief Inquiry Finds UK Government Policy on Pakistani Religious Minorities Inadequate

On Wednesday, 24 February, the All Party Parliamentary Group for International Freedom of Religion or Belief launches its inquiry report on Freedom of Religion or Belief in Pakistan & UK Government Policy. The report follows a parliamentary hearing held in November 2015, attended by various NGOs, including Global Minorities Alliance. The report challenges the Home Office’s Country Information and Guidance on Pakistani Christians and Christian converts while also finding that Ahmadis, Christians and Hindus in Pakistan face a real risk of persecution, the likelihood of which depends on their encounters with and actions amongst people of other faiths or beliefs.

APPG Abridged Report - Pakistan Inquiry

The APPG inquiry’s main findings and recommendations include an urgent requirement for a new country guidance case regarding Pakistani Christians to provide sufficient and accurate guidance for Pakistani Christian asylum cases. At the very least, the APPG urges the Home Office to limit the use of the current AK and SK country guidance case in its Country Information and Guidance (CIG) report on Pakistani Christians and Christian converts to be used only for cases involving Evangelical Christians and blasphemy charges from non-State actors. In the report, the APPG urges the Home Office to acknowledge the strong evidence highlighting Pakistani authorities’ failure to protect minority religious communities from rights violations and amend its CIGs accordingly. The inquiry also highlights concerns about the possibility of internal relocation of Pakistani religious minorities, which the APPG urges the UK Home Office to recognise as unsafe and unviable.  Continue reading

People with learning disabilities want to find love too

Chido Ndadzungira, The Open University

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This Valentine’s Day will once again see a celebration of love. Unfortunately for many people with learning disabilities, this is just a dream. Although they may want to be in a relationship, they are often faced with barriers and challenges that prevent them finding what many take for granted. But specialised dating agencies can help to provide the support they need to meet new people and find romance.

People with learning disabilities, like everyone else, have a need for affectionate and intimate relationships. Yet many people with learning disabilities don’t get to have this type of relationship because of a lack of social and practical support, and society’s negative and stereotypical attitudes. Although attitudes are changing, it is evident that some caregivers still hold these negative perceptions, which include the belief that people with learning disabilities are asexual or “childlike”. Not only do these beliefs hold people with learning disabilities back from relationships, they also infringe on their human right to privacy and a family life, as outlined in Article 8 of the Human Rights Act 1998.

My research explores the views and experiences of women with learning disabilities on sexual relationships and as part of my PhD I gave them a platform to talk openly about this taboo subject. I interviewed 16 women with mild to moderate learning disabilities who were members of Stars in the Sky, a pioneering dating agency that you might recognise from the Channel 4’s Undateables. These women wanted to be in a relationship. As Monica told me:

… look how long I will be in my 50s and then 60s and I am thinking I don’t want to be in the same situation … being by myself as I become an old lady. I want somebody to settle down and spend the rest of my life with.

When Barbara was asked why she had joined up, she said:

… I want to join because I was looking for relationships … To meet people, not necessarily a boyfriend straight away but friends to begin with.

The social networks that many people take for granted are often restricted for people with learning disabilities and they find it hard to engage or access social activities where they can meet people and possibly form relationships. The challenge, however, is getting the right support. As Georgia, one participant in a 2014 study, said:

I think I do need a bit of support … And that’s to like, meet people … And that so yeah, gives me a bit of confidence to speak, and see if I can meet the right one, and could say to them, ‘well what d’you think about this … fella?’.

Protection from abuse

People with learning disabilities – both men and women – are vulnerable to sexual abuse and need protection from this. Monica, for example, said:

[I have] never ever experienced a proper relationship in my life. It’s just people taking advantage all my life yeah, and it’s not right.

But there should be a balance between protecting people from abuse and enabling them to get into relationships, otherwise people are denied their right to do so. To prevent abuse, people with learning disabilities should have access to sex and relationships education, and caregivers should be prepared to discuss issues on sex and relationships openly in a proactive, rather than reactive, way. This would equip people with the knowledge they need to enjoy relationships in a safe way. Not being open or only dealing with issues in a reactive way is more likely to leave people vulnerable to abuse.

Professionals and caregivers also inappropriately apply the Mental Capacity Act 2005 to some people with learning disabilities, especially those with severe learning disabilities. The act states that the capacity to consent to sexual relationships must be assumed unless proven otherwise and an unwise decision does not necessarily imply a lack of capacity. Research that reviewed cases on the capacity to consent to sexual activity highlighted failures in the implementation of the act and suggested a reframed capacity assessment informed by research into sexual decision making.

Dating agencies

Special dating agencies can enable people with learning disabilities to find relationships and broaden their social networks. The decade has seen a growth of friendship and dating groups for people with learning disabilities, including HeartVenture, Luv2meetU and matesndates. They match people interested in forming relationships and support them on their first date.

Stars in the Sky, one of the first to be set up, by two women with learning disabilities, is now unfortunately closing due to financial constraints. It also featured in The Undateables, and it is clearly evident from the series that support can enable people with learning disabilities to form relationships. And success is not only measured by a successful date but by the confidence that individuals gain by going on a date, too.

Samantha joined the dating agency because, she said:

I was struggling to find anyone on my own. And I want, I guess what every girl, woman would like to have partner or companion to share things with.

Jane’s reason for joining was “because I didn’t want to be single anymore. I hate being on my own and being miserable.”

Relationships have a positive impact on mental health and the well-being of people in general. This also goes for people with learning disabilities, and for it to happen their sexuality must be acknowledged. They need support to allow them the opportunity to form and develop relationships, and they should be empowered with the tools they need to consent to sexual relationships. Hopefully, if we get these things right, people with learning disabilities will be able to enjoy forming relationships in a safe environment, and fulfil their need to love and be loved.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

GMA calls on UK Government for ‘Group Recognition Status’ for Pakistani Persecuted Christians

PRESS RELEASE FOR IMMEDIATE USE

(Glasgow: UK) A Scotland-based minority rights group is calling for ‘Group Recognition Status’ for Christians fleeing persecution from Pakistan and seeking sanctuary in the United Kingdom will ultimately be at ‘risk of persecution’ if sent back to Pakistan.

The call for ‘Group Recognition Status’ recommendation was made in light of the recent decision in AK and SK (Christians: risk) Pakistan CG [2014] UKUT 569 (IAC) with reference to UNHRC guidelines on international protection Religion-Based Refugee Claims under Article 1A (2) of the 1951 Convention and/or the 1967 Protocol relating to the Status of Refugees, The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Political Rights (ICESCR).

‘It is utterly ridiculous that UK Government believes Christians are not persecuted in Pakistan if Christians are burnt to ashes in the brick kiln, their houses are chemically bombed, they are shot and poisoned in the police custody. What else counts for persecution’ said GMA’s Chairperson Mannassi Bernard.

‘You cannot make a policy out of a single case you need to consider the plight of Christians in Pakistan holistically and case by case on its merit’ stressed Mr Bernard.

Last month GMA was invited to be part of hearing sessions convened by the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on International Religious Freedom and Belief on the 10 and 11 of November, 2015 chaired by Lord David Alton, in the Houses of Parliament attended by some 20 representatives of various organisations working for minority rights across the UK. GMA’s delegates provided the evidence of persecution of all minorities and expressed GMA’s concern for the safety of minorities’ due to the fragile political, economic and judicial infrastructure which is often used to target the vulnerable minorities of Pakistan.

Following the hearing sessions in London, GMA has compiled the recommendations for the UK government to revisit its policy towards persecuted Christians from Pakistan to consider them under ‘Group Recognition Status’ whilst they seek sanctuary in the United Kingdom given the plight of minorities in Pakistan. Our recommendations will be part of the comprehensive report compiled by the All Party Parliamentary Group on International Religious Freedom and Belief (APPG).

Whilst GMA recognises that Pakistan as with all signatories, have a general reservation to interpret the ICESCR Covenant within the framework of their own constitution, (ICESCR Art 2 para.1 of the covenant) (UN.24 of the Reservations- CESCR General comment 3. 1990) GMA believes that any reservation held should not take precedence to the behest of human suffering or human life).

(AK & SK Christians: risk ) 2014  was an appeals case involving the appellants, a brother and sister (both of whom are Christian, and of Pakistani origin) they initially entered the UK on study visas but later applied for asylum on the basis of religious persecution.  The case highlighted the question as to whether or not Pakistani Christians in general were at serious risk of persecution and as such deserved international protection and group status for the purpose of claiming asylum.

The author of GMA’s recommendation report Chelsea Alexander a legal expert maintained:

In light of GMA’s Report in relation to AK & SK Christians at risk and the recent BBC Panorama Documentary on the “The Taliban Hunters” aired 14/12/15. I believe there is not only an urgent need for Governments in relation to their COI guidance to revisit the Pakistan Governments sufficiency of protection and ability to provide it but also to consider whether or not in the circumstances to adopt and incorporate these findings to the existing asylum procedure in favour of group recognition.

Click on the link below to read in full GMA’s recommendations on (AK&SK Christians: risk) 2014

http://www.globalminorities.co.uk/gma-reports/ak-sk-christian-risk-2014

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