The 2016 Pax Christi International Peace Award has been given to two human rights groups in Pakistan to highlight the nonviolent struggle of the human rights community there. One of them is the Catholic bishops’ justice and peace commission.

The international Catholic peace movement headquartered in Brussels, Belgium said that they have made the award to the Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP) of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Pakistan (CBCP) along with the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP).

“In a country where arbitrary detention, torture, deaths occurring while in custody, forced disappearances, institutional injustices against religious minorities, and extrajudicial execution are frequently reported, Pax Christi International honors the clear and courageous stand taken by practitioners of justice and peace against persistent patterns of violence and human rights violations,” Pax Christi said in a statement.

The HRCP plays a lead role in providing a highly informed and objective voice in the struggle for the provision of human rights for all and democratic development in Pakistan. It monitors human rights violations and seeks redress through public campaigns, lobbying and intervention in the courts, while also organizing seminars, workshops and fact-finding missions.

The NCJP‎ provides services in the field of human rights with a special focus on issues of the religious minorities in Pakistan. Through its eight offices across the country, NCJP campaigns for an unbiased education system in order to counter religious intolerance in society.

In her letter to the two organizations announcing this year’s choice, Pax Christi general secretary Greet Vanaerschot told them: “Your tenacious work, performed in very difficult circumstances and at great personal risk, offers a sign of hope, courage and healing to those in your country who are facing tremendous suffering, violence and trauma in their daily lives.”

Receiving the award on behalf of the NCJP, its Executive Director, Cecil Shane Chaudhry said he was deeply honored and humbled to receive the Pax Christi Peace Award 2016 on behalf of  the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace (CCJP).

“To the students, community members, fellow human rights advocates and all those who have raised a voice, for those who are unable to speak up for themselves, questioning social injustices and defending the rights of the minority groups within Pakistan, this award is for them and I would like to thank them all for their support,” he said.

CCJP has been in the forefront of the struggle for the rights of the marginalized communities in Pakistan for the last 30 years. Whether campaigning against bonded labor, or advocating against the inclusion of a religion column in the Pakistani national identity card, or the 15 year long struggle for the Joint Electorate system in Pakistan, CCJP has been a key part of the struggles of religious minorities.

“As our country faces numerous issues in regards to peace and stability in the ongoing war on terrorism or religious intolerance that has isolated the religious minority community, we at CCJP continue to strive for a just and peaceful Pakistan, where all citizens, irrespective of their faith are accorded equal rights as per the guarantees of the Constitution of Pakistan,” Chaudhry said, adding: “We continue to advocate against the discriminatory laws and practices and hope that the rule of law and accountability along with positive legislations by the State will be able to curb such violations.”

Later Chaudry told Crux: “This the first time that it has been awarded to organizations from Pakistan,” adding that it was “recognition for all those who have raised a voice for those who are unable to speak up for themselves, questioning social injustices and defending the rights of minority groups in Pakistan.”

He added: “The significance of this award for us is that it gives us hope that the international community recognizes our efforts to promote peace in Pakistan and this gives us the encouragement to continue our struggle for a just and peaceful Pakistan.”

Established in 1988, the Pax Christi International Peace Award is funded by the Cardinal Bernardus Alfrink Peace Fund and honors contemporary individuals and organizations who make a stand for peace, justice and nonviolence in different parts of the world.