HRCP releases its report on women disappearing in Balochistan

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ISLAMABAD: The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has released a detailed report after conducting a fact-finding mission to Balochistan. Titled ‘Balochistan: neglected still’, the report states that Balochistan continues to be short-changed politically.

The report says that incidents of enforced disappearances continue. In most cases, victims’ families say they are afraid of communicating their cases to the authorities. A disconcerting trend is that of women being ‘disappeared’ in certain areas, such as Dera Bugti and Awaran. Yet these cases tend not to be reported or recorded.

HRCP investigation also revealed that hundreds of coal-mines are being operated by people who possess neither the financial resources nor the technological skills to provide for operational safety or deal with emergencies.

The mission found that security agencies impose an unofficial security charge on per ton production from coalmines, which mine owners and labour unions alike deemed extortion.

The HRCP believes that the level of the Frontier Corps’ presence in Balochistan and its degree of control undermines provincial government and civilian administration. The unwarranted involvement and permanent presence of security personnel in educational institutions like Balochistan University must also end.

The HRCP strongly feels that the provincial government and civilian administration must run the affairs of the province without any undue interference, said the report. In addition, a law that criminalises enforced disappearances, punishes the perpetrators and compensates victims’ families must be enacted expeditiously, suggested the report.

Balochistan is the largest province of Pakistan in terms of land area, where ethnic groups like Pashtuns and Baloch have faced regular human rights violations attracting concerns from the international community. 

In Balochistan, at least 52 per cent population follow Balouch with Pashtuns at 36 per cent. Many ethnic and religious minorities also live in the area comprising twelve per cent of the population. It is again in the spotlight in the international arena because of the new report titled – Balochistan: Neglected still, which has been published after extensive fact-finding missions conducted in the Balochistan province. 

Pakistan’s human rights organization alleged routine disappearances of suspected dissidents’ of distraught families of victims with nowhere to go. Besides violations of operational standards in the mines of coal-rich Balochistan, the mission also found that Pakistan’s security agencies extort unofficial “protection” money from the poor miners based on per tonne production.

The stain of enforced disappearances and missing persons, military and paramilitary abuses, religious persecution of minorities, presence of Pakistan frontier corps in civil administration and agriculture, energy and the climate crisis in the province are the few of the issues but the list of atrocities committed against the locals is incessant in the fact-finding mission’s report. 

The report also observed “off-the-book” presence of Pakistani frontier corps in civil administration which undermines the provincial government. The rights commission called for an end to what it called “the unwarranted involvement and permanent presence of security personnel.”

The Pakistani human rights commission’s report is being seen as a strong indictment against the duplicity and hypocrisy of the Imran Khan-led administration. The report has revealed chronic systemic discrimination and political isolation in its largest, most resource-rich province.  In the report, the commission recommended a law that criminalises enforced disappearances, punishes the perpetrators and compensates the victims’ families which can be enacted expeditiously in Balochistan.

It may be recalled that on 23rd August, addressing a press conference at the Quetta Press Club, seasoned human rights activist I.A. Rehman regretted that the so-called mainstream media gave Balochistan the same treatment as the state media did. “The government of Pakistan has always treated Balochistan as a conflict zone,” he said, adding that’s why truth did not come out of Balochistan.

Husain Naqi, HRCP secretary Harris Khalique, Zahoor Ahmad Shahwani, and Habib Tahir were also present at the press conference. At the provincial launch of its flagship annual report ‘State of Human Rights in 2018’, the commission voiced its concern on five points relating to Balochistan.

It notes that, in a year of general elections, it was perhaps inevitable that the progress and observation of human rights issues might be suspended, if not forgotten altogether. The elections themselves were plagued by allegations of pre-poll manipulation and rigging as well as some appalling outbreaks of violence, notably in Mastung and Quetta, which left at least 180 people dead.

The report notes that sectarian violence in Balochistan has disproportionally targeted the Shia Hazara community. In Quetta, they remain confined to Hazara areas: their movement is restricted as is their access to markets and schools. The state’s response has been to establish security convoys that accompany members of the community when they leave Hazara areas, but this does not guarantee their security and is, arguably, a short-term solution to sectarian violence in the province.

Citing the Baloch Human Rights Organisation and Human Rights Council of Balochistan, the HRCP report states that at least 541 partial reports of enforced disappearances surfaced in 2018. In August 2018, the Chairman of the Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances said that ‘merely 131 cases’ of missing persons in Balochistan were heard. The lack of more comprehensive official data on enforced disappearances — and Balochistan media’s apparent powerlessness to report on these — is a poor reflection on the state’s political will to eliminate this scaring problem.