Human rights epidemic
By: Sanaullah Baloch
Pakistan is among the top most countries where human rights violations are a common occurrence. However, previously the lesser known human rights epidemic of enforced disappearances is now systematic and widespread.
Defining the practice as a crime against humanity, on December 23, 2010, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (ICPAPED) to draw attention to the fate of individuals imprisoned at places and under poor conditions unknown to their relatives and/or legal representatives.
So far ninety-one countries are signatories to the convention including India. However, despite widespread demands from civil society, political parties and marginalised people, the Pakistani establishment is unwilling to sign and ratify the convention.
The Pakistan Peoples Party’s coalition government passed countless pro-elite legislation without any delay but their resolve is completely shattered when it comes to sign and ratify the pro-people convention against enforced disappearances.
My eloquent friend Senator Farhatullah Babar, who is also one of the petitioners in the missing persons’ case being heard by the Supreme Court, May 2012 resolution in the Senate “calling upon the government to sign and ratify the International Convention for Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearances”, also “disappeared” somewhere in Islamabad and Rawalpindi’s notorious corridors.
In fact, discrepancy and disparities are embodied in the country’s ethnically dominant structure. The epidemic of enforced disappearances is amongst many state-spread diseases that has terrorised the entire country and particularly non-core groups such as the Baloch and Sindhis. Thousands of persons are missing as the result of forced disappearances committed all across the country, in particular in the Balochistan province.
The history of enforced disappearances of the Baloch people date back to the 1970s, when Zulfaqar Ali Bhutto launched a massive military operation against the Baloch in retaliation of the PPP’s total failure in the 1970 election in Balochistan.
To intimidate Sardar Ataullah Mengal, a torchbearer of Baloch rights, ZA Bhutto enforced the disappearance of his son Asadullah Mengal and his friend Ahmed Shah in 1975 and till date they are “missing”. During the 1973-77 offensives, numerous Baloch political activists disappeared and extra-judicially killed occurred.
The recent epidemic of enforced disappearances is the outcome of Musharraf’s, the Pakistani dictator, venomous policy towards the Baloch. During his eight year military rule not a single standing Baloch supported his polices and aligned with him. Egoistically tortured Musharraf came up with a policy to collectively punish the Baloch society for their democratic behaviour and principled demand for their national right of self-determination.
The seed of the virus (“enforced disappearance”) was re-sown in 2002 and soon the epidemic of enforced disappearances engulfed the entire country and particularly Balochistan. According to estimates around six thousand people have gone missing in Pakistan and eighty-two percent of the victims are identified as from Baloch origin.
A report released by the Human Rights Watch (HRW) in 2011 is a devastating exposure of the brutal and inhumane tactics of Pakistan’s security agencies used to suppress Baloch nationalists.
The 132-page report entitled “We Can Torture, Kill, or Keep You for Years: Enforced Disappearances by Pakistan Security Forces in Balochistan,” documented the widespread use of enforced disappearances in Balochistan and reveals how the Pakistani forces use kidnappings, torture, and extrajudicial killings to terrorise the long-suffering Baloch people into submission.
The Pakistan Human Rights Commission’s (HRCP) fact-finding report titled ‘Balochistan; Blinkered Slide into Chaos’ depicts a horrifying human rights scenario in the province.
The HRCP mission observed that there were credible allegations of the involvement of state security forces in the cases of enforced disappearances. “There was material on record to substantiate claims of the families that the victims were disappeared by the FC or had been killed while in custody,” says the fact-finding mission.
Describing a new and worrying trend, the HRCP Chairperson Zohra Yousuf said that previously the majority of missing persons used to return home but now only mutilated bodies of victims of enforced disappearance turn up on roadsides and desolate places. A large number of bodies are of university students. The epidemic of enforced disappearances is not restricted to one country or continent. It is a global phenomenon, and already used as a brutal instrument of immense suppression against groups of people, ethnicity and against political dissidents.
According to the United Nations “enforced disappearance has frequently been used as a strategy to spread terror within the society. The feeling of insecurity generated by this practice is not limited to the close relatives of the disappeared, but also affects their communities and society as a whole”.
On December 21, 2010, by its resolution 65/209 the UN General Assembly expressed its deep concern, in particular, by the increase in enforced or involuntary disappearances in various regions of the world, including arrest, detention and abduction, when these are part of or amount to enforced disappearances, and by the growing number of reports concerning harassment, ill-treatment and intimidation of witnesses of disappearances or relatives of persons who have disappeared.
Understanding the gravity of the issue, Article 1 of the ICPAPED Convention states that “No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification for enforced disappearance”.
Since the establishment has waged a war against its own citizens, there are no signs of letup in this criminal practice. The Apex Court’s orders are disregarded and parliament seems to have lost its sanity. The media is fearful and civil society is dormant. As the International Community has also taken a back seat and compromised its international obligations, predictably this human rights epidemic will continue to affect lives of thousands of families belonging to non-core groups such as Baloch and Sindhis.