Europe shouldn’t remain silent about the atrocities taking place in Pakistan’s Baluchistan province, writes MEP Charles Tannock.
Charles Tannock (Conservative Party), Member of the Parliamentary Committee on Foreign Affairs.
Baluchistan is a sparsely populated province rich in natural resources, yet it remains the poorest part of Pakistan. Regularly blighted by reports of violence, kidnappings, torture, deaths and prosecutions, the province faces many troubles.
Many of the victims remain women and children. Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) and other local NGOs have been reporting that Baluchistan is the province with the highest maternal mortality in Pakistan, mainly due to the lack of hospitals and doctors in the region. A Pakistan Health Demographic Survey (PHDS) showed for 100,000 women, 785 women die in childbirth Baluchistan, compared to national rate of 272 for every 100,000.
According to a 2015 Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, violence in the province has cost many lives among the civilian population. In one reported incident, eighteen plainclothes gunmen, later alleged as belonging to Pakistan’s paramilitary Frontier Corps, reportedly abducted Zahid Baloch, chairperson of the Baloch Student Organization-Azad, in the provincial capital of Quett – his whereabouts is still unknown. According to Amnesty International the bodies of men and boys arbitrarily detained by the Pakistan armed forces continue to be recovered months or years later, while activists are being detained and tortured, often as a means to prevent them from testifying before international bodies. One such individual is Kareem Khan, an anti-drone activist and victims’ relative, who disappeared days before he was due to testify before the European Parliament.
Human rights activists accuse the military of conducting operations within civilian areas, often bombing entire villages. In one reported attack on the 18th July 2015, during the Eid holiday at the end of Ramadan, an aerial military operation was conducted, bombing a village where a leader of the Baloch Liberation Front allegedly had found refuge. The operation was unannounced and many women and children were killed during the operation, with relatives not being allowed to approach the area for a month, according to the report, therefore not being able to recover the bodies of the dead.
Recent reports from Mr. Mehran Baluch, Baluch Representative to the United Nations Human Rights Council allege how government forces, military wearing insignias or paramilitary groups, conduct operations in civilian properties, invading homes, arbitrarily kidnaping civilians (including women and children), often torturing them, killing and disposing of their bodies. According to Mr. Mehran Baluch, the figure of missing Baloch exceeds 20000 people. There are reports of many mass graves have been found where Baluchi people, including children, have been buried alive. Despite the rulings from the Pakistan Supreme Court, as well as the calls from the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, Pakistan’s government has failed to meet its obligations in stopping the enforced disappearances and bringing those responsible in the military to justice.
Journalists are also a target, as the military that holds most powers in the province is enforcing a propaganda campaign that projects the military and its leadership as the saviour of the people. Reporters are regularly interrogated and threatened with their own life and that of their family, while foreign reporters are forbidden from entering the province. Reporters have also been killed as a result of their work.
We in Europe shouldn’t remain silent while hearing about these kinds of atrocities. We have the necessary tools to put pressure on the government of Pakistan, such as reviewing its GSP+ status that is specifically linked to its human rights record, to enforce not only its obligations under international law but also its obligations according to its own constitution.