Following Ms. Asma Jahangir’s trip to India on a UN fact-finding mission, in the capacity of a ‘United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief’, several misrepresented facts, misquoted information and allegations cropped up – we are publishing a letter Ms. Jahangir wrote to the Dawn newspaper in response to the criticism.
Too limited a mandate: Asma’s version
I was disappointed to read your editorial, ‘Too limited a mandate’ (March 12 ), but I am tempted to respond as your paper has great respect and carries independent views. Your criticism refers to the narrow mandate, my meetings and a misquoted comment.The mandate that I have been entrusted by the United Nations is limited to the issue of freedom of religion or belief. These are UN mandates that have been in existence for many years and their terms of reference are given by the international community.UN Special Rapporteurs are required to remain within their mandates during official country visits; it is not appropriate for them to take any pleas, including from the media, to go beyond their terms of reference or to pursue other concerns that they may otherwise espouse.UN Special Rapporteurs are also required to engage with all sides, including government officials, victims, perpetrators, NGOs and other members of civil society that have any relevance to their mandate.It would be absurd for any UN Special Rapporteur to refuse meeting people on the grounds of criticism from fellow citizens or for that matter to expand their mandate because of their national or religious background.
We work in a truly professional way and must remain independent in our reporting. It is, therefore, crucial that while on mission we stay within our mandate and at the same time try to meet all players.
In this regard, as my report will reveal, I am meeting a wide spectrum of interlocutors and indeed a large number of NGOs in Gujarat which were fully aware of my official meetings, including with the chief minister there. It is ironical that the victims who met me in Gujarat were able to comprehend the nature of my visit while zealous Pakistanis seem to be unable to do the same.
Surely, the liberal and rightist in Pakistan cannot assume to themselves the role of guardians of all Muslims in the world and dictate to UN Special Rapporteurs who they should meet and how they should interpret their mandate. As a journalist, you will appreciate that a well-written report requires discussions with all sides in order to get the full picture. This is precisely what is also required of UN Special Rapporteurs.
Your claim that I had made comments on poll participation in Kashmir is misinformed. Throughout my visit I have made no comment on the general human rights situation in India except on my mandate. There was immense interest about the recent developments in Pakistan and in this regard there was great demand from the media for interviews and comments.
I turned down all requests for individual interviews on Pakistan and repeatedly excused myself from giving any comprehensive statements on these issues. Even on the insistence of the press I tried to be very succinct in my responses without having to snub them.
I did not make the comments on poll participation in Kashmir as reported by some sections of the press. On the contrary, when asked whether Kashmiris should take part in the next elections as Pakistanis recently did, I simply responded that it was everybody’s own decision and that it was a right of the people to decide whether to vote or not to vote. I repeated this position publicly on several occasions while I was still in Kashmir.
I hope that public opinion in Pakistan would allow an individual to perform his or her role in the international community in an impartial manner. Furthermore, the independence of the United Nations mandate holders is vital to the functioning of the whole system of Special Rapporteurs.
I have followed the recent press reports about my visit, including the ones appearing in Pakistan. I do not wish to offend anybody who has criticised me. At the same time I will in no way be pressured and I will continue to carry out my obligations in an independent and impartial manner.
United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief