Press Release, 12 August 2009
Lahore: A fact-finding mission of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) to Swat has documented accounts of extrajudicial killings by the security forces, discovery of mass graves in the conflict-hit region, and the continued suffering of the civilian population.
A number of Swat residents have reported sighting mass graves in the area, including at least one in Kookarai village in Babozai tehsil of Swat district and another in an area between Dewlai and Shah Dheri in Kabal tehsil, the three-day mission’s report said on Tuesday. Witnesses who have seen mass burials said that at least in some cases the bodies appeared to be those of Taliban militants, it added.
The mission expressed HRCP’s grave concern over the “worrying development” and also over credible reports of numerous extrajudicial killings and reprisals carried out by security forces. The mission said: “It is vital for the success of the military operation against terrorists that the security forces’ actions are distinguishable from the atrocities committed by the Taliban. ‘Taliban justice’ has been rightly condemned for its brutal and arbitrary nature and was crucial in helping turn the public opinion against the extremists. Treatment of individuals by government must aspire to a higher standard.
Human rights violations by security forces can only be discouraged if the State puts in place a transparent mechanism to monitor violations both during and post-conflict and fulfills its obligation of providing justice through due process.”
The HRCP mission also noted serious difficulties faced by the local population and internally displaced persons (IDPs) returning to Swat. “The IDPs have returned to find a number of houses in the area damaged in the military operation. Shops in most areas are yet to reopen and the ones that are open have scare supplies. The local people demand that the government ensure the supply of essentials to the returning population, including subsidised edibles for the families that cannot afford to buy them on account of financial losses suffered during and prior to the military operation. Restoration of the devastated infrastructure and provision of safe drinking water must be given top priority to prevent the spread of disease.”
While a massive security operation in Swat seems to have dented the Taliban network in the area for now, but the threat of Taliban exists. Lack of safety and security remain for the people being sent back to the valley from IDP camps, the mission report added. That the law and order situation is still not completely under control is testified by the continued curfew in the area. Even military officials in the area acknowledge that parts of Swat are yet to be purged of the militants. The beheading of a police official in Sangota, Mingora, on July 28 triggered fear among local residents, who had returned to their homes after being assured that the militants have been flushed out of the area.
None of the national and provincial assembly members or district or tehsil nazims have so far returned to the conflict-hit area. Their absence itself is a reflection of the apprehension of lack of security in the region. The government should provide the elected representatives of the area appropriate security to encourage their return, which would also boost public morale. The mission urges a campaign to apprehend local-level Taliban operatives and other terrorists.
The returns from the IDP camps must be voluntary and the people should be given accurate assessment of the situation on ground to enable them to make an informed decision. HRCP emphasises that security of the displaced population must be the guiding principles in any decision on repatriation. “The shifting of IDPs from camps in NWFP cities to safe places in Swat, and not hurried repatriation or closure of camps for the IDPs, must be the main consideration for the government,” the mission said.
The government must not send the returning IDPs to areas yet to be cleared of Taliban presence and should instead move IDP camps to those areas of Swat that have been secured and are accessible to national and international humanitarian aid agencies. It will make the displaced population feel more at home in a climate they are accustomed to, the mission said.
It said the IDPs should be expeditiously compensated for the damage caused to their houses and other property during the military operation to allow them to rebuild their lives at the earliest.
The civil society must also come forward to assist the traumatised population of the conflict-hit region as well as demand provision of justice through due process and an end to human rights violations in security operations.