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Protecting Baloch activists

Jul 29, 2011

Hundreds of political activists are being held and tortured by security forces in the Pakistan's Balochistan province, says Human Rights Watch in its report We Can Torture, Kill, or Keep You for Years. The report urges the government to protect the nationalists from violence.

The report We Can Torture, Kill, or Keep You for Years by Human Rights Watch is based on enforced disappearances by Pakistan security forces in Balochistan. 

Human Rights Watch interviewed over 100 individuals in Pakistan, including family members of disappeared individuals, persons who had been held in unacknowledged detention and then released, local human rights activists, lawyers, and witnesses for the report. 

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On December 11, 2009, a 39-year-old Baloch nationalist activist, Abdul Ghaffar Lango, and his wife were leaving a hospital in Pakistan’s southern city of Karachi when two white Toyota pickup trucks suddenly stopped at the main gate. Lango’s wife said that about 10 men in plain clothes approached the couple and one started beating Lango with the butt of an AK-47 assault rifle until he lost consciousness. 

The men then dragged him into one of the pickups and drove away. When the family went to register the abduction with the police, the police informed them that Lango had been detained because of his political activities, yet refused to provide further information on his whereabouts or specific charges against him.

On July 1, 2011, Lango’s corpse was found in an abandoned hotel near Lakbado area of Gadani town in the Lasbela district of Balochistan. The local police represented by the Station House Officer (SHO) of Gadani Police Station told the local media that “the body bore multiple marks of brutal torture.”

Lango’s case illustrates a disturbingly regular feature of the ongoing conflict in Pakistan’s western province of Balochistan: the practice of enforced disappearances, in which the authorities or their agents take people into custody and then deny all responsibility or knowledge of their fate or whereabouts. 

Balochistan has historically had a tense relationship with Pakistan’s national government, in large part due to issues of provincial autonomy, control of mineral resources and exploration, and a consequent sense of deprivation. 

Since 2005, Pakistani human rights organisations have recorded numerous serious human rights violations by security forces, including extrajudicial executions, torture, enforced disappearances, forced displacement, and excessive use of force.

Human rights watch in its report stated some general recommendations for the government of Pakistan and the provincial government of Balochistan to follow.

It urges for the investigation of all allegations of enforced disappearances until the fate of each victim is clearly and publicly established.  It says that the government should account for every person detained by all authorities in Balochistan, and in particular those accused of involvement in attacks by Baloch armed groups or arrested in military operations in Balochistan. 

It asks for the dismissal from service and prosecution as appropriate, of all officials, regardless of rank, who are found responsible for committing or ordering disappearances or related abuses. The report also states that the police should be instructed to register all cases of abductions and unlawful arrests, even if the alleged perpetrators include the personnel of the intelligence agencies, the Frontier Corps, or other security forces.

Enforced disappearances mean violation of several riggts including the right to liberty and security of a person. This is why the HRW recommends Pakistan’s international partners to put pressure on the government of Pakistan to make it a priority to end the practice of disappearances and arbitrary detentions and to hold all persons who order or carry out disappearances accountable.

In addition to Pakistan’s obligations under international human rights law, the practice of enforced disappearances directly violates Pakistani domestic law. The Pakistan Constitution protects the liberty of persons and prohibits arbitrary detention. 

The Zardari government upon taking office in 2008 made various promises on Baloch issues, including a pledge to address the problem of enforced disappearances. To date, however, this pledge remains unfulfilled. Few of the disappeared have been traced and perpetrators continue to enjoy complete impunity.

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