Jul 15, 2022

Pakistan : UNPO Submits Universal Periodic Review to UN with Focus on Self-Determination

The Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization, alongside the World Sindhi Congress, has submitted a Universal Periodic Review to the United Nations Human Rights Council on the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. Pakistan is home to several ethnic groups and its nominally federal make up should reflect this. However, Pakistan's central government, driven in the background by the military's grip on major power levers, has frequently violated the rights of ethnic groups in Pakistan including the Sindh, the Baloch, Gilgit-Baltistan and many others. Central to the human rights violations are infrastructure development projects that resort to unlawful expropriation of land and exclusion of the local people from decision making processes. Also central is the denial of the right to self-determination and free, prior and informed consent.

UNPO submitted the review based on the violations of numerous human rights by the government of Pakistan. The report urges the implementation of concrete measures to resolve the growing tensions between communities in Pakistan. UNPO believes a cessation of land expropriation, investigations into the priority of existing land expropriations and occupations, a return of seized land to local communities and an end to enforced disapearances. 

Pakistan had agreed in a previous cycle to "strengthen the participation of minorities in all spheres of public life" - yet the evidence provided by UNPO's members displays a damning neglect to include the relevant stakeholders in decision making processes in recent years. Although a federal structure is implemented institutionally, many of the great development projects are driven by what is a heavily centralized state governed from the capital Islamabad. 

UNPO had already raised the alarm in our report on A Tale of Three Ports : The Impact of the Belt and Road Initiative on the Unrepresented Peoples in Pakistan and China. The report outlined an economic model based on dumping massive development projects without free, prior and informed consent (guarenteed by the UN's Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in a General Comment in 2021). We also highlighted the phenomenon of debt traps being deployed on the Pakistani via foreign investment approved by the central government in a complaint to the UN Independent Expert on foreign debt and human rights.

The military continues to execute these projects, crushing dissent in some cases by arrested or making community leaders objecting to the projects dissapear. The military is omnipresent in Pakistan's economic and political life. Often land is afforded to the military at a fraction of market cost for it to exploit, such as the 17,000 acres in Sindh, or they will involve themselves in the building of the infrastructural projects. Of particular significance in the close relationship they have with the Chinese Communist Party and their Belt and Road initiative, with this source of foreign investment being prioritised over the concerns of the local people. 

Too often it is Pakistan's minorities that are subject to the negative externalities of the projects, including environmental degration. The Diamer dam in Gilgit-Baltistan rendered entire swathes of the land uninhabitable. Water shortages are common in the Sindh province, due to the creation of reservoirs more upstream than the Indus River's natural flow. 

Overall this paints a sorry picture of the state of neglect ethnic groups in Pakistan have and the overall failure of its federal model to involve key stakeholders. With the above in mind, we submitted the following reccomendations to the Pakistani government : 

  • Allow for an international fact-finding mission to Pakistan to assess the state's practices of illegal occupation of land, underground and surface water issues, seawater intrusion, and water appropriations through the construction of megastructures on the River Indus in Sindh and Balochistan.
  • Ensure the participation of minorities and indigenous people in all spheres of national life, including through procedures that uphold their rights to self-determination, including the right to free-prior and informed consent over land development projects.
  • Conduct a comprehensive assessment of the land expropriation policies in Pakistan, including an investigation of individual instances, such as the situation of indigenous people in Sindh (100's villages) who are displaced under the Bahria Town Development Schemes and many more military-owned housing schemes in Sindh.
  • Conduct a commission of inquiry into internationally-funded development projects, such as the China- Pakistan Economic Corridor, including participation from all affected communities to determine how such projects can be better managed in the future.
  • Provide adequate means of redress for communities who have been subjected to illegal expropriation or who have been inadequately compensated for expropriation, including through the return of lands to those who have been subjected to forced relocation following expropriations subsequently ruled illegal.
  • Conduct fulsome environmental impact assessments of development projects, cease the construction of mega projects in fragile environments, specifically in Gilgit-Baltistan and on and around the Indus River in Sindh province, which could potentially harm the biodiversity and the people of the regions.
  • Allocate the development funds it receives for infrastructure and land projects to provide upgraded water and sewer irrigation systems that do not let harmful toxins or waste flow into the natural groundwater surrounding development projects, such as in Sindh.
  • Take measures to strengthen the public health system, particularly in Sindh, where people are predominantly affected by air and water pollution, in line with the commitment during the 3 rd cycle to "allocate sufficient resources to strengthen public health, aiming to provide affordable and quality basic medical services."
  • Ensure freedom of expression and assembly is respected by refraining from excessive use of force against protesters, particularly journalists, students, activists and community members of the Sindh and the Baluch.
  • Ratify the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearances