Victims of disappearance

By Zubeida Mustafa

GOVERNMENTS in Islamabad have traditionally had a dismal human rights record. Even civilian leaderships have followed the brutal traditions set by their military partners, though quite often they have had to battle it out in the courts.

The incumbent PPP government, however, has been different in one way. It has ratified more of the UN’s nine core international human rights treaties than any of its predecessors. As a result, Pakistan is now a party to seven human rights international conventions. Four were ratified by the present government, two by the PPP governments in the 1990s and one in 1966.

Given its actual performance it appears that the government has accepted commitments on people’s civil, political and socio-economic rights and against torture with a cavalierly approach. Since no optional protocols which provide teeth to many of these treaties have been signed the government probably feels it can ignore its obligations under the treaties with impunity with no disastrous consequences.

It is the government’s act of omission that attracts more attention. There are two instruments that it has chosen to distance itself from — the Convention on the Rights of Migrant Workers (1990) and the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (ICPPED). Adopted by the UN Assembly in 2006 and having come into force a few months ago in December 2010, it is the second one that needs careful attention at the moment given its immediate relevance to what is happening in the country.

Balochistan is in the grip of an insurgency today. What began as sporadic acts of violence is now a full-blown uprising and has been a theatre of an army crackdown. Since no sincere attempt has been made to address the grievances of the Baloch, unrest has grown and the army with its training to fight a conventional war has found itself at a disadvantage.

In retaliation it has resorted to surreptitious methods against people it suspects are behind the unrest. That is what is widely alleged and has been confirmed by international human rights bodies. The youth picked up allegedly by the intelligence agencies constitute the ‘enforced disappeared’ of this unhappy province.

From information provided by Mir Mohammad Ali Baloch, a long-time activist from Sindh with a long association with the Baloch rights movement, we learn that the number of the missing is not small. When the Supreme Court took up their case in September 2009, 170 persons were said to be untraceable in Pakistan of whom 109 were Baloch. When the government was directed to provide information about them, it could point to the whereabouts of only six Baloch. Becoming uncomfortable with a court that was demanding proof and information from the authorities, they changed their tactics. From July 2010 to April 2011 it is reported that 104 Baloch youth were killed in kidnap, kill-and-dump operations, while 137 political prisoners were killed in custody.

Against this backdrop, shouldn’t Pakistan be paying more attention to the convention on enforced disappearance? Even though it is not a signatory of the convention it cannot afford to turn a blind eye to legal developments taking place around it.

Defined by the UN as “a crime and, in certain circumstances … a crime against humanity”, enforced disappearance is taken very seriously. The convention recognises that it is every person’s right not to be subjected to enforced disappearance, and the right of victims to justice and reparation. What is most important is that the family of a victim is also regarded as a victim.

Hence the preamble affirms “the right of any victim to know the truth about the circumstances of an enforced disappearance and the fate of the disappeared person”.

With the authorities refusing to take responsibility for this tragic phenomenon that is bringing so much anguish to the affected families the problem has been further compounded by the government’s denial of any involvement. Finding itself on a weak wicket the government erroneously believes that it can sweep the consequences of its ‘dirty war’ under the rug.

It is plain from a reading of the text that the authorities in Pakistan are playing with fire. For instance, Article 1 makes it categorical 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”. Article 2 comprehensively considers any form of deprivation of liberty by agents of the state or by persons acting with the authorisation or acquiescence of the state as a crime, as is its concealment of the fate or whereabouts of the disappeared person.

In the course of time, the convention will become a part of international law. Our rulers would do well to remember the fate of the Chileans and Argentine dictators and army leaders who inflicted the agony of enforced disappearance in the 1970s and 1980s on their people. The convention had not even been conceptualised then. Yet Pinochet and others were put in the dock.

Now that enforced disappearance has been declared a crime against humanity no government should be unmindful of its moral and legal responsibilities. Rather than resort to military means, wouldn’t Pakistan do well to use political methods to resolve its Baloch problem? The need is to negotiate with Baloch representatives who speak for the people and not those who are the guardians of Islamabad’s interest in the province.

Source: Dawn

9 thoughts on “Victims of disappearance

  1. Respected Zubeida Mustafa Sahiba,
    Thank you for this brilliant and excellently argued case for the disappeared persons of Balochistan. Your arguments are powerful and straight forward. While other writers depend on emotions, you have presented it in its legal and logical perspective.
    Thank you once again for adding your strong and powerful voice to the issue of disappeared persons. More power to your pen and elbow.

  2. I was recently at a gathering here in delhi where b.m.kutty's memoirs were released; among the guests was also the high commissioner from pakistan;
    much useful discussion took place, revolving chiefly about balochistan, and there was general agreement that India and Pakistan both suffered from an unwillingness to devolve real operative power to regions and local communities; the more democracies centralise, the worse such problems get. Pakistan especially should have learnt a huge lesson from the loss of its eastern wing; unless ethnic and economic dominance of the 'peripheries' is eschewed, there will be more trouble in store.
    badri raina,

  3. Signing of Conventions by countries such as ours is meaningless.

    Balochistan is Pakistan's Achilles Heel, which has suffered years of ill-fitting shoes.

    It now needs economic and social balm to heal it. It is for the Pk establishment to ensure this, not the UN.

  4. We are a state where no one from the ruling elites is willing to come with solutions strategies to stabilize the economy, strengthen the institutions, ensuring the rule of law instead of rule of man, proper distribution of resources, ending the enforced disappearances , deprecating the snow balling corruption and friendly internal and foreign policies for global image and getting a deeply integrated society. The track record of 64 years is blatantly bitter as leader and masses were killed by both forms of judicially and extra-judicially in account of LARGER NATIONAL INTERESTS. We have seen the fall Dhakka , silence over Indian conversion of river water, u-turn over the Taliban and five insurgences in Balochistan, The leadership and establishment failed to counter the threats as the India is have a extended role globally but still they indulging with Strategic Assets , Politics on formation of new provinces, killing and dumping the middle class of Balochistan, commercial hub Karachi control game. Today, this nuclear state's development and progress is halted by the energy even we have put our country on stake against the war of terror but fail to get a civil nuclear deal. How shameful it is for the soldiers on the Indian border when their lights are off because of inherit LOAD-SHEDDING where the lights of Indian side are Shining. The people are being exploited for a long period but no change in life of common man is seen. The intellectuals are crying to formulating policies for saving this country but who will save it. The ruling class …? who have established businesses in foreign states, the defenders who sold the nuclear bombs secrets for Dollars and are involved the Army in to an entity and running businesses from sale of milk , construction, Bank, Transportation NLC and CNG and petrol pumps….. Now after massive exploiting the Balochs and depriving them of their rights made them to die for a separate Land Balochistan. There is no Baloch in NAVY AIR-FORCE and even the headquarter of Sui gas is at Karachi Baloch are deprived of both Natural Gas in the 20 district and of revenues as well. There are only 25 CNG stations in Balochistan comparing with 2270 of Punjab and 1850 of Sindh. Since 1947 no Baloch could get opportunity to sit on the seat of COAS but they are the target of Angels of Death for demanding their rights. Even after every high level meeting held regarding Balochistan bring a speed in Kill and dump operation and paves way for abducting the Baloch. As all are well aware where the power lies and the authority of these powerful who handed over the air bases, land routes and cities to sole supper power without any written agreement. After your this article and several other on Balochistan we ask the ruling class that has the use of power save Dhakka from fall that it will save Balochistan from the same.

  5. Thanks Already read. much appreciated very boldly written article. You deserve lots kudos. I doubt it effects the deafs, dumbs and blinds , as they never learnt a lesson from the past.

  6. Thumbs up Ms Zubeida; so good to see someone, alongside Mir Muhammad Ali Talpur, presenting the Baloch's long pending case on media

  7. It is a harsh reality of this country when things get worse and reach to a level of no return; people open their eyes to see what is happening. Some people get the situation, observe and ignore it for their own interest without analyzing the long term results. The issue of Balochistan is not of recent days rather it is unresolved since last 60 years. Basically, it was ignored by the elite classes of Punjab as they have been enjoying the natural resources of Balochistan meanwhile Baloch people have been using firewood, gasoline lamps, kacha tracks, nevertheless, living a life of third class citizens since the Independence of Pakistan. Whenever Baloch people struggled for their rights they were labeled as turncoat, Indian and communist agents by the establishment of Pakistan. The establishment of the country used different methods to keep Baloch people away from education and other social opportunities. So called Sardars and Nawabs were given incentives in form of Ministries, as tactic, to control the masses with a single man to pave the way for resource exploitation, as a colonial state does, and now the elite class is of the view that our Sardars and Nawabs always remained a constraint in way to progress. Let I ask, who powered them and brought to the assemblies, gave them Ministries and funds …. At least not the middle class Baloch. Where was the accountability system of this country when these Sardars were looting the money of Nation for their personal interest? In fact, they were allowed for the same. But some way the middle class left the arrears of these so called Sardars and start educating their people. This educated class is well aware of its rights and telling the rest about their rights. Once again, the Baloch opened a struggle for their rights and the same is not being digested by the elite class of this country. They used different techniques to control the social mobilization process being carried out by educated class to inform their people about their rights. Falling to which, the establishment of this country has launched an operation against Baloch People to suppress their voices. Hundreds of innocents’ youngsters have viciously been killed and thousand are missing. Media that breaks the news of an uncapped gutter whole at Lahore, initially, kept eye of its camera away from abduction and atrocious killing of innocent Balochs. At a stage, when thousands of Baloch are missing and hundreds have been killed the media analyzed the sensitivity of the matter and sense a forthcoming “DAKA FALL”. But the electronic media is yet not performing a satisfactory role regarding Baloch issue due to some restrictions as they have to run their business at the same time.

  8. akbar bugti was a fried of mine-he wanted to meet me-then we met-he
    told me of his problem with the corps commander-i said i shall come to
    quetta and solve it-he was then the chief minister-after i had bought
    the air ticket he foned me if he should send his plane-i said 'i am
    coming to morrow'.
    i arrived -we had a long meeting -i called the corps commander-he
    said'i shall do what you want'-bugti was surprised-he gave a dinner in
    my honour at his house- the corps commander was the same general who sent both
    the president and pm home-
    then he invited me again but after some time while
    talking to him i had 'vertigo' he called the chief secretary sent me
    for 2 days rest.
    i think only i and ilahi bux soomro could have
    convinced both the parties to talk.

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