UNPO Side-Event to the 36th Session of the UNHRC: Stranded between Pakistan and China: Gilgit-Baltistan in Focus
On 27 September 2017, the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organisation (UNPO), in cooperation with the Nonviolent Radical Party, Transnational Transparty (NRPTT) convened a side-event to the 36th Regular Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council entitled “Stranded between China and Pakistan: Gilgit-Baltistan in Focus”. The conference brought together speakers from different areas of expertise to shed light on the ongoing human rights violation in the occupied territory of Gilgit-Baltistan, while focusing on the historical, geographical as well as legal perspective the case holds.
The conference was opened and moderated by Mr Fernando Burgés, UNPO Programme Manager, who introduced the importance of the event as another opportunity to raise awareness of the case of the disputed territory of Gilgit-Baltistan, largely forgotten over the years by the international community.
The first speaker of the conference, Prof. Dr. Kreutzmann from the Freie Universitaet Berlin, introduced CPEC and elaborated on the impact the economic project will have for Gilgit-Baltistan. Based on his extensive research on the field, he underlined that the essence of the project is to develop infrastructure and the cross border trade between Pakistan and China, connecting the two countries through the mountain areas while focusing on the exploitation of resources. Dr Kreutzmann went on emphasising on the different ethnicities, religions, languages, as well as political expressions in the region. In light of the fact that Gilgit-Baltistan is not constitutionally integrated into Pakistan, he observed that it remains highly problematic for outsiders such as Pakistan and China to decide and to enforce upon the people of the region the implementation of CPEC.
Mr Mirza Wajahat Hassan, the Exiled Chairman of the Gilgit-Baltistan Thinkers Forum brought a historical and personal dimension to the situation. Mr Hassan, who has been in Exile since 2014, spoke about his fate at the hands of Pakistani occupiers in Gilgit-Baltistan. While he himself has experienced drastic human rights infringements, he laid the emphasis on how the people of Gilgit-Baltistan have been kept largely unaware about the disputed status of their region. Against the trend of indigenous peoples becoming a minority within their own territory, Mr Hassan called for the enforcement of the state-subject rule, abolished by Pakistan in 1974. Finally, he remarked that any concern raised by the indigenous community against the lack of fundamental freedoms and CPEC has been violently repressed by Pakistan, resulting in numerous arrests under alleged terrorism charges.
The Director of the European Foundation for South Asian Studies (EFSAS), Mr Junaid Quereshi, rounded up the conference by focusing on the legal perspective of Gilgit-Baltistan. Reminding the audience of the controversial 1963 border agreement with China which resulted in the illegal seizure of the area, as well as of the fact that since the Kashmir war Gilgit-Baltistan has never been fully integrated into the Pakistan state, Mr Qureshi observed that the Islamabad as an occupier, nevertheless, continues to enforce their power on the local people, which is illegal under international law.
The successful side-event has shown that, although the case of Gilgit-Baltistan lays on UN Resolutions, the fate of the people within the region is still mostly unknown. The economic trade conjunction between China and Pakistan is shedding new light on the case of Gilgit-Baltistan area and therefore on the human rights violations to which the indigenous peoples are being exposed to. Under the implementation of CPEC, Pakistan is moving in closer, not only occupying but drastically cracking down on dissent. In this context, UNPO will continue with its series of activities to remind the international community as well as the UN that, for over 70 years, the people of Gilgit-Baltistan have been suffering and their concerns left unheard.