Amnesty report exposes hands of cruelty in Fata
By: Murtaza Ali Shah
LONDON: Amnesty International has alleged in a new report that millions of people in Pakistan’s northwestern tribal areas are locked in perpetual lawlessness where human rights abuses are allegedly being committed by the Taliban as well as the armed forces.
The News has seen exclusively the new report titled: “The Hands of Cruelty – Abuses by Armed Forces and Taliban in Pakistan’s Tribal Areas” in which the rights group alleges that rights abuses are taking places beyond the reach of justice and how the region’s “legal wilderness” is fuelling a human rights crisis. The report is based on interviews with scores of victims of human rights abuses, witnesses, relatives, lawyers, and representatives of the Pakistani authorities and armed groups in the region.
“Thousands of men and boys have been detained by the armed forces – many have alleged torture, are held in secret places of detention and never seen again. Investigations into such cases are extremely rare and ineffective even when they do take place,” says the Amnesty report.
“After a decade of violence, strife and conflict, tribal communities are still being subjected to attack, abduction and intimidation, rather than being protected,” said Polly Truscott, Amnesty International’s Deputy Asia Pacific Director.
The Amnesty report blames the Taliban and other armed sectarian and militant groups for continuing to pose a deadly threat to Pakistani society and for killing thousands in indiscriminate attacks or deliberately targeting civilians over the last decade.
“The Taliban have time and again shown complete disregard for civilian lives by these indiscriminate and deliberate attacks,” said Truscott. The report says that the Taliban and other armed groups are carrying out brutal, unlawful killings of captured armed forces personnel or suspected spies.
The report says that Pakistani forces have taken control of most parts of the tribal areas but they have also detained thousands of individuals for long periods with little or no access to justice and the dumped bodies of those arrested by the army are routinely found in tribal areas.
“These execution-style killings violate international humanitarian law and are an abuse of the right to life. Taliban quasi-judicial proceedings also fail to meet even the most basic requirements of fair trial under international human rights standards and international humanitarian law,” says the report, while condemning the Taliban atrocities.
The report regrets that fundamental human rights protections guaranteed in Pakistan’s Constitution are not enforceable in the tribal areas which are still governed under the draconian colonial-era Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR) which means that Pakistan’s higher courts and Parliament don’t have jurisdiction over the tribal areas. The reports acknowledges that although the courts have heard some cases of rights abuses but there have been “no prosecutions of armed forces personnel for alleged torture, enforced disappearance or deaths in custody”.
The report says that abuses have increased after the armed forces were granted further sweeping powers of arrest and detention under the Actions (in Aid of Civil Power) Regulations (AACPR) in 2011.
The report shows that rather than seeking to apply and strengthen the human rights safeguards of Pakistan’s ordinary criminal justice system in the tribal areas, the Pakistani authorities are applying old and new security laws that authorise prolonged, arbitrary, preventive detention which breach international human rights law.
The Pakistan government, according to the report, has made some attempts to improve the human rights situation in the tribal areas but these reforms fall far short of “what is required under the regular criminal justice system of Pakistan”. It alleges that the civilian government has failed to stand up for human rights of citizens and has “enabled the Armed Forces to commit human rights violations with impunity”.
Speaking to The News, Polly Truscott said that the organisation was not maligning any Pakistani institution but merely representing what it had been told. “We spoke at length to people in the region, who told us they felt trapped from both sides – by the threat from militants on the one hand, and the from the Armed Forces on the other. As an independent organisation, it is Amnesty International’s job to report the situation objectively. In this case, it is hugely disappointing that despite three years since Pakistan Armed Forces regained control from the Taliban of much of the tribal areas – human rights safeguards e.g. constitutional protections and court jurisdiction – are not only still excluded, but that the authorities have shown no willingness to remedy this.
She said that Amnesty recognised that Pakistan is facing major challenges in the tribal areas in re-establishing civilian authority and infrastructure, and confronting persistent violence by armed groups. “Our report details some of the horrific violations also by armed groups. But if the current situation of impunity for violations by state agents in the tribal areas is allowed to thrive, it will only hinder and not help this progress.”