AHORE - The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) on Sunday launched the report of a fact-finding mission to Balochistan which says the law and order in Balochistan remains dismal but there is a glimmer of hope in the installation of new government.
Citizens were living in perpetual fear; they have little security of life and indignity at the hands of the security forces was routine, according to the report titled “Balochistan: Giving the people a chance”. It said, kidnapping for ransom remained unchecked and the citizens felt resigned to pay money for recovery of abducted relatives. The abductors were almost never traced.
Religious minorities were particularly vulnerable. Sectarian militant groups operated with impunity and consider reprisals against the state their right if action was taken against them by the law enforcement for carrying out terrorist activities. Civil society organisations had abandoned their work in the conflict-hit parts of the province. Women were particularly fearful and live in perpetual intimidation by extremist forces.
The mission held meetings with representatives of the new political administration and a cross-section of society amid high hopes that the government would have the authority, commitment, representative character and sincerity of purpose to deal with the problems that the province had long suffered from. Apart from assessing the overall human rights situation in the province, the mission examined the terrorist attack on students of a women’s university in Quetta, the subsequent attack at a hospital where the casualties were taken and the bombing at Quaid-e-Azam Residency in Ziarat.
On the occasion of the report launch, the HRCP Executive Council expressed concerns over reports of poor relief in Awaran and lack of access and demanded that the situation must be remedied without delay. The report found that there was near unanimity among all interlocutors that HRCP met that formation of the new government was a sign of hope that the province’s problems would be addressed. The government formation was considered to be a positive step which could lead to an opportunity for ending grave human rights violations in the province.
All groups and individuals as well as political elements that the HRCP mission met welcomed the installation of the new democratic government and were keen that this opportunity should not be lost and the new government should be strengthened so that it could face the multiple challenges in Balochistan. However, the same interlocutors warned that they did not see many signs of a change in policy within the security and intelligence agencies as they are continuing with their ‘kill-and-dump’ policy.
The mission received conflicting reports that the pattern of terrorist attacks in the recent past indicated some operational coordination between sectarian militant groups and Baloch insurgents. HRCP was not in a position to verify the claim but demanded that such allegations must be taken seriously, investigated fully and if any evidence of such collaboration was found that must be made public.
The HRCP called upon the security forces and intelligence agencies to operate within the ambit of the constitution and the law. There are credible reports of continued serious human rights violations, including enforced disappearance of people, arbitrary arrests, torture and extrajudicial killings. The security forces and the intelligence agencies persisting with their illegal actions would hurt the democratic process and further alienate the people.
HRCP demanded that the administrative heads of the FC and the intelligence agencies should give a stern warning to their forces to desist from violating human rights and that if any breach occurred, the perpetrators must be brought to justice. The report said that HRCP was of considered opinion that one of the biggest hurdles in normalisation of the situation in Balochistan is the abhorrent practice of enforced disappearance and dumping of bodies of victims of disappearance. HRCP called upon the authorities to immediately ensure that all victims of disappearance are accounted for without delay.
The commission urged that all the recommendations made by the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances that had visited Pakistan in September 2012 must be implemented. Standard operating procedures (SOPs) should be developed and publicised on rules of engagement of the security forces and the intelligence agencies operating in the province. The chief minister should have the power to write the annual confidential report (ACR) regarding the performance of the Frontier Corps (FC) chief in Balochistan, and indeed of heads of all security agencies tasked with ensuring preservation of law and order in the province.
Key development projects in Balochistan, including the completion of main highways that has been in the pipeline for years, must be taken up without any further delay and completed at the earliest. The report said HRCP was convinced that the people of Balochistan fully support the restoration of peace and political stability in the province. Baloch insurgents must respect the wishes of the people and cease their attacks on innocent civilians. While HRCP is fully aware of the risks to Baloch nationalists by state actors, it nevertheless expects them to denounce violence.
There is an opportunity for Baloch insurgents to embrace the new realities that are being presented through the democratic process. A weakening of this process will only strengthen the hands of undemocratic forces. As such, it could lead to an escalation of violence towards political activists in Balochistan. HRCP believes that this opportunity should be seized for a positive step forward and urges the Baloch insurgents to cease all violence for at least a brief time to give peace a chance.
This would give the newly elected government an opportunity to confront the actors within the state who commit human rights violations on the pretext of furthering national security. During this period, the government could put up a monitoring mechanism so that human rights violations by state agents are detected, investigated and the perpetrators punished. This could lead to reciprocity for peace, rather than reprisal where eventually ordinary people have to pay the price with their lives, liberty and their right to peaceful existence.