Protest against murder of rape victim Kainat Soomro’s brother

A report by HRCP field officer in Karachi

On 26th June, I received a phone call from Kainat Soomro, a gang-rape victim, who informed me that her 24-year-old brother, Sabir Soomro alias Naiz, who was kidnapped from their village on March 28, 2010, had been murdered and the family was bringing the body to the Karachi Press Club (KPC) to stage a protest against the murder.

According to the family, Sabir was picked up by police in Dadu in March on the pretext that he was a suspect in a robbery case. Four men have been charged with abducting Kainat Soomro in January 2007 in her native village in Dadu district and subjecting her to gang-rape.

On June 27, the family of Kainat Soomro reached the KPC along with the body of Sabir, and after a brief press conference, the family decided to stage a sit-in outside the Governor’s House. Police prevented the bereaved family from carrying the body to the Governor’s House and manhandled the family, forcing them to leave the area.

The HRCP team had already informed the print and electronic media which was present at the KPC to cover the protest. Advocate Faisal Siddiqui and Javed Burqi who were representing Kainat, a victim of gang rape, in the rape case. Mr. Burqi contacted Niaz Malik, secretary to the Sindh Chief Minister who sent District Police Officer (South) to take the body for post-mortem. The medico-legal officer (MLO) at the Jinnah Hospital enquired from Nal Police Station in Khuzdar Balochistan from where the dead body was recovered and stated that the death was caused by a gunshot wound and as such no post-mortem was required. The MLO refused to carry out post-mortem. The deceased’s father, Nabi Soomro, requested the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) that the family needs protection as well as money for the burial of the deceased at their ancestral village, Mehar, in Dadu district. An HRCP team comprising Hasan Athaer and I started making arrangements to carry the dead body and around two dozen family members to the family’s ancestral village. The HRCP team also made arranged food for the family.

Meanwhile I conveyed these details to the HRCP Vice-Chairperson (Sindh), who contacted the Capital City Police Officer (CCPO) and the Chief Minister about this tragic incident and the situation at the KPC. Consequently, CCPO Waseem Ahmed reached the site, and assured the family of adequate security. He also ordered an inquiry into Sabir’s disappearance from his native village. The CCPO arranged protection for Kainat Soomro’s family and also provided transport to carry the body with their family to Mehar for funeral proceedings.

Later on, the family informed me that they had safely reached their village and a police contingent had been deputed for their protection. The Deputy Inspector General (DIG) of police also assured them to take the necessary steps in Sabir’s murder case. The FIR against the kidnappers was registered in Mehar Police Station on 30th June 2010.

The HRCP Karachi office had written to the Sindh Inspector General and the DIG about the kidnapping of Sabir from his village on March 28, 2010, asking them to recover Sabir safely and ensure that the kidnappers are brought to justice.

Abdul Hai

HRCP Karachi

A tearful Kainat Soomro holds a picture of her brother during a protest on June 27, 2010. Courtesy PPI
http://news.dawn.com/wps/wcm/connect/dawn-content-library/dawn/the-newspaper/front-page/19-rape-victim-leads-protest-against-brothers-murder-860-hh-08

 

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HRCP calls for immediate demilitarisation of Balochistan

Press Release, 11 October 2009

Quetta: The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) calls for immediate demilitarisation of Balochistan as the first confidence-building measure to start a political dialogue in the province and warns if corrective actions are not taken immediately with the concurrence of Balochistan’s people, the country may dearly regret the consequences.

The full statement reads as follows:

After a week-long visit of Balochistan, Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) is of the firm view that the largest federating unit of the state can only be likened to an active volcano that may erupt anytime with dire consequences. The situation is alarming and worsening by the day.

It is apparent from the information received by the HRCP, from various sources, government and non-government, political parties and individuals that the decision-making is firmly in the hands of elements that were in command before February 2008. It is the military that still calls the shots. The provincial government is isolated and made dysfunctional in critical areas. An over-sized cabinet, absence of an opposition and wide-spread corruption have all contributed to a political vacuum. There are deep concerns of governance in the entire country but in Balochistan the crisis is deeper.

In this crisis, a large section of the people of Balochistan has been driven to the conclusion that they are being viewed as enemies of the state. They feel abandoned by the people as well as political forces in the rest of the country. There is a sense of isolation, rejection and dejection.

The incidents of human rights’ violations in Balochistan are wide-spread and harrowing. Regrettably, the state has not addressed these complaints and the media, either under pressure or on account of its own failings, has been unable to probe and report the dreadful reality on the ground. The most hair-raising are the continuing incidents of enforced disappearances. In addition to a large number of cases already taken up by HRCP, the Commission has been able to document 30 new cases during its present mission to Balochistan. This appears to be only the tip of the iceberg as a large number of families do not have access to any forum of protest or redress. Moreover, the Commission is bound by its method of work to verify each and every case brought before it in accordance with accepted international standards of reporting.

HRCP has ample evidence to support the allegations of victims’ families that the perpetrators of enforced disappearances are intelligence agencies and security forces. This has been conceded by high officials and politicians in authority. The mission learnt in number of incidents, even public figures in power were unable to secure relief or assurances that such incidents will stop. These public figures cited a number of incidents of disappearances in which, on the basis of credible evidence, they approached the intelligence agencies and the security forces only to be met by a bland denial. This amounts to rubbing of salt into the raw wounds of the victims.

The existence of check posts causing inconvenience and humiliation was reported by people from all over Balochistan. Incidents were reported where the FC personnel manning these checkpoints insulted the people by shaving their moustache, tearing the Baloch shlawar and making other gestures derogatory to their culture and bearing.

The mission also received information about arbitrary arrests and reports of endemic torture at unauthorised cells whose existence was confirmed by knowledgeable people.

A history of neglect and betrayal over the decades coupled with systematic human rights abuses carried out with impunity has made a vast number of Baloch people desperate. No wonder, in this situation the Baloch youth has been driven into repudiating their allegiance to the state. Indeed, the voice of the youth is so strident that even those who disagree with them do not dare to express their views. The refusal of the Baloch youth to fly the Pakistani flag or play the national anthem in many areas and the insistence of the authorities to the contrary is only aggravating the situation. When the people’s will is being broken, their voice ruthlessly stifled and their bodies charred in torture cells; where mothers die every second waiting to hear from their disappeared child – the state cannot expect any other reaction but one of rebellion. In such circumstances the youth particularly is vulnerable to manipulation. It is imperative for all national leaders act with responsibility and to exercise a positive influence so that facts are not distorted.

HRCP abhors violence both as a means and as an end, perpetrated by any party. It regrets that target killings have also been attributed to militants and nationalist forces. An important number of people have fallen victims to target killings simply because of their ethnic origin or belief. HRCP unreservedly condemns such abuse of right to life and expects all political forces to do the same publicly. The sins of the federal government must not be visited on unarmed and innocent citizens.

The government’s obligation to investigate and punish the culprits is manifest and any failure in this regard fuels discontent and mistrust. In this climate of fear, a large number of government employees, academics, skilled people and members of intelligentsia have migrated from Balochistan to other areas. Many more are following. This has seriously affected the quality of services available to citizens, especially in education and health sectors. It is also causing serious imbalances in the community’s social structure.

An additional factor of insecurity and tension is the uninterrupted sequence of sectarian killings for the last six years. The representatives of Hazara community have claimed that 270 of their members have been killed since 2004. They have accused the security agencies of colluding with the criminal elements. As an example, they have presented the case of two notorious criminals who were arrested and kept in the anti-terrorist lock-up from where they mysteriously fled. The government had set up tribunals – one in 2004 and one in 2008 – to investigate two separate incidents of sectarian killings but the findings of these tribunals have yet not been made public.

The representatives of Pakhhtoon community list a long series of grievances relating to denial of rights, discrimination in the allocation of resources and non-acceptance of their demand to be an equal unit of the federation.

A large number of people expressed concern over the influx of so-called Taliban and other categories of militants in Pakhtoon-dominated areas. There are serious allegations that these elements are operating within Pakistan and across the border with impunity. This is particularly worrying for the Pakhtoon community itself.

Recommendations

HRCP is convinced that ill-imagined, ill-informed and belated measures by the federal government will not improve the situation in Balochistan. The patronising manner in which “Balochistan package” is being promoted will only add insult to injury. There is an urgency to create a climate of confidence and trust where wider consultation with all stake-holders is made possible. As a first step, demilitarisation of Balochistan is essential. All those held under illegal custody be freed and compensated. Political prisoners be released and perpetrators of human rights violations be brought to justice. In the long run, all political forces of the province should be brought in the mainstream. The people of Balochistan be assured that they will have full authority to decide their affairs including the management and control of their resources.

HRCP warns that if corrective actions are not taken immediately with the concurrence of Balochistan’s people and to their satisfaction, the country may dearly regret the consequences.

Asma Jahangir

Chairperson

HRCP wants proactive govt measures to curb violence against minorities

Press Release, 14 September 2009

Lahore, September 14: The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan on Monday expressed concern over increasing frequency of violent attacks on religious minorities and demanded that the government take proactive measures to prevent such violence.

Reacting to the recent torching of a church in Sambarial, Sialkot district, HRCP said in a press statement: “The Commission has been warning the government of the growing intolerance of religious minorities’ rights and pointing towards the increasing frequency of vigilante actions against them. It has repeatedly expressed concern at attacks on non-Muslims over allegations of blasphemy and desecration of religious scriptures. It is unfortunate that our fears of recurrence of such violence again proved to be true in Sambarial last week.

The government response in the face of a recent spurt in incidents of violence against minorities – mainly belated announcements of financial compensation and some attempts at encouraging reconciliation at the local level – has clearly been insufficient and exclusively reactive.

The Commission would emphasise that another attack targeting the minorities is a question of when, not if, unless the government acknowledges in a meaningful manner the threat extremism and intolerance pose to society, understand the dynamics fuelling the phenomenon and take urgent and effective remedial measures.

The allegations of blasphemy or defiling of religious scriptures, irrespective of their veracity, do not warrant vigilante attacks. Nor do they absolve the government of its primary duty to protect all citizens. Effective prosecution would serve as a deterrent to future attacks, while a lack thereof would encourage impunity.”

I. A. Rehman, Secretary-General

Update from Wilder Tayler on the situation of Commissioner Muhannad Al-Hasani

Dear ICJ Commissioners and Honorary Members,

I am writing to follow-up on my letter of 21 August 2009 concerning the arrest and detention of our Syrian ioner Muhannad Al-Hasani. As he awaits likely prosecution before the State Security Court, Muhannad Al-Hasani is now facing a disciplinary “trial” before the Syrian Bar Association on the same charges pending against him before the State Security Court.  The Syrian Bar Association is not independent and is under the control of the Baa’ts ruling party.  Under the 1981 Syrian Bar association law, Al-Hasani might be suspended from practicing law for an unlimited or indefinite period.  The Bar Association allowed him to be represented by a lawyer during this proceeding, and according to information provided by his lawyer, Al-Hasani is remains at risk of ill-treatment in Adra prison, Damascus.

I had a meeting with the Syrian ambassador last Friday. It was an opportunity for me to express the ICJ¹s deep concern about the arrest of Al-Hasani and to impress upon the the Syrian Government that his arrest constitutes a serious attack against the Syrian legal profession and the Rule of Law in Syria.

However, I am concerned that it is quite possible that the Syrian authorities will go ahead with the trial of Al-Hasani before the State Security Court. If this were to occur, we will monitor the trial. Meanwhile, we are seeking to send an urgent mission to Syria in solidarity with Al-Hasani and to see if we can make progress with the relevant officials in Damascus.

The Mission will try to meet with representatives of the Syrian Government, the Bar Association and the State Security Court, and will seek Al-Hasani¹s release and the dropping of the charges, and the restoration of his capacity to practice his profession, including as a human rights defender.  The Mission will also try to have access to Al-Hasani in Adra prison.

I will let you know as soon as there is any further development with this situation. Many thanks to those of you who have already taken actions in defense of, and solidarity with, our colleague Muhannad Al-Hasani.

Best regards,

Wilder Tayler

Acting Secretary General

International Commission of Jurists

HRCP slates bid to gag Balochistan newspapers

Press Release, 28 August 2009

Lahore: The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) on Friday called upon the government to respect press freedom in Balochistan and end the practice of laying virtual siege of independent newspapers’ offices in the province.

A statement issued by HRCP said: “The Commission is alarmed at reports of Frontier Constabulary (FC) personnel laying siege of Quetta offices of at least two newspapers. On August 18, Urdu daily Asaap announced suspension of its publication after the security forces cordoned its Quetta office for two weeks and all visitors and employees were frisked, questioned and humiliated.

FC personnel have now been deployed outside the offices of Urdu daily Aazdi and nobody is allowed in without submitting to a search and questioning.

Journalists and the media in Balochistan face numerous security threats and this makes their work even harder.

Even prior to the security forces’ clampdown, these newspapers were being victimised and Asaap – one of the widely-circulated Urdu newspaper in Balochistan – had been denied government advertisements for a number of years.

To say that the government agents’ actions are illegal and in clear violation of domestic and international guarantees for freedom of expression is to state the obvious, but HRCP must remind the government that curbing freedom of the media, stifling newspapers or denying them advertisements will only add to the problems it faces in Balochistan.”

Asma Jahangir
Chairperson

HRCP demands independent inquiry into extrajudicial killing in Swat

Press Release, 17 August 2009

Lahore: The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has rebutted the denial of extra-judicial killings by security agencies in Swat operation by ISPR’s Swat Media Centre and has demanded of the government to hold a transparent and impartial inquiry into this issue by a multi-party parliamentary committee in collaboration with the representatives of the civil society.

In response to ISPR’s statement published in a section of the press on August 16, a statement issued by the HRCP said on Monday: “The Commission reiterates that it has come across credible accounts of extrajudicial killings and complaints of reprisal attacks by the security forces during the operation in Swat.

Some of the better known instances include the death of militant leader Maulvi Misbahuddin –credible evidence shows he had been apprehended by the security forces and later the bodies of Misbahuddin and his son were found in Bacha Bazar. The government claims that they were killed in an encounter while eyewitnesses hold that they were arrested by the police in Mardan. Amir Izzat, spokesperson for the Swat militants, was arrested from Amandara. Two days later the authorities claimed that Izzat was killed allegedly by militants trying to rescue him when they attacked the vehicle taking him to jail. Independent journalists claim that the targeted vehicle shown to them did not even have an engine. The most harrowing reports were of dead bodies strewn upside down by the military with notes attached to the bodies warning that anyone supporting the Taliban will meet the same fate.

In its statement the ISPR has conceded the presence of mass graves in the conflict-hit area. However, HRCP believes that this is not enough and the government must conduct a transparent inquiry into this issue to ascertain the circumstances under which the bodies were buried. The military cannot simply explain the existence of these mass graves by alleging that the bodies were of militants buried by other militants. HRCP has knowledge of other versions to the contrary. HRCP suggests that a multi-party parliamentary committee should be formed to conduct an inquiry into this issue as well as into the reports of extrajudicial killings to which HRCP will extend its cooperation.

HRCP also demanded of the government to clarify whether the government considers it as an internal law and order situation on which human rights are applied or does it treat it as an armed conflict that comes under humanitarian law.

HRCP will be happy if an impartial inquiry proves that extrajudicial killings did not take place in Swat but this sensitive matter cannot be disposed of through off-the-cuff statements by intelligence agency’s denial-writers.

Asma Jahangir
Chairperson