Statement of Samuel Rizk, Resident Representative, UNDP Pakistan on International Human Rights Day 2023 in Faisalabad

December 18, 2023
Photo: Shuja Hakim/UNDP Pakistan

Your Eminence Bishop Dr Indryas Rehmat, Diocese of Faisalabad, Roman Catholic Church, Dr. Muhammad Shoaib Akbar, Secretary, Human Rights and Minority Affairs Department (HRMA) Punjab, Mr. Manzoor Masih, Member Minorities, National Commission for Human Rights (NCHR), Mr. Mohammad Pervaiz, Mr. Sajjad Christopher, Jaranwala community representatives, Ladies and Gentlemen, friends and colleagues

I’m honoured to be here in Faisalabad for the first time, with the government and civil society, and with the interfaith leadership and community to mark International Human Rights Day 2023. But as you’ve sensed already by just a scan of national or international news, 2023 appears to be an especially difficult year to celebrate human rights day, but then again, which year is not difficult. Whether it is a violation against an individual or community, or a mass atrocity in a war, the current state of the global human rights agenda should leave us all gravely concerned, but always vigilant. 

If anything, it is precisely in these challenging times that our collective effort must refocus on reimagining – and ultimately realizing – a future where dignity, security, justice, and human rights are not just ideals, but realities for everyone

This International Human Rights Day, as we commemorate 75 years since the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) in 1948, to which Pakistan is a party, it is our collective responsibility to recall that human security is a prerequisite for sustainable development and peace. Truly being free from want, free from fear, and free from indignity – is what it will feel like to live a peaceful, prosperous, equitable, resilient life.

Building on the opening words of the UN Charter ‘…to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person…to practice tolerance and live in peace with one another as good neighbours…,’ the Universal Declaration establishes the foundation of rights and freedoms for subsequent generations. 

“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights,” the declaration states. It is therefore not surprising that the universality and indivisibility of rights are basically mirrored in the universality and indivisibility of the Sustainable Development Goals. And for development practitioners and human rights champions, many of whom are present today, this is not a chicken or egg situation. Realizing the SDGs cannot be attained without first accepting the fundamental right of all individuals and communities to be free from want, free from fear, and free from indignity.

But none of this language, these principles, should be new to you, to us, particularly to communities who recognize these universal principles as an integral part of their life, their culture, their faith. This is why today’s meeting in Faisalabad, its timing and location, is most significant. They are just as important in Jaranwala as they are in Gaza and Ukraine.

When I was a PhD student, researching interfaith relations, one idea still remains in my mind which I’d like to share with you today: how religion has been used a source of conflict and at the same time as a resource for peace. How religion/faith can inspire fear and hatred and exclusion, while at the same time inspiring love, friendship, fraternity, inclusion and collaboration.


Many examples from the very lives of the prophets, the stories and examples they shared, and of holy Scripture in the Quran and the Bible inspire us to not only understand the sources of interfaith harmony historically, but also now.


The significance that the Prophet Muhammad attached to diversity, good neighbourliness as a prerequisite to a coherent and caring society, can be found in a well-known Hadith. The Prophet tells us that Gabriel urges him repeatedly to be kind to his neighbours to the point where he thought that the next step would be that neighbours were entitled to a share of the inheritance as if they are relatives own relatives! Also recalling the Hadith Qudsi: if you have killed one person, you have killed all, and if you have given one life, you have revived all – is this not a clear invocation of a principle that transcends obligations to family and kin but rather to a universal principle?


Similarly, in Christian tradition, in the Gospel of Matthew you find one of the most profound teachings of Jesus: whatever you have done to the least of my brothers and sisters, you have done to me. And in the Gospel of Luke, the parable of the good Samaritan and the famous, tricky question by a lawyer: who is my neighbour? Is it the one from my religion, my village, my family, or the one who is most kind to me, most dependable and trustworthy? Today’s question for us all of human is of course, who is my neighbour? Looking at the participants in this interfaith event, the answer seems clear. 


Today’s event, convened around International Human Rights Day, is a reminder that at the core of all the faith systems and traditions is the recognition that we are all in this life together, and if this is the case, then finding a way to respect and support one another in the face of common challenges – poverty, climate change, pandemics, is how we get ahead. This is how we realize the promise of ‘life in abundance’ as also indicated in the Bible.

But the future will not be easier. Divisiveness, hate speech and intolerance, exclusion are all on the rise. The world, starting with local communities, needs the interfaith community to help heal divisions, and to do so in a preventive way by doubling our efforts to preserve social cohesion, to build social capital between and among people of faith and beyond, and to do so in a way where these networks of people and communities and groups are the guarantee of preserving civil peace at times of tension. These networks, relationships, partnerships could flex, but should never break.

No community has to do this alone, and we must rely on institutions to hold up their end of the bargain. The Constitution of Pakistan addresses this by enshrining protection of its rich and proud multi-faith and ethnic diversity is clearly reflected in Articles 37 and 38. These Articles guarantee that the state shall promote and protect the rights of minorities, including their culture, language and religion, as well as provide special safeguards to minorities and take measures to protect their legitimate interests. Article 18 of the UDHR calls for freedom of religion or belief - asserting that believers of all religions and secular beliefs should be able to live peacefully with their rights guaranteed by the State.

So, while Pakistan’s ratification of international human rights treaties reflects its commitment, these legally binding treaties place a critical responsibility on the State and its institutions (police, justice, social services and more) to ensure that the rights enshrined in these treaties are respected, not violated. And, where violations do take place, adequate mechanisms for redress of these violations are accessible, timely and effective. 

In July this year, the High Commissioner for Human Rights held an urgent debate at the Human Rights Council on Hate Speech and inflammatory acts against minority religions, referring to them, as “Offensive, Irresponsible and Wrong.” The debate focusing on the alarming rise in premeditated and public acts of religious hatred as manifested by desecration of religious symbols and spaces. 

The culture that is required, but remains elusive, is a culture of peace, which means:

Respect for life, ending of violence and promoting and practicing non-violence through education, dialogue, and cooperation; and

Adherence to the principles of freedom, justice, democracy, tolerance, solidarity, cooperation, pluralism, dialogue and understanding at all levels of society and among nations; and supported by an enabling national and international environment conducive to peace.

We are here with you today and will continue to be. Together, we can and should build a strong and enduring alliance against the challenges posed by threats of religious polarisation, hate, xenophobia, racism and exclusion. 

Pakistan is close to its next General Elections. Where is there apprehension for the future, especially among vulnerable/marginalised communities, candidates, political parties and shapers of public opinion have a special responsibility to promote inter-faith trust, understanding and mutual respect among cultures, religious traditions and beliefs.

I am delighted to see and congratulate St Paul Girls High School for their thought-provoking contribution to today’s event. It is clear that education, in particular at the school level, should contribute in a meaningful way to promoting tolerance, eliminating discrimination based on religion or belief, and ensuring equality in citizenship under one flag.

As UNDP, we reaffirm our commitment to work with our government partners, human rights institutions, development partners – and most crucially with the civil society, interfaith leadership, and communities themselves - to promote interfaith harmony as a key to implement the Sustainable Development Agenda, with its core message of ‘Leave No One Behind.’

I close with a theme inspired by the December 8, 2023 national celebration of Human Rights Day with his Excellency President Arif Alvi, Human Rights Minister Khalil George, and Ms Rabia Javeri Chair of the National Human Rights Commission, who spoke about love. Also borrowing from Christian tradition – 1st Corinthians, “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking. It is not easily angered, it keeps no records of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices in truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always preserves. Love never fails.”

I thank you all for your inspired and inspiring words of solidarity, your presence here today and hope that this event will lead to building of an inclusive, enduring and mutually empowering alliance of peace builders, healers and human rights champions – working together towards constructing a more loving, kinder, more equitable and more prosperous Pakistan for its future generations.