Archive for Human Rights

Police threaten indiscriminate revenge killings in Balochistan

Posted in International Affairs, Pakistan with tags , , , on September 4, 2009 by Umer

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

September 2, 2009 
ALRC-CWS-12-04-2009

HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL 
Twelfth session – Item 4

A written statement submitted by the Asian Legal Resource Centre (ALRC), a non-governmental organisation with general consultative status

PAKISTAN: Police threaten indiscriminate revenge killings in Balochistan

The Asian Legal Resource Centre (ALRC) wishes to bring to the attention of the Human Rights Council the situation of human rights in Balochistan, Pakistan’s south-western province, which is deteriorating day by day due to the heavy-handed policies being adopted by the government towards nationalist groups. In response to the recent increase in violence committed by nationalist militants, a high-ranking police official threatened in a press conference on August 21 to begin killing people indiscriminately in the province in retaliation. 

Mr. Ghulam Shabbir Shiekh, the deputy inspector of police, Nasserabad range, announced on Friday that the police will kill 40 local persons in revenge for the militants’ alleged abduction and murder of 20 policemen in July and August. No targets, however, were specified. Mr. Shiekh also threatened that if any bullet was fired at the police, the police would fire 100 bullets indiscriminately back at the locality from where the bullet was fired. If any rocket was fired at police stations, the police would fire 10 rockets back. 

The announcement by Mr. Shiekh was the most recent attempt by Pakistani state agencies to instil fear among Baloch nationalists. Earlier, in January, 2009, journalists received threats from the Director of the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) for writing editorials demanding investigations into allegations that the army is running torture cells and detaining female prisoners. The Director, who also holds the rank of Major General, threatened to withhold official advertisements and payments from the newspapers if they continued their “malicious” campaign against the army. Some television channels disclosed the threats publicly, but the Federal Minister for Information denied that the ISPR Director has made any such announcement.1 

These developments reflect the serious situation of human rights in Balochistan, which continues to degrade despite the government’s promise to revive law and order. After the removal of General Musharraf, the newly elected government of Asif Zardari announced in 2008 that military operations in Balochistan would be halted. Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani and government parties apologized before the parliament for military excesses committed during the operations there. 

In reality, however, no serious effort has yet been undertaken to resolve the rampant problem of illegal arrests and extra-judicial killings that plague Balochistan. Rather than adopting democratic institutions, Prime Minister Gilani has accused nationalist groups of being run by Indian agents. Cases of disappearances have continued to take place in the same way as they did during the military regime of Musharraf. Personnel of the Frontier Constabulary (FC) have arrested victims during the daytime and taken them into jeeps without registration plates. Victims are reportedly being transferred to military-run torture cells and kept in incommunicado until confessional statements have been forcefully extracted. 

As of August 2009, an estimated 60 persons had been forcibly disappeared in Balochistan in 2009. This represents an increase from the estimated 39 cases of forced disappearance that were reported having been committed in the last nine months of 2008. A total of 99 cases of disappearances have taken place since the newly elected government came to power last March. The members of FC are being afforded impunity for these acts, as the police are claiming having no knowledge about the arrests and subsequent disappearances. Furthermore, under the state of emergency declared by General Musharraf on November 3, 2007, a Constitution (Amendment) Order, dated 20 November 2007, was issued.2 Under this amendment’s section 6, the addition of Article 270AAA to the Constitution ensures that no acts performed by any State authorities or members thereof can at present be challenged in any court in Pakistan, including the Anti-Terrorism Court or the High Court. This amendment continues to grant total de facto impunity to all State-actors in Pakistan. In order to undo this amendment to the Constitution, the Parliament (the Senate and the National Assembly), is required to vote to do so with a two-thirds majority. Since the removal of Musharraf, however, the Parliament has thus far failed to undo this amendment, and the legacy of the emergency continues to be the key obstacle that is preventing the fight against impunity and for justice concerning violations of human rights in the country to date. 

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Beware Human Rights Fundamentalism!

Posted in International Affairs, Law with tags , , , , , , , , , , on March 28, 2009 by Umer

by Mahmood Mamdani

When former South African president Thabo Mbeki makes the African case for a postponement of the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) indictment of President Omar al-Bashir of Sudan, what can he say with dignity and foresight?

To begin with, he should remind his audience that nowhere in the world have rights existed outside an enabling political context. No democracy enforces a fixed standard of rights regardless of the country’s political context. Few can forget how the Bush administration diluted the Bill of Rights in the interest of pursuing Homeland Security. In the relation between law and politics, politics is always paramount. Precisely because the struggle for rights is a political struggle, enforcers of rights — and not just its violators — need to be held politically accountable lest they turn rights enforcement into a private vendetta.

Mbeki can then share with his audience the lessons Africans have learned in the struggle for peace and justice over the past several decades. Contrary to what many think, this lesson is not that there needs to be a trade-off between peace and justice. The real trade-off is between different forms of justice.This became evident with the settlement to end apartheid. That settlement was possible because the political leadership of the anti-apartheid struggle prioritised political justice over criminal justice. The rationale was simple: where there was no victor, one would need the cooperation of the very leaders who would otherwise be charged with war crimes to end the fighting and initiate political reforms. The essence of Kempton Park can be summed up in a single phrase: forgive but do not forget. Forgive all past crimes — in plain words, immunity from prosecution — provided both sides agree to change the rules to assure political justice for the living.

The South African lesson has guided African practice in other difficult situations. In Mozambique Renamo sits in Parliament instead of in jail or in the dock. In South Sudan, too, there would have been neither peace nor a reform of the political system without an agreement not to pursue criminal justice.Why not in Darfur?

Mbeki would also be well advised to keep in mind that in the court of public opinion — unlike in a court of law — the accused is considered guilty until proven innocent.

The public needs to be reminded that when the justices of the ICC granted the prosecutor’s application for a warrant to arrest the president of Sudan, they were not issuing a verdict of guilty. The justices were not meant to assess the facts put before them by the prosecutor, but to ask a different question: if those facts were assumed to be true, would the president of Sudan have a case to answer? Unlike court, which took the facts for granted at the pre-trial stage, we need to ask: to what extent are these facts true? And, to the extent they are true, are they the whole truth?

The prosecutor’s case
The prosecutor’s application charged President al-Bashir with (a) polarising Darfuri tribes into two races (Arab and Zurga or Black), (b) waging a violent conflict (2003-2005) leading to the ethnic cleansing of Zurga ethnic groups from their traditional tribal lands, and (c) and planning the malnutrition, rape and torture of internally displaced persons (IDPs) so as to “slow death” in the camps — a process that the prosecutor claimed went on from 2003 to the time the application was submitted in 2008.

The racialisation of identities in Darfur had its roots in the British colonial period. As early as the late 1920s, the British tried to organise two confederations in Darfur: one “Arab”, the other “Zurga” or black. Racialised identities were incorporated in the census and provided the frame for government policy and administration. In spite of official policy, Arabs never constituted a single racial group. Contemporary scholarship has shown that the Arab tribes of Sudan were not migrants from the Middle East but indigenous groups that became Arabs starting in the 18th century. This is why there can be no single history of Arab tribes of Sudan. Little unites privileged sedentary tribes of riverine Sudan and impoverished nomads of Western Sudan. Unlike the Arabs of riverine north, who have tended to identify with power, the Arabs of Darfur are the most marginalised group in a marginalised province.

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Festival of the oppressed: February 9th, 2008

Posted in Communist Movement, Pakistan with tags , , , , , , , , on February 12, 2008 by Umer

February 9th, 2008, was an important day for the lawyers’ movement and for the people of Pakistan. It was that day when the lawyers showed their resilience in the face of State repression on the streets of Islamabad. It was that day when the lawyers showed to the rest of the world that their movement will not fade away. It will stand to accomplish its objectives. It will stand for the rights of the people, for restoration of judiciary, for free and fair elections. The Communist Mazdoor Kissan Party (CMKP) finds it to their honor to stand by the lawyers in their struggle for democracy and justice.

It started with the usual chill of the winter morning when a car rally organized by the Concerned Citizens of Pakistan left from the gates of Aitzaz Ahsan’s residence in Lahore. The organizers were kind enough to give space to some student-members of the CMKP for free. The long journey was made easy by discussions that ranged from anti-war movement in USA to political theories and the upcoming elections in Pakistan. We made short stays at the Bar Associations on our way as more lawyers and cars joined in. Ahmed Mukhtar, who is contesting elections from Pakistan People’s Party against Pakistan Muslim League-Q’s stalwart Shujat Hussain, hosted our lunch and briefed us about his preparations to tackle rigging of elections in his constituency. As we were getting late, we had to avoid more stops and rushed towards Islamabad.

Still we were not on time to attend the Pakistan Bar Council’s meeting at Islamabad. We drove to the Aitzaz Ahsan’s house where a group of lawyers was waiting for us, ready to march on to the residence of Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry. As the demonstration started, members of CMKP from Rawalpindi/Islamabad arrived armed with large red flags marked with the hammer and sickle and a megaphone. Without wasting any moment, we ran towards the rally waving our flags, caught our breath, and started raising our slogans against the military rule.

The path to the Chief Justice’s house passes through an upward slope and a large contingent of Police was deployed there behind a barricade. As we approached the cordon, the first splash of water cannon was thrown our way. At first, there was a slight panic. The water cannon were being used for the first time and some people who were not expecting to face the strong pressure of water also fell on the road. The Government of Pakistan was trying to find proper use of fire brigade, which had failed miserably in dealing with a number of fires in the past, to defeat the political protests. However, it only dampened the protestors in the chilling cold – nothing more than that. Obviously, those who are willing to get their heads opened by stones in the course of struggle were not to be deterred by water. Soon there was a cry: “it’s only water”. Everyone moved forward facing the high pressure of water cannon. Some lawyers also started pelting stones to respond to State’s aggression. As I approached the barricade, all wet and damp, I found fellow CMKP members standing right on the barricade. Comrade A was standing with open arms challenging the water cannon while his back was being supported by Comrade F. The pressure of water was so high that even Comrade F slipped a few inches back to hold up Comrade A from falling back when faced with splashes.

The fire brigade failed miserably – again. They must have run out of water. The first shell of tear-gas was launched at the agitators. It was dreadful. I have been facing tear-gas since March last year and not that I can resist tear-gas (one of my friends who has been swimming since childhood can), I could see that this was not the ordinary one that we have been inhaling in Lahore. Old ladies, their commitment must be appreciated, who could not run fell down in the midst of the tear-gas attack and were helped out by young students. It was unbearable. As I ran back, my face and eyes were burning with stinging pain and there was a strong urge to vomit. With eyes half-closed and face coved by the wet flag, I ran back to the point where I could feel comfortable. It was quite a run.

Anyhow, I recovered in around five minutes and rushed to the front where an active fight was taking place between lawyers and Police. I immediately started looking for a stone and was lucky to have one delivered by the Police just few feet away from me. I happily returned it.

The lawyers were fighting with great energy and enthusiasm. They were chanting slogans against the Police and standing valiantly in the line of stone-fire. More tear-gas shells were fired, which were returned back by angry agitators who were wearing gloves to save their hands as they hold hot shells. Such daring was appreciated by loud cheers from the rest and boosted our spirits. Young girls were swearing at the dictator and throwing rocks at the Police. That was a place to be – all that I could have wished for. Now, I wish for more. But, I was joyful. Revolution is, after all, a festival of the oppressed.

In a middle of all this, a well-known senior lawyer positioned himself at higher spot, wanting to engage the crowd with his cold speech. That gentleman was keener to deliver a speech to the lawyers rather than leading them like other gallant senior lawyers, some of whom was arrested by the Police. People were not interested in words. They wanted action from their leaders. A young female lawyer asked the orator to step down (in no kind words) and to go where action is. That “leader” had to step down, but was nowhere to be seen at the front.

Another interesting bit was interaction with the management of Marriott Hotel that was on the street where the whole event was taking place. Some lawyers asked the Hotel management to provide them with water so that they can treat their burning eyes. The management plainly denied. The furious lawyers started throwing the tear-gas shells that could not be returned to the Police at Marriott. When the Police misfired a tear-gas shell into the Marriott, it was cheered by the protestors. Such was the anger against the apathetic management of the Hotel that found it better to serve their rich clients rather than those fighting for democracy in the streets. Such was the anger against the symbols of class oppression.

In the meanwhile, the protestors had divided in four groups: one in the middle, one on the right, and the third on the left. The fourth was at the back. The middle one was the bait for the Police. Attacks were launched from the left and the right. The group at the back only moved further back.

The Police, hitting their shields with their batons, moved further in offensive and the lawyers had the retreat. Some lawyers tried to make last attempts at attacking a police. A small group chanting Allah ho smashed themselves into the Policemen. All were arrested. It was interesting how the rich sufi tradition of the South Asia found itself in the movement for democracy and justice. The flank on the left was routed by Police into a street. One of my friends who were with that group evaded arrest by excusing that he was only there to pick up his sister from the protest. Many people from that faction were arrested by the Police.

Finally, the lawyers had to retreat into the Super Market with the chants of Allah ho. It was a good day. The lawyers engaged the Police for three hours in a fierce street battle and showed superb patience and valiance. The movement was shown to be alive and kicking.

Before I part with this report, there is a questions that erupted after the protest that I want to deal here. A good fellow questioned the utility of going these protests. His argument was that we should focus our energy in raising awareness elsewhere rather than attending public demonstrations. While I whole-heartedly agree with the idea that we must go to schools and colleges or, for that matter, everywhere we find a crowd to raise consciousness, we should not underestimate the potential of protests. People don’t learn merely through words. Had that been the case, the revolution would have occurred many years ago. People also learn from practical examples. We must show them and motivate them with our struggle in the street protests against the Military Dictatorship. As the Salvador Allende, the Marxist President of Chile, said in his last address to his people moments before he was murdered when fighting against military generals who instigated a coup against him: “I am sure my sacrifice will not be in vain; I am sure that it will at least be a moral lesson which will punish felony, cowardice and, treason.” When we attend the protest, we challenge apathy and cowardice. Not only we set an example for others, we educate ourselves with the lessons that can only be experienced from the streets and not the books.