Tue, Dec 6, 2016 | updated 08:23 AM IST

European Parliament Conference discusses rights violations in Gilgit-Baltistan

Updated: Nov 12, 2016 07:40 IST

Brussels [Belgium], Nov. 12 (ANI): Josep-Maria Terricabras MEP (Greens/EFA) and the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organisation (UNPO) in partnership with Mahatma Gandhi International, recently convened a high-level conference entitled "A Recipe for Disaster: Environmental Degradation and Human Rights Violations in Pakistan-occupied Gilgit-Baltistan" at the European Parliament in Brussels.

The conference was successful in raising awareness of the immense human suffering that the policies of Pakistan, often in collusion with China, are causing to people of Gilgit-Baltistan, Sindh and Balochistan on a variety of issues, including the controversial construction of mega dams in Gilgit-Baltistan, lack of jobs, poor levels of education and other forms of socio-economic discrimination.

During the conference, Terricabras reminded the audience that the legitimate claims of the people must be addressed in an open and democratic manner even though sensitive topics often trigger discomfort.

Marino Busdachin UNPO Secretary General highlighted that human rights and the environmental situation in Gilgit-Baltistan is deteriorating and may soon "reach a level where it will be difficult to be considered by the international community".

According to unpo.org, during the conference, Csaba Sogor MEP (EPP) stressed that the European Union must unconditionally "set a good example for minority and human rights protection in its member states."

Senge Hasnan Sering, president of the Institute for Gilgit-Baltistan Studies and Board Member of the Gilgit-Baltistan Congress, who was also in attendance, highlighted the environmental dangers affecting the indigenous people of the region that are caused by the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and by the illegal construction of the Diamer-Bhasha Dam in the disputed territory.

He explained the intricacies of Gilgit-Baltistan's ecosystem. "The greenest part of which will be submerged by foreigners with the construction of the Diamer Bhasha Dam. What is more, there is no way that local people are going to receive royalties from the dam because its turbines are located in a Pakistani province."

Mirza Wajahat Hassan, exiled chairman of the Gilgit-Baltistan Thinkers Forum, elaborated on human rights violations in Gilgit-Baltistan and on the marginalisation of its people in an elaborate account of the region's long history, expanding the discussion to the severe disregard for human rights shown by the Pakistan government in a territory over which they are not even supposed to have jurisdiction.

The second panel discussed the repercussions of environmental degradation in Gilgit-Baltistan, Balochistan and Sindh through the CPEC.

Dr Siegfried O. Wolf, a lecturer at the University of Heidelberg and Research Director at the South Asia Democratic Forum, explained that minorities are concerned about the massive influx of Chinese military into the region.

He also said that the CPEC chiefly represents a strategic decision on behalf of China to assist Pakistan in their economic development.

He insisted that the closure of the Sost dry port in Gilgit-Baltistan, provoked by the construction of the Diamer-Bhasha Dam, will cost up to 20,000 jobs.

Dr Lakhu Luhana, Secretary General of the World Sindhi Congress, put the spotlight on the adverse effects that the enormous reservoir dams would have on the everyday life of indigenous populations along the lower Indus River.

He pointed out that the River Indus is the lifeline of the Sindhi people and deplored the government's brutal crackdown on any expression of opposition, stating that scores of Sindhi activists have been forcibly disappeared or imprisoned for very long terms.

In light of the controversial plans to build six mega dams in the Pakistan-occupied Gilgit-Baltistan, the conference discussed the resulting environmental degradation and its impacts for Gilgit-Baltistan and beyond the region, as well as human rights violations perpetrated by the Government of Pakistan.

The participants of the conference adopted the following declaration:

Whereas Pakistan has no right to build any dam in an area which is disputed under United Nations Security Council resolution and whose fate is still to be settled under international law;

Whereas the major development projects by Pakistan in Gilgit-Baltistan are causing severe environmental degradation, damaging sensitive ecosystems; displacing local population; destroying historical sites and changing demography in the wider region;

Whereas the people of Gilgit-Baltistan have the legitimate right to protest peacefully against the construction of development projects in the region until they are granted full participation in decision-making;

The conference also urged the Pakistan Government:

- to refrain from use of the oppressive measures leading to human rights violations against the people of Gilgit-Baltistan and further demand that the perpetrators of human rights violations within the military, paramilitary and police units of the state and non-state actors should be brought to justice;

- Release all political prisoners, including more than 100 peaceful protesters arrested and charged [November 2016] for terrorism for demanding religious freedom for Shias;

- Pay compensation to residents whose lands have already been used to build the Diamer-Bhasha Dam and the Karakoram Highway; halt the construction of the Diamer-Bhasha Dam, which is posing a serious threat to the community and wider region. (ANI)