Oral statement 39th Human Rights Council session :

Protection for the Religious Minorities of Afghanistan

CAP Liberté de Conscience is making this statement jointly with UNITED SIKHS, a UN associated international advocacy NGO that defends religious freedom of minorities and the Gurdwara Guru Nanak Darbar, London, to highlight the plight of forgotten non-Muslim minorities of Afghanistan, who lost 12 Sikh leaders and on Hindu during a suicide bombing in Jallalabad on 1 July 2018, whilst they were waiting to meet the President of Afghanistan.

Since the July terror attack, Afghanistan has seen 10 more attacks apparently targetted at minorities, including Shia Muslims, Hazaras, Sikhs and Hindus.

In August, UNITED SIKHS met the widows and families of the victims of the July attack who said –  “    Previoulsy whenever thwre was a terror attack we were shaken. This time we have been uprooted because they killed our leaders and husbands. We are Afghans but we are no longer safe to remain in our homeland.”

The renewed violence had escalated a climate of terror towards the non-Muslim minorities of Afghanistan.  They feel targeted and vulnerable as the men who were killed were community leaders who acted as vanguards.

The three main areas of concern for Afghan Sikhs and Hindus are:

(a)           safety and security,

(b)           religious freedom, and

(c)            education and livelihood.

Afghanistan, which has been described as a land of “rocks, sands, deserts, ice and snow”, once had hundreds of thousands of Sikhs and Hindus who lived as thriving businesspeople in every corner of Afghanistan and controlled most of the trade.  Sikhs lived there since the founder of the Sikh religion, Guru Nanak Sahib, visited Afghanistan, more than 500 years ago.

The Soviet intervention of 1979 and the Civil War of 1992 saw their mass exodus to neighbouring India, Iran and to a lesser extent, the West.  In 1992 there were about 60,000 Sikhs in Afghanistan. Today, no more than 2000 Sikhs and a few Hindus, constituting under 0.3% of the population, remain.

Those who remained in Afghanistan did so because they did not have the resources to leave and/or they felt duty-bound to stay and protect their rights in their homeland and their 65 historical Sikh Gurdwaras (place of worship) and 27 Hindu temples.

The recent terror attacks demonstrate a very recent and sudden escalation of violence and terror fuelled by a religious ideology against Muslim and non-Muslim minorities, including Sikhs and Hindus.

These attacks also raise a real fear that Afghan Sikhs and Hindus, if not protected, will be subjected to such a level of discrimination and ill-treatment such as to amount to a very real and immediate risk of persecution based on ethnic and religious identity.  By international standards, they are desperately in need of international protection.

Due to the poor prospect of local relocation and integration of Sikhs and Hindus in Afghanistan and the real prospect of their religious persecution if they remain, we respectfully submit that the international community has a legal and moral humanitarian obligation to assist in their evacuation and resettlement.

As Afghan Sikhs and Hindus will have to undertake perilous journeys to seek temporary asylum, we urge safe countries to directly expedite their admission by waiving refugee status recognition requirements for sponsored refugees.

We submit that the asylum policies on Sikhs and Hindus of Afghanistan  may need to be revised, following the recent escalation of terror, so that Afghan Sikh and Hindu asylum seekers qualify for asylum under the Refugee Convention.

We are making this statement in this august chamber because because even though the instability in Afghanistan has taken a disproportionately high toll on its religious minority communities, the issue does not appear in scholarship. The focus remains narrowly fixed on the strife between the Shia and Sunni sects of Islam and this perpetuates the assumption that Afghanistan is devoid of non-Muslims. The prevalence of State narratives and absence of first-person accounts from the Afghan Sikh and Hindu community has meant that the violation of religious freedom of non-Muslim religious minorities in Afghanistan has not been fully recognized and therefore remains incapable of being addressed, from within.

We can tell you what Sikhs and Hindus had to undergo under the militant regimes

in April 1992 when the Mujaheddin came to Afghanistan followed by the period when the Taliban took over the movement in 1996. The militant regimes

wanted to make Afghanistan an Islamic country by forcefully converting Sikhs/Hindus into the Islam faith. They began

to inflict religious persecution on the Afghan Sikhs and Hindus in numerous ways.

Every Friday, Sikhs were not allowed to open their shops. They were expected to join prayers in Mosques.

Those who resisted, were physically tortured and beaten up.

Young Sikhs were not allowed to go to school. Their long hair was pulled and they were humiliated.

Sikhs were not permitted to go to their religious places for daily prayers. Devoted Sikhs began to spend most of their times with their families in very limited area of the Sikh Gurdwara compound.

The young Sikh and Hindu girls were kidnapped and were forced to marry Muslims.

Sikhs were not allowed to cremate their dead ones openly. Sadly, they were forced to cremate within the Gurdwara compound.

The authorities wouldn’t entertain any complaints against Muslims. If found out, Sikhs were punished even more for complaining.

Even after the Taliban were pushed back by the NATO–ISAF troops, Sikhs and Hindus continue to receive adverse societal treatment and attitude.

4.5      Pritpal Singh, an Afghan Sikh living in the UK, in his documentary ‘Mission Afghanistan’, based on his travels and interviews with Sikhs and Hindus in Afghanistan in 2012,[2] describes life in Afghanistan as follows:

“There is fear and desperation in their empty eyes. They have no livelihood and no work; and their growing children receive no education. Their daughters do not have much hope of finding suitable matches; and they are not certain where the next meal would come from. Many women and children live in Gurdwaré, (Sikh place of worship) relying on the free kitchen. These are Sikh women with children, widows and families left behind in a war-riven Afghanistan. The situation of women is made worse because women are confined to walled enclosures and cannot go out to work. Even Gurdwaré of great historical significance are in a state of neglect and disrepair.”

One of the activists who was killed in the July suicide attack told a UK writer Inderjeet Singh  “There is only so much a community can tolerate. We can’t practice our faith openly, our children can’t go to school because of harassment; we can’t even cremate our dead without being stoned by the public.”

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