Woes of Baloch Missing Persons and Conflict in Balochistan
November 04, 2011
The issue of enforced disappearances or missing persons remains at the heart of the Balochistan conflict. The proliferation of enforced disappearances by the security forces has been a relatively recent development in the current phase of insurgency. The intelligence agencies have allegedly been picking up people and holding them in custody ad infinitum in order to subdue the insurgency in the province. These disappearances are a distinctive feature of the broader conflict in Balochistan. Many cases result in the extrajudicial killing of the victims.
While the problem is widespread, the exact number of enforced disappearances in recent years remains unknown. Figures and statistics of different organizations vary greatly. Official numbers of disappeared persons are wildly contradictory. In 2008, Pakistan’s interior minister, Rehman Malik, admitted at least 1,100 victims were missing in Balochistan. In January 2011 Balochistan’s home minister, Mir Zafrullah Zehri, told provincial legislators that only 55 persons were considered missing. The minister provided no explanation for these figures, which are inconsistent with those of credible sources. However, the Balochistan chief minister says that he has a list of 800 missing persons.
Meanwhile the number of missing persons put forth by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) is 600. Out of these 600 missing persons, particulars of 240 have been verified while 40 have been killed in mysterious circumstances. According to Defence for Human Rights, the number of missing persons in Balochistan is 1,700—including 144 women—and a list of these missing persons has been submitted to the Supreme Court of Pakistan as well. Reports published by Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) estimate that the number of missing persons in Balochistan is around 1,000, and the figure was confirmed by the federal interior minister on February 14, 2009. At the same time Baloch nationalist forces claim that the number of the illegal detained is around 9,000. A list has alos been prepared by BNP (Mengal) and handed over to various national and international human rights organizations. However, these figures have not been independently verified so far.
Usually these abductions are carried out in broad daylight, often in busy public areas, and in the presence of multiple witnesses. Victims are taken away from shops and hotels, public buses, university campuses, homes, and places of work. Another feature of enforced disappearances in Balochistan is that many of the victims, especially senior political activists, have been “disappeared” more than once. They have been abducted, held in unacknowledged detention for weeks or even months, released, and then abducted again.
Majority of the victims of enforced disappearances are predominantly men in their mid-20s to mid-40. They appear to have been targeted because of alleged participation in Baloch nationalist parties and m ovements, including the Baloch Republican Party (BRP), Baloch National Front (BNF), Baloch National Movement (BNM) and Balochistan National Party (BNP), as well as the Baloch Student Organization (Azad) (BSO-Azad). In several cases, people appeared to have been targeted because of their tribal affiliation, especially when a particular tribe, such as the Bugti or Mengal, was involved in fighting with Pakistan’s armed forces.
The inability of state’s criminal justice system to tackle the problem of disappearances has further exacerbated the grievances and alienation of Baloch people. This failure remains one of the key factors contributing to the persistent cycle of unrest and insurgency in Balochistan. It also deeply undermines the efforts of the Pakistani government to win the trust of the Baloch people and achieve reconciliation in the province.
While enforced disappearances themselves constitute a serious and continuing violation of human rights, they also greatly increase the risk of extrajudicial killings, torture, and ill-treatment of persons in custody. The practice of holding people incommunicado in unacknowledged detention in unofficial facilities, maintaining no public records of arrest and detention, and refusing to grant relatives and lawyers access to detainees, creates ample opportunity for further abuses. Information on the fate of persons subjected to enforced disappearances in Pakistan is scarce. Those whom the security forces eventually release are frequently reluctant to talk about their experiences for fear of being disappeared again or facing other repercussions.
Under the law anyone arrested and accused of a crime must be produced before a judicial magistrate within 24 hours of the arrest. None of the missing persons had been produced before any court of law for months and often for years after they were taken into custody. No charges or cases were submitted against them within the stipulated 14 days. Despite the matter being raised in the Supreme Court in 2007 and pressure exerted by national and international human rights organizations, only some of the missing persons have been traced or released.
So far the government has failed to solve the issue of the missing persons, whose number is constantly rising. Without addressing the issue of missing person no positive headways can be made in Balochistan. All illegally detained and missing persons should be released or produced in courts immediately. A judicial commission that has the confidence of families of the missing people should be set up to probe the issue and also to look into the charges and/or cases filed against them.