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PAKISTAN: The second phase of the 1,400 km Long March has started

From Karachi to Islamabad a long march has started for the recovery of missing persons from Balochistan

AHRC-STM-240-2013.pdfThe Voice of Baloch Missing Persons (VBMP) has started the second phase of the Long March, this time from Karachi to Islamabad covering a distance of approximately 1,400 kilometers. The first phase of the March started on October 27 from Quetta and ended in Karachi where the marchers demonstrated in front of the Karachi Press Club on November 23. The marchers covered a total of 730 kilometers. In Karachi they carried out a hunger strike and conducted two seminars and two press conferences to bring their plight to the general public and the international community. The marchers were made up of 20 persons representing some of the families of the disappeared and included women, children and the elderly. The marchers were led by Mama Qadeer Baloch, a man of the age of 70.

For further information on this stage of the march please see Oct 28, 2013: The Long March against disappearances and extrajudicial killings in Balochistan commences and The Long Marchers have completed 700 km and entered Karachi after travelling 27 days on foot .

The participants suffered blistered and bruised feet but have again started a march. This time double the distance of the one they have completed just 19 days after arriving in Karachi. During the first stage the marchers were attacked and threatened and received numerous threatening phone calls from persons believed to be from the security forces. During their protest and hunger strike in Karachi some ministers, including the Minister of Defense, and politicians visited their camp and assured them that their loved ones would be recovered very soon. However, these promises were proved to be false and nothing has been done. Indeed, it was made evident when the former Chief Justice, Iftekhar Chouhdry, in the daily hearing of cases of disappearances instructed the military and the Minister of Defense to produce 35 missing persons who were handed over in 2009 to the Pakistani authorities by the government of Afghanistan. The Malakand jail authority also confirmed that the military took custody of these persons in 2010. Since then, not only are their whereabouts unknown but enforced disappearances have continued unabated. The government has made the excuse that seven out of the 35 persons have gone missing and have never been produced in court. This more than anything else proves how hollow the promises of the Minister of Defence were.

In view of the fact that the military and the government have been unable even to secure the release of 35 persons the marchers have no faith that they will produce the 14,000 persons that have been missing since 2001. It was due to this abject failure on the part of the government that the 20 people who marched all the way from Quetta, Balochistan province to Karachi have courageously decided to continue their march to Islamabad.

The human rights activists in Karachi saw them off on this stage of their march and they will be joined by well-wishers and supporters on this second leg. It is assured that as they continue they will be greeted with signs of solidarity along their route as the people are well aware that the issue of enforced disappearances is quickly eroding the stability of the country.

The issue of enforced disappearances has been going on since 2001 and the all-powerful military has arrogantly ignored the orders of several courts, including the Supreme Court, to appear and produce disappeared persons. The courts themselves cannot claim to have done their best as it is well known that they have turned a blind eye to the actions of the military in order to ensure their own survival.

The Asian Human Rights Commission commends the courage of the Long Marchers and calls on the government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to pay heed to the ongoing problem of enforced disappearances and introduce a law making such disappearances a criminal offense. It is vital that the government solves this issue before the marchers reach Islamabad otherwise it will reflect badly on its commitment to protect the citizens of the country. The people in the streets have a right to know why the government is so weak when it comes to dealing with the arrogance of the military. They want to know when the government will follow the rule of law so as to protect the rights of the citizens.

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