As the world commemorates August 30 as the International Day of the Disappeared, we too must remind the government of the hundreds of the missing people in Balochistan and elsewhere.
Zia Ur Rehman
(The article was published in The News on 13 August 2007)
The Supreme Court of Pakistan, while hearing the disappeared or missing person case, called for the case-to-case details of each and every missing person from the Attorney General. Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry for first time after his re-instatement heard this missing persons’ case. The AG made a plea that he wanted to meet the family members of the missing persons, for which, he be given time. The Court adjourned the hearing of the case until August 20 and directed the AG to submit case-to-case details of each and every missing person in the next hearing. (The News, Aug 7, 2007)
In Balochistan, the military has been conducting operation since the year 2000. Since then hundreds of people have gone missing, according to the reports of human rights organisations and Baloch nationalist parties. The current rise of tensions flows from long-standing grievances felt by the local population in relation to severe economic underdevelopment and failures to receive the benefits of large-scale exploitation of the province’s natural resources.
Dr Jahanzaib Jamaldini, Acting Vice-President of Balochistan National Party (BNP) told this writer in Noshki that “We have a list of more than 3000 thousands people who have been arrested by the intelligence agencies from different parts of Balochistan.The agencies picked up the Baloch youths from different parts of Balochistan, Sindh and Punjab and tortured them severely.” Aftab Sherpao, the federal interior minister had revealed when talking to media persons in December 2005 in Turbat that nearly 4000 people had been arrested from Balochistan but after a few days, official sources claimed that the federal minister had only referred to those illegal immigrants who had trespassed the Pak-Iran border in 2005.
Similarly a list of missing people was released by Ghulam Muhammad Baloch, central president, Baloch National Movement (BNM) in a seminar on June 19, 2006 organised by Labour Education Foundation (LEF) in Karachi. Few days later, he was picked up by plain clothed officers of unknown law enforcing agencies and till today, no one knows about his whereabouts. Ghulam Muhammad Baloch, a vocal speaker and former chairperson of Baloch Students Organisation (BSO), was very popular amongst Baloch youth and students and disappointed with parliamentary politics.
A list of missing Baloch activists and citizens are also quoted in a pamphlet entitled ‘Waiting for Truth and Justice’ published by Balochistan National Party (BNP).
On the other hand, IG Police, Balochistan ,Chaudhry Muhammad Yaqoob said , “Those who are quoting 3000 or 4000 people as missing are in fact exploiting the figure in view of the present circumstances.” He challenged them to produce the names and addresses of all those 3000 people. Baloch nationalist parties refer to HRCP reports claiming that 3000 people are missing. However, according to the data collected by HRCP, 600 people have ‘disappeared’ in the country over the past five years. There is a very contradiction in figure of missing people in Balochistan.
The reports of HRCP, Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) and Amnesty International (AI) highlighted many cases of torture on Baloch activists under the custody of law enforcing agencies. Dr. Imdad Baloch, chairman of BSO, was detained in a military torture cell for 6 months, when he was finally released; he re-counted his ordeal to Zahoor Shahwani, representative of HRCP Balochistan and media in Karachi in November 2005. Details included how he and his colleagues were detained in an unknown location, where they were blind folded and only in absolute emergencies, they were allowed to take their blind folds off. They were beaten severely and were burned with cigarettes. One of Imdad Baloch’s legs was broken during the torture. When nothing was extracted from him, he was thrown to Dera Ghazi Khan, Punjab.
Dr. Allah Nazar Baloch, another leader of BSO, who was also arrested, was not only severely tortured but during his unlawful detention, he was forced to consume poison which has resulted in him not being able to recognise people properly an he has been permanently paralysed. Saleem Baloch, a leader of Jamhoori Watan Party (JWP) and a political activist of Karachi, also narrated his story of illegal detention and suffering at the office of HRCP, Karachi after release but sadly he was again picked up by law enforcing agencies from Lyari, Karachi. Ustad Sattar Baloch, a school teacher, was given electric shocks in the torture cell. HRCP’s annual reports and publications are full of similar stories of Baloch political activists and citizens.
Munir Mengal, missing Managing Director of the proposed Balochi TV channel, ‘Baloch Voice’ has surfaced after more than one year. He has been arrested at Karachi Airport on his return from Bahrain but his whereabouts could not be known for months. Munir had applied to the Pakistan Electronic Media Regularity Authority (PEMRA) for the license of TV channel.
Disappearances work on two levels: not only do they effectively silence those opposition members who have disappeared, they also sow uncertainty and terror in the wider community in general, thus silencing other opposition voices, current and potential alike. Disappearances entail the violation of a series of basic human rights and fundamental freedoms. For the disappeared person, these include the right to liberty, the right to personal security and humane treatment, the right to a fair trial, to legal counsel, and to equal protection under the law, the right of presumption of innocence, etc. The families, who often spend the rest of their lives in searches for remains of the disappeared, also become victims of the disappearance’s effects.
Aug 30, as the International Day of the Disappeared is an annual commemoration day created to draw attention to the fate of individuals imprisoned at places and under poor conditions unknown to their relatives and/or legal representatives. The impulse for the day came from the Federation of Associations for Relatives of the Detained-Disappeared (Federacien Latinoamericana de Asociaciones de Familiares de Detenidos Desaparecidos, or FEDEFAM), a NGO founded in 1981 in Costa Rica as an association of local and regional groups actively working against secret imprisonment and forced disappearances in a number of Latin-American countries.
This Day is an opportunity to highlight these institutions’ work, increase public awareness, and to call for donations and volunteers. Amnesty International (AI), the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) are main international bodies and organisations who are the important concerned organisations. In Pakistan, HRCP is the body taking up this issue aggressively.
The human rights organisations, civil society and political parties demand that list of missing people should be made public, an independent tribunal consisting of Supreme Court, members of Parliament and representatives of Human Rights organisations should be formed and The International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance to be ratified by the government.
The writer is social researcher and political analyst.