September 22, 2016
On 19 September 2016, the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO), in cooperation with the Nonviolent Radical Party (NRPTT), convened a side-event to the 33rd Regular Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council. Entitled “Never to Be Seen Again: Enforced Disappearances and Pakistan’s Bloody Campaign to Impose CPEC in Balochistan”, the successful international conference took place only days after the release of the annual report of the UN Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances’ (WGEID) and brought together high-level international speakers to debate about ongoing human rights abuses in Balochistan and its structural causes.
In his opening remarks, Baloch human rights campaigner Mr Noordin Mengal reminded the audience that, while Balochistan’s economic wealth and resources are exploited by the Pakistani state, the Baloch people’s right to self-determination remains denied since 1948 and their most basic human rights violated on a daily basis. In this context, it is “imperative for the international community to facilitate genuine support for the Baloch’s progressive struggle for rights, justice and equality”, he concluded.
Ms Sabah Bandoui, representative of the Balochistan Human Rights Group, expanded the discussion by sharing an overview of the suffering of Balochis on the other side of Pakistan’s border, In Iran. Drawing a sad comparison with the equally disturbing methods used by Pakistan, Ms Bandoui remarked that, despite gross human rights violations perpetrated against Balochi civilians, “national and international media, as well as the international community remain silent and fail to improve or even just acknowledge the horrible human rights situation in West Balochistan”.
Mr Mirza Wahajat Hassan, exiled Chairman of the Gilgit-Baltistan Thinkers Forum and Ex-Chairman of the All Parties National Alliance then spoke about the largely controversial construction of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). Discussing the importance of Gilgit-Baltistan, the starting point of the project to connect China’s largest province, Xinjiang, with Gwadar, Mr Hassan explained that “CPEC cuts through the territory of Gilgit-Baltistan and is directly affecting more than 400.000 indigenous people” – without their consent.
Ms Michelle Kissenkoetter, Director of the Asia Bureau of FIDH, focused her intervention on enforced disappearances, sharing an overview of the increasing trend in this crime over the past five years in Pakistan, and especially Balochistan. Pointing to the fact that in 2016 an average of 73 disappearances per month has occurred, Ms Kissenkoetter said that this is “proof that it is a very serious crime, based on which it is impossible to claim that [enforced disappearances] are random acts by militias”.
Closing the event, Mr Peter Tatchell, Director of the Peter Tatchell Foundation, offered an eight point action plan to improve the situation in Balochistan. Among his points, “a halt to western arms sales to Pakistan; a UN appointed Special Rapporteur on Balochistan; the prosecution of military and intelligence chiefs in Pakistan on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity under international humanitarian law; and making western aid to Pakistan conditional on the ending of human rights violations” are crucial steps to ensure justice in the region.
Bringing together high-level speakers that offered diverse perspectives, the side-event was another step forward in a long-term campaign to raise awareness at the Human Rights Council of the ‘disappearance campaign’ promoted by agents of the Pakistani state, who systematically abduct, ill-treat, torture and kill Baloch dissidents and human rights defenders without any legal repercussions. Furthermore, the event enlarged the discussion about the implications of the CPEC for the Baloch people. At times when independent media and civil society are repeatedly being denied access to the region, the debate not only informed about the situation in Balochistan, but also offered a pragmatic roadmap to end impunity and human rights violations. As the event concluded, the ongoing slow-motion genocide in Balochistan will not be stopped unless a concerted effort by the international community is put in practice.