Pakistan Faces International Criticism For Quelling Peaceful Baloch Protest

Baluchistan has once again become the centre of attention where there is an increase in forceful disappearance incidents.

On Human Rights Day (HRD) celebration around the world on 10th December every year Baloch Solidarity Committee Islamabad organized a seminar in Islamabad. On this occasion, National Democratic Movement leader Afrasiab Khattak Khan also expressed solidarity with the participants while being in the protest camp.

Baloch political and non-political groups have been using all democratic means for the safe recovery of the enforced disappeared persons. Mama Qadeer Baloch, the vice chairman of Voice for Baloch Missing Persons,  Farzan Majeed, the sister of the enforced disappeared Baloch student leader Zakir Majeed, along with several other families of disappeared Baloch organized a 3000 KM Long March from Quetta, the capital of Baluchistan to the capital of Pakistan, Islamabad to convince the international community to play a role in the safe recovery of all missing persons.

The systemic challenges women in Baluchistan grapple with to make their mark in the political landscape. A women-led rally in Islamabad was met with water cannons and tear gas on   Human Rights Day, leading to the arrest of over 200 protestors. The protest led by human rights activist Mahrang Baloch marched across the country against the alleged disappearance of men in Baluchistan. The protestors had been rallying for weeks in different regions and reached Islamabad on this day, where the police attempted to stop them from entering the Red Zone,  where Islamabad’s high offices are situated. Such protests have been going on for decades, since the initiation of the Baluchistan nationalist movement in the early 2000s.

According to the protestors, the arrests of people including political workers, journalists, and activists are undocumented, cannot be traced by courts, and are not acknowledged by the government. For decades, many Baloch women have sought justice for their missing loved ones and rallied to bring the issue to global attention. They call it the “march against Baloch genocide.” They are demanding an end to extrajudicial killings, as well as accountability.

According to the Voice for Baloch Missing Persons (VBMP), a human rights organization, the total number of reported cases is over 20,000 (Twenty Thousand). However, government officials claim that the number of missing persons is 12756. It has been noticed that the victims of the enforced disappearance are mostly politically conscious students, teachers, journalists, lawyers, and individuals from all sections of society. This shows that the state of Pakistan has made a policy to crush the political movement of the Baloch people.

The disappearances are nothing new in Pakistan. The military defends this heinous crime as an act to defend the country’s national interests and to counter ‘terrorism’.

In 2014 the Supreme Court ruled that though Pakistan is not a signatory of the ICPPED (International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance), Article 10 of Pakistan’s constitution protects against enforced disappearances. However, the cases of enforced disappearances are treated as mere cases of abduction and ordinary kidnapping and are registered under section 364 of the Pakistan Penal Code.

In December 2021, Imran Khan’s government followed in the footsteps of its predecessors in the issue of enforced disappearance in the country. The proposal in Parliament stated the forceful disappearances as a   criminal act. The bill’s provisions stated that no one should involuntary  disappear anyone with no legal reason or authority. The provision permits the secret agencies to disappear people in certain circumstances defined by these forces. This is a clear violation of international laws, which say enforced disappearance cannot be allowed under any circumstances.

The bill, later in January 2022, itself went missing during the process. The issue of enforced disappearance is a serious issue that needs to be addressed on an urgent basis. Under international laws, Pakistan is obligated to investigate such cases and bring the perpetrators to justice

On shameful police atrocities, international community has expressed serious worry and expressed their solidarity with the Baloch protest. The European Union Ambassador to Pakistan, Riina Kionka, the Norwegian Embassy in Pakistan, and Nobel laureate Malala Yousafzai have expressed serious concerns over the treatment of Baloch protesters by Islamabad Police. Riina Kionka, the EU Ambassador to Pakistan, voiced deep concerns over the handling of the Baloch Long March in Islamabad.

Kionka emphasized that the freedoms of expression, assembly, and association are guaranteed under the ICCPR, to which Pakistan is a signatory. This agreement is crucial for Pakistan’s Generalized Scheme of Preferences (GSP) status with the European Union.

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), in its statement, too said, “Deeply worried by reports of mishandling at  Baloch Long March to Islamabad.”

Nobel laureate Malala Yousafzai expressed solidarity with the Baloch women. In her statement, Malala said, “I stand with my Baloch sisters who are demanding accountability for enforced disappearances. Their right is to protest peacefully, and their voices must be heard.” Prominent Pakistani journalist Hamid Mir, dropped the final brick by stating that: “The state, by deporting Baloch people, is sending a clear message that Baluchistan is a separate country.”

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