Impunity Reigns in Restive Pakistani Province, Report Says

  • by Denis Foynes (united nations)
  • Thursday, July 28, 2011
  • Inter Press Service

'They beat me all over my body. They hit me for around one to two hours continuously in the morning, then again in the evening,' Rahmi, not his real name, told Human Rights Watch after his release by Pakistani authorities.

A report released Thursday by HRW details a litany of abuses against suspected militants and activists by the Pakistani military in the southwestern province of Balochistan. It is based on interviews with over 100 family members of the disappeared, human rights activists, lawyers and witnesses.

Without exception, in the cases HRW investigated, released detainees and relatives that were willing to talk told of torture and ill-treatment of detainees.

Methods of torture included beatings, often with sticks or leather belts, hanging detainees upside down, and prolonged food and sleep deprivation.

The report, ''We Can Torture, Kill, or Keep You for Years', says that the security forces involved often never explained themselves or gave any reasons for making the arrests.

The main targets were Baloch nationalists suspected of engaging in activism or being militants. The nationalist insurgency and resulting human rights abuses in the province, the country's largest in geographic size, have been largely overshadowed by Pakistan's other difficulties.

Human Rights Watch has reported on the killings of at least 150 people across Balochistan, most likely accused of being insurgents, this year alone in acts commonly referred to as 'kill and dump' crimes for which Pakistani security forces may be guilty.

Since 2005, Pakistani and international rights groups have recorded numerous incidents of serious human rights offences including torture, excessive use of force against protestors, forced displacement, enforced disappearances and unlawful executions.

The problem is not new. Hillel Neuer, executive director of U.N. Watch, stated in 2008 that 'Pakistan's failure to respect human rights at home is matched by its voting record at the U.N. in opposition to mechanisms that protect individual rights.

'It was Pakistan that led the recent move to gut the freedom of expression mandate of its original meaning, turning it into a weapon for states against individuals who 'abuse' their liberties.'

The resource-rich region's tensions with Islamabad are rooted mainly in the central government's control of the mineral resources and in turn, a sense of deprivation among the people.

Brad Adams, HRW's Asia director, explained to IPS, 'The state has delivered so little to the region. Many people have moved into the region from other parts of Pakistan and made money out of their resources. The discrimination means that the money doesn't end up in the natives' pockets.'

This tension resulted in two assassination attempts against then president Pervez Musharraf in 2005 and 2006 during visits to the region.

The government response was a major crackdown on Baloch nationalists by the Pakistani military.

Many experts and locals believe the 2006 assassination of the key Baloch tribal leader Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti and 35 of his close followers, and the murders of three well-known Baloch politicians in April 2009, were carried out or at the very least linked to the Pakistani military.

Asked why the government hasn't reacted to these abuses, Adams said, 'The Pakistani government is afraid of the power of their own military.'

'I believe the government came in with the objective of helping the region but they have so little control over their military and the insurgency has made it near impossible to convince their military to try to take a different path.'

Asked by IPS what steps he would like to see taken, Brad Adams responded by stating, 'Obviously, it would be great to see the ending of these practices and getting rid of these policies of the Pakistan government because the military are not acting completely on their own accord.'

'Answers for the victims' families is also important. Nothing is worse than not knowing if your loved ones are dead or alive. As I am sure you have seen, many people find themselves to be slightly relieved even if they receive worst news possible, as long as they have closure,' he added.

'Also I would like to see those responsible held accountable, but no one is often liable in Pakistan.'

© Inter Press Service (2011) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service

Where next?