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The Baloch agony in Pakistan

No doubt Pakistan’s humanitarian crisis has deservedly received a great deal of international attention over the past few months. However, Pakistan’s sizeable ethnic and religious minorities have suffered without any international outcry.

Over the past 10 years, the Pakistan’s powerful establishment has launched a systematic and widespread campaign to subjugate the ethnic Baloch population. Thousands of cases of killings, torture, enforced disappearance and forced displacement have been documented by Amnesty International, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), Human Rights Watch, Asian Human Rights Commission and International Crisis Group.

An official policy of impunity has empowered soldiers, agents and officials to torture, enforce disappearance, kill, and extract Balochistan’s natural wealth illegally. There are more than 1,100 documented cases of enforced disappearances, including women and children, who are still missing, while upwards of 8,000 were forcibly disappeared at some point during the last five years in the Baloch intifada against Islamabad’s oppressive policies. The extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances bordering on genocide that the Baloch are faced with demand urgent international action.

According to one account, on January 3, 2005, Dr Shazia Khalid, an employee of the Pakistan Petroleum Limited (PPL), was awoken by somebody pulling her hair. She was then strangled with a cord, threatened, blindfolded, pistol-whipped, beaten and repeatedly raped by a masked intruder, allegedly an army officer, at Sui, Dera Bugti, in the heavily-guarded, government-owned natural gas plant. Dr Shazia Khalid’s story is covered in Terence McKenna’s documentary about sexual violence in Pakistan, ‘Land, Gold and Women’. On February 28, 2006, in an interview with McKenna, Shazia was quoted as saying, “I did not get justice and I will regret that for the rest of my life.”

It is clear that the crimes against humanity will continue unabatedly against ethnic minorities of Pakistan, particularly against the Baloch people, who inhabit a Texas-sized land with plenty of natural wealth and strategic importance. It is equally evident that the country’s domestic legal system will not punish those perpetrating crimes against ethnic and religious minorities.

The lack of legal and institutional capacity and willingness to try dictators and corrupt civil-military bureaucrats has resulted in an endless crisis of governance and trust in Pakistan. Deliberate turning of a blind eye by the legal and state institutions have benefited human rights violators, corrupt and criminal prime ministers, presidents, and miscreant dictators to escape justice, to live in cosy retirement, often with wealth dishonestly accumulated.

In the last six decades, a significant number of so-called state leaders have been prosecuted and brought before various domestic and international courts and tribunals for their official and unofficial crimes against humanity and genocide. Unfortunately, the most unpopular state leaders have enjoyed lifetime immunity in domestic and foreign courts for their sanctioned and unsanctioned crimes. Many of them enjoyed personal immunity that lasts during their tenure for all unofficial acts such as looting state coffers or murdering political rivals.

After creating political and economic disarray and committing atrocities, the majority of detested world leaders moved to different countries that offered them protection and pleasure. But a great number of the world’s reviled state heads have remained in their countries, benefiting from their institutional connections, an incapable judicial system and the state’s lack of will to try former and sitting rulers for unlawful and inhuman acts.

But internationally a positive change of approach has been experienced to try rogue leaders for their crimes. Consensus also has been developed among the legal community around the world that all those involved in crimes against humanity must be prosecuted domestically and internationally, because some of these crimes are so disgraceful, they can never be considered a part of any leader’s official duties. The statutes of the International Criminal Court (ICC) and other international tribunals specifically declare that an official capacity or rank by itself is no defence against prosecution.

There is general consensus among Pakistani citizens that the Musharraf era was marked with state highhandedness against citizens. Undermining the constitution, bombing Balochistan, killing and persecuting Baloch veteran leaders, kidnapping political activists, sacking judges, killing lawyers, promoting Centre-province confrontation and corruption are enough to prosecute Mr Musharraf in domestic and international courts.

However, there is little hope among the marginalised people and victims of Musharraf’s rule that the former military dictator will be persecuted for looting, treason and grave human rights violations. No doubt, ethnically dominant and superior leaders in Pakistan are above any law and protected against prosecution for their human rights crimes.

In the recent past, a number of the world’s errant leaders have been brought before the domestic and international courts for human rights abuses. Some have been convicted, others are on trial.

Internationally, there is a growing trend to make all leaders accountable and prosecute rogue rulers. Radovan Karadzic was arrested and shifted to the ICC at The Hague to face criminal charges. Sudan’s president Omar Al-Bashir has also been summoned by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) for his human rights crimes and genocide in Darfur.

The international community has mounting challenges and responsibilities to put pressure on concerned countries and regimes to take necessary measures in order to insert the Convention against Genocide and the other Geneva Conventions into the internal order.

Foreign countries have a moral responsibility and legal obligation not to allow and not to provide support or protection to perpetrators of crimes against humanity. The international community, donors and financial institutions should take notice of discriminatory political and economic policies that have accentuated inequalities and intensified conflicts.

It is time for the UN to take the logical step: the UN Human Rights Commission and Security Council must establish commissions of inquiry into crimes against humanity, and impunity in Pakistan. The UN Security Council took similar steps with regard to Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur. The situation in Balochistan, Pakistan, is equally critical.

Creating a commission of inquiry will accomplish three important goals: first, it will make the over-confident regime and security forces accountable for their crimes with a potential indictment by the ICC. Second, it will address the widespread culture of impunity in Pakistan. Third, it has the potential to deter future crimes against humanity against marginalised communities and groups.

(This paper was presented in the 15th Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva)

The writer is a former senator. He can be reached at

Faiz Baluch