Baloch activists have often raised the issue of enforced disappearances at the hands of Pakistan (File photo)
Baloch activists have often raised the issue of enforced disappearances at the hands of Pakistan (File photo)

In Pakistan, raise your voice against state oppression and you disappear

ANI | Updated: Feb 03, 2019 10:12 IST

Column By Francesca Marino, Author And Journalist With Expertise On South Asia
Not only Balochs or Pashtuns. In Pakistan, three persons on an average are picked by security forces, locked up in secret jails, tortured and many left to die, primarily for raising their voice against state oppression.
A significant number of them are from Sindh which has been emerging as a hotbed of dissent and protest by the people against the military and the state.
The not-so-uncovered war of Islamabad Army and Intelligence against the citizens of their own country is in full bloom.
In the latest estimate compiled by the Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances, the number of `missing` has spiked in the year 2018 and it is likely to grow more in 2019.
The Commission has defined 'enforced disappearance or missing person as a  person' picked up or taken into custody by any law enforcing or intelligence agency, working under the civilian or military control, in a manner which is contrary to the provisions of the law`.
The commission, set up in 2011, has so far received reports of 5290 missing persons in the country, of which 1367 missing persons are in Sindh alone.
Even this large number of missing persons is conservative: according to independent sources, the missing people are far more, but their relatives are too scared to report because, they say, the moment you report to the police, you'll disappear the very day after.
The UN General Assembly adopted the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance in 2006.
A legally-binding instrument for those countries which ratified it, the Convention includes a monitoring body which, recognising the extreme seriousness of the act, states that enforced disappearances represent a “crime against humanity when practiced in a widespread or systematic manner”.
Defined in the Article 2 of the Convention as the “arrest, detention, abduction or any other form of deprivation of liberty, followed by the refusal to disclose the person’s whereabouts or to acknowledge that their liberty was deprived”, enforced disappearances are only considered as such if perpetrated by State actors or groups or individuals associated with it”.
In Pakistan, Balochs are heavily affected by enforced disappearances carried out by agents of the state.
In August 2018, the Human Rights Council of Balochistan and the Baloch Human Rights Organisation published a comprehensive report documenting that.
Although activists who speak up for the rights of the Baloch people are usually the direct victims of this crime, the report also highlights the abduction, torture and intimidation of civilians who are not politically active or human rights activists.
Same for Pashtuns and, of course, for Sindhis.
Sindh has increasingly seen brutal suppression in recent years. People have been vociferously protesting state bias and suppression of basic rights.
The public ire has specifically been targeted at the security forces which have been punishing those who dared to raise their voice against the state with abductions and illegal detentions.
The civilian government has been complicit in the crime against Sindhis by ignoring people’s cries for justice. 
The  Human Rights Commission of Pakistan’s Sindh chapter stated earlier this year that  “a large number of political workers, writers, rights activists and students have gone missing across the Sindh province but no one from the provincial government or the police department has taken responsibility of illegal detentions or has a clue of their whereabouts”.
Many of those missing are writers, students, activists, and politicians who campaign for human rights and speak out against abuses committed by Pakistani security personnel and fundamentalist groups connected with Pakistan’s security establishment.
The Sindhi people also endure torture, extrajudicial killings, decreasing freedom of religion, and decreasing freedom of speech.
Another concern is the forced conversions of young Sindhi Hindu and Christian girls upon marriage.
According to the Human Rights activist Naveed Basheer, the Sindhis are “protesting against discrimination, mass hatred, water scarcity and enforced disappearance in the province.
Sindhis fighting for their rights are called Indian agents and are arrested.
Everyone arrested is sent to military torture cells. People are kept there and several have died.
The police and other investigating agencies have been deliberately so lax in following up the criminal complaints filed by Sindhis that even the judiciary is miffed at the attitude of the security forces.
Hearing dozens of petitions early this year, the two-judge bench of the High Court, headed by Justice Aftab Ahmed Gorarwas, was highly critical of the police.
It decried the lack of progress in the cases being investigated and remarked that the police not only failed to locate the whereabouts of the petitioners’ relatives, but also remained unable to obtain reports from those institutions impleaded as respondents in the petitions.
The court said the special investigating task forces set up for the purpose have also remained fruitless while complaints of petitioners against the police have been mounting.
The situation in Sindhi has attracted world-wide attention with protests by Sindhis in several western capitals in the recent months.
The latest was held in Geneva during the 39th session of the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in September last year.
The Sindhi community was joined by Pashtuns, Baloch and others who had suffered at the hands of Pakistani state.
They accused the Pakistan government of enforced disappearances, extra-judicial killings and persecution of religious minorities.
In vain, it seems. Because during her recent visit to Pakistan María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés, President of the 73rd Session of UN General Assembly, did not even mention the issue of missing people and human rights violations.
Instead, she chose to praise the Government for whatever regime's narrative she has been fed and going carpet shopping in this land of freedom and progress. (ANI)

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this column are strictly those of the author