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Minority rights protection in South Asia curtailed by minimal engagement with human rights mechanisms, report finds

16 February 2023

Poor engagement by South Asian states with international human rights mechanisms is providing fertile ground for a wide range of rights violations against minorities and indigenous peoples, a new report by the South Asia Collective (SAC) finds.  

From extrajudicial killings to the arrests of activists, enablers of the situation include the states’ failure to sign or ratify essential international standards, and poor implementation of measures that are already in place. 

‘Failure to fully engage with UN human rights mechanisms illustrates these states’ deficient commitments to the rights of minorities and curbs the possibilities of accountability and redress,’ says Deepak Thapa, co-editor of the report and Director of Social Science Baha in Kathmandu, Nepal. ‘Regional human rights processes and mechanisms in South Asia would facilitate better human rights outcomes for the region’s minorities and indigenous peoples. It is vital that the UN and international community work alongside South Asian states towards their creation,’ he adds. 

The South Asia State of Minorities Report 2022 highlights how across the region – in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka – the conditions of minorities and indigenous peoples are highly precarious.  

In Afghanistan, the Taliban takeover in 2021 precipitated the dismantling of the nascent human rights regime in the country and a complete abrogation of all accountability mechanisms for ensuring human rights protection. Civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights violations against minorities are taking place amidst a humanitarian crisis that is leaving minority populations including Hazaras, Sikhs, Kyrgyz and Tajiks, unable to meet their basic needs.  

India has ratified only six out of nine major international human rights instruments and has not allowed any visit by UN mandate holders since 2017, all of which have serious implications for the worsening human rights situation in the country, especially for minorities. The situation is grave: extrajudicial killings, custodial torture, arbitrary detention, enforced disappearances and acute discrimination are occurring amid an atmosphere of anti-minority and Islamophobic rhetoric.  

Pakistan’s poor UN reporting record and disregard for its special procedures have created grounds for violent threats against human rights defenders and NGOs. Although it has ratified seven of the nine core international human rights treaties, religious minorities including Christians, Hindus, Shi’a Hazaras and Ismailis suffer acute discrimination and violence, chiefly: the blasphemy law that imposes the death penalty, and the forced conversion of minority girls through marriage. 

Although Bangladesh is party to eight international human rights treaties, it has yet to introduce a domestic legal regime that specifically caters to minorities, who increasingly report discrimination and exploitation due to their religious affiliations. Ongoing hostility toward minority religious groups has endangered smaller Muslim sects, including the Ahmaddiya community. 

In Nepal, minority communities including Madhesis, Dalits and Janajatis are promised affirmative action and state representation by law, but in practice, these promises go unfulfilled. Living standards for Dalits, other minorities and indigenous peoples remain low.  

Despite a relatively better track record on engagement with UN mechanisms by Sri Lanka, the state has operationalized discriminatory intent through legislation which purports to implement the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, while resulting in discriminatory outcomes for minority communities, particularly Muslims and Tamils.  

The report also offers recommendations to remedy the situation to national governments, civil society and minority community groups, as well as the international community. It calls on states to fill the gaps in the ratification and implementation of international human rights standards and strengthen domestic remedies against violations.  

Notes to editors

  • The report South Asia State of Minorities Report 2022 is accessible here.
  • The South Asia Collective (SAC) is a group of human rights activists and organizations formed in 2015 to document the condition of South Asia’s minorities – religious, linguistic, ethnic, caste and gender, among others. The SAC monitors the human rights situation for minorities in the region and advocates for change. It also provides small-scale support to grassroots minority groups to nurture their capacity for better frontline capacity. Previous SAC annual reports are available here
  • For more information or to arrange interviews, contact South Asia Collective.

Photo: Cover image of the South Asia State of Minorities Report 2022 – Weakening Human Rights Commitments and Its Impact on Minorities.