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

Another Baloch victim of extra-legal killing

Press Release, 1 September 2009

Lahore: Strongly condemning the brutal murder after abduction of another Balochistan leader, Rasool Bakhsh Baloch, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has reiterated its demand for earnest efforts to prevent killing of dissidents and to resolve the cases of missing persons. In a statement issued today the commission said:

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) condemns in the strongest possible terms the brutal murder of Mr Rasool Bakhsh Baloch, an important office-bearer of the Balochistan National Party and a well-known human rights defender and social activist from Khuzdar. He had been abducted by armed men on August 23 and on August 30 his son had accused “some intelligence agencies” of abducting him. He had also expressed the fear that Mr Rasool Bakhsh might be killed. A day later the abducted activist’s dead body, bearing marks of torture, was found hanging from a tree in Bela.

This incident needs to be seen in the context of the tension in Khuzdar caused by the disclosure of their abduction and torture by two Khuzdar activists, Qadir Qalandrani and Naeem Baloch, and the disappearance of several other Baloch activists.

HRCP reiterates its view that the killing of prominent political activists cannot be countenanced on any account. These incidents have been a major cause of the Balochistan people’s alienation from the state. The government must demonstrate its earnestness in preventing such target killings. At the same time the task of tracing the large number of people reported missing must be pursued with diligence. The cost of dilly-dallying in these matters will be too horribly high to be imagined.

Asma Jahangir, Chairperson

Factory owner was killed in police presence

Press Release, 7 August 2009

Lahore: The recent killing of a factory-owner in Sheikhupura at the hands of an angry mob took place in the presence of unarmed policemen, which reflects on poor professional capacity of the Punjab police in handling such sensitive and volatile situations, says the Human Rights Commission which conducted a fact-finding mission on the incident.

The HRCP team found out that on August 4 the police had arrived at the scene of the incident at Eastern Leather Factory Muridke when the factory-owner Mr Najib Zafar was in his office and he was wounded in a scuffle with some angry factory workers. Eye-witnesses told HRCP that the police hid Mr Najib in a store-room so as to keep him away from some violent workers.

The police men who arrived at the factory were un-armed and could not prevent the violent crowd of villagers outside the factory from entering the premises of the factory. When the provoked villagers and the factory workers teamed up to storm the store-room, the policemen looked the other way to save their own skin. The mob was free to beat the owner to death. A labourer, Muzammil, also lost his life due to a stray bullet.

HRCP found that a factory clerk, Qasim Ali, exaggerated the fall of a calendar inscribed with Quranic verses as a desecration of Quran to instigate fellow factory workers against the owner. Soon after this, extremist elements in Muridke area made provocative announcements of the alleged desecration of Quran from the mosques of nearby villages without confirming the facts and incited the common people to attack the factory owner and kill him.

HRCP observed that after the incident, a widespread fear exists among factory owners in the region that the spread of such baseless rumours by unhappy factory workers against an owner may result in a replay of similar incident.

The family of the victim, Najib Zafar, told the HRCP team that they wanted the repeal of the blasphemy law for it has been abused by the extremist people like the factory clerk, Qasim Ali, to achieve their own nefarious objectives and spread violence.

HRCP also demands of the Punjab government to hold special refresher courses for the police staff to handle such delicate situations and act professionally on such occasions.

HRCP was told that there are more than 500 workers in the factory but there exists no trade union. It believes had there been a trade union there, it would have worked to channelize and resolve the grievances of the workers and to prevent such a violent incident.

HRCP is of the view that the government must ensure the implementation of Amplifier Act so that the loud-speakers of mosques could not be used by extremist elements to spread hostility and violence as it happened recently in Gojra and now in Sheikhupura.

Asma Jahangir, Chairperson

ICJ: Fight against impunity must be continued on International Justice Day

COMMUNIQUE DE PRESSE – COMUNICADO DE PRENSA
For immediate release     17 July 2009
ICJ: Fight against impunity must be continued on International Justice Day

The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) welcomes International Justice Day 2009. “The fight against impunity and for international justice has made positive progress in the last decade, not least with the commencement of the first cases at the International Criminal Court. Nevertheless, international justice continues to encounter obstacles in its development. The ICJ, the legal community and all the human rights movement must continue their efforts to attain universal justice and an end to impunity”, the ICJ said.

The ICJ reiterates that all States have the right under international law to prosecute and try people responsible for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes, and other crimes under international law, such as torture, extrajudicial execution and enforced disappearances, regardless of the nationality of the victim or the alleged perpetrators or the territory where the crimes were committed. The ICJ also recalls that, in cases where the alleged offender is present in any territory under its jurisdiction, the State has the imperative international obligation to extradite or to bring the accused to its own national courts.

The ICJ is deeply concerned at the African Union’s decision inviting Member States not to enforce the Arrest Warrant delivered by the Pre-Trial Chamber of the International Criminal Court against Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir. “Such a decision encourages African States, which are Members of the United Nations and the International Criminal Court, to defy their obligations under the UN Charter and the Rome Statute”, said the ICJ, “The ICJ calls on the African Union and its Member States to retract this position and re-align themselves with their international law obligations.”

“The ICJ encourages States to enact laws allowing their national tribunals to prosecute, try and punish those responsible of crimes under international law in application of the principle of universal jurisdiction”, said the ICJ. The ICJ is concerned at the recent initiative of the Spanish Parliament to limit its universal jurisdiction.

The ICJ commends the ratification by 109 States of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. The ICJ invites all remaining States to ratify or accede to the Rome Statute. “The International Criminal Court is an instrument of paramount importance for international justice. The ICJ supports the Court’s work and welcomes the commencement of its first cases”, said the ICJ, “Universal ratification of the Rome Statute is fundamental in contributing to end impunity.”

For further information contact + 41 22 979 3800

HRCP urges end to endemic torture

Press Release, 25 June 2009

LAHORE: The use of torture by state agents continues to be endemic despite Islamabad’s signing of the Convention Against Torture and this situation must end, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has said.

In a statement issued on the eve of International Day in Support of Victims of Torture (June 26), HRCP said, “While signing the Convention Against Torture in April last year, Pakistan had expressed its commitment to ensure that torture would become a thing of the past. Yet torture remains endemic in Pakistan and has in fact increased as a result of the so-called war on terror, even though international human rights law explicitly states that neither higher orders nor exceptional circumstances can justify torture.

Also, in the absence of proper investigation techniques in the country, those tasked with investigation of crime rely almost exclusively on torture to extract confessions.

Pakistan must take meaningful steps to guarantee due respect for human person by outlawing torture. Those guilty of it must be prosecuted and punished. As first steps in this direction the Convention Against Torture should be ratified forthwith and domestic legislation necessary for its implementation must be undertaken on priority basis.”

I. A. Rehman

Secretary General