“Even if the president or chief justice tells us to release you, we won’t. We can torture you, or kill you, or keep you for years at our will. It is only the Army chief and the intelligence chief that we obey.”
– Pakistani official to Bashir Azeem, the 76-year-old secretary-general of the Baloch Republican Party, during his unacknowledged detention, April 2010
“Disappearances of people of Balochistan are the most burning issue in the country. Due to this issue, the situation in Balochistan is at its worst.”
– Supreme Court Justice Javed Iqbal, commenting on the establishment of the Commission of Inquiry for Missing Persons on May 4, 2010.
“One of them pointed his gun at Abdul Nasir and shouted, ‘Get up!’ As soon as Abdul Nasir got off the ground the man walked him to their car. Since that time I have not seen Abdul.”
– Witness to enforced disappearance of Abdul Nasir, June 2010
On December 11, 2009, a 39-year-old Baloch nationalist activist, Abdul Ghaffar Lango, and his wife were leaving a hospital inPakistan’s southern city ofKarachiafter her discharge from surgery when two whiteToyotapickup trucks suddenly stopped at the main gate. Lango’s wife said that about 10 men in plain clothes approached the couple and one started beating Lango with the butt of an AK-47 assault rifle until he lost consciousness. The men then dragged him into one of the pickups and drove away. When the family went to register the abduction with the police, the police informed them that Lango had been detained because of his political activities, yet refused to provide further information on his whereabouts or specific charges against him.
On July 1, 2011, Lango’s corpse was found in an abandoned hotel near Lakbado area of Gadani town in the Lasbela district of Balochistan. The local police represented by the Station House Officer (SHO) of Gadani Police Station told the local media that “the body bore multiple marks of brutal torture.”
Lango’s case illustrates a disturbingly regular feature of the ongoing conflict inPakistan’s western province of Balochistan: the practice of enforced disappearances, in which the authorities or their agents take people into custody and then deny all responsibility or knowledge of their fate or whereabouts.
Enforced disappearances inflict unbearable cruelty not just on the victims, but on family members, who often wait years or decades to learn of their fate. Many cases result in the extrajudicial killing of the victims.
Under international law, “disappearances” are considered a continuing offense, one that is ongoing so long as the state conceals the fate or the whereabouts of the victim.
The problem of disappearances inPakistanis widespread and is not limited to Balochistan province. This report, however, focuses specifically on “disappearances” in Balochistan, as they are a distinctive feature of the conflict there between government security forces and armed militants that has devastated the province over many years. These disappearances take place in a province in which armed militants, particularly Baloch nationalist armed groups, have attacked security forces and military bases throughout the province.
These groups have been responsible for many targeted killings, including the killing of numerous teachers and other educators. In recent years they have increasingly attacked non-Baloch civilians and their businesses, as well as major gas installations and infrastructure.
Human Rights Watch documented abuses by militants in its 2010 report, “Their Future Is at Stake”: Attacks on Teachers and Schools in Pakistan’s Balochistan Province.
For this report, Human Rights Watch interviewed over 100 individuals inPakistan, including family members of disappeared individuals, persons who had been held in unacknowledged detention and then released, local human rights activists, lawyers, and witnesses.
These cases show thatPakistan’s security forces, particularly its intelligence agencies, targeted for enforced disappearance ethnic Baloch suspected of involvement in the Baloch nationalist movement. Evidence of a broader campaign by the authorities includes detailed accounts of the released detainees and their relatives, witness accounts describing the circumstances of abductions and the identity of the perpetrators, and admissions by government officials. In a few cases representatives of the intelligence agencies admitted responsibility to the families, or during court hearings. None of the victims, their relatives or eyewitnesses to the alleged disappearances interviewed by Human Rights Watch blamed armed Baloch groups. Most blamed Pakistan’s intelligence agencies or the paramilitary Frontier Corps.
Abductions were carried out in broad daylight, often in busy public areas, and in the presence of multiple witnesses. Victims were taken away from shops and hotels, public buses, university campuses, homes, and places of work.
The victims of enforced disappearances in the cases documented were predominantly men in their mid-20s to mid-40s. Three of the disappeared were children, the youngest of whom was 12 years old at the time of the abduction. In three cases, the victims were over 60 years old. Most victims appear to have been targeted because of alleged participation in Baloch nationalist parties and movements, including the Baloch Republican Party (BRP), Baloch National Front (BNF), Baloch National Movement (BNM) and Balochistan National Party (BNP), as well as the Baloch Student Organization (Azad) (BSO-Azad). In several cases, people appeared to have been targeted because of their tribal affiliation, especially when a particular tribe, such as the Bugti or Mengal, was involved in fighting with Pakistan’s armed forces.
Witnesses frequently described the perpetrators as armed men in civilian clothes, usually arriving in one or more four-door pickup trucks. The witnesses typically referred to these assailants as representatives of the “agencies,” a term commonly used to describe the intelligence agencies, including the ISI, Military Intelligence (MI), and the Intelligence Bureau (IB). Other information obtained by Human Rights Watch in many cases corroborates these claims.
In 16 cases documented by Human Rights Watch, the abductions were carried out by, in the presence of, or with the assistance of uniformed personnel of the Frontier Corps (FC), an Interior Ministry paramilitary force. In a number of cases, police assisted by being present at the scene or securing an area while plainclothes intelligence officers abducted individuals who later “disappeared.”
In all the cases Human Rights Watch documented, even evident members of the security forces did not identify themselves, explain the basis for arrest or where they were taking those apprehended. Often instead they beat the victims and dragged them handcuffed and blindfolded into their vehicles. For example, on July 1, 2010, Shams Baloch, the 49-yearold former mayor of Khuzdar town in Balochistan, was abducted from an ambulance while accompanying his sick mother to a hospital inQuetta, Balochistan’s capital. About an hour after they left Khuzdar, men in Frontier Corps uniforms stopped the ambulance at a checkpoint and ordered Baloch to get out.
They proceeded to beat him, while holding others at gunpoint. Four armed men in plain clothes arrived a short time afterwards and took Baloch with them. The police refused to investigate.
Another feature of enforced disappearances in Balochistan is that many of the victims, especially senior political activists, have been “disappeared” more than once. They have been abducted, held in unacknowledged detention for weeks or even months, released, and then abducted again. And sometimes “disappearances” occur after the security forces have made several unsuccessful attempts at abducting a person before finally apprehending and disappearing the victim.
Information on the fate of persons subjected to enforced disappearances inPakistanis scarce. Some of the alleged disappeared are being held in unacknowledged detention in facilities run by the Frontier Corps and the intelligence agencies, such as at the Kuli army cantonment, a military base in Quetta.
Those whom the security forces eventually release are frequently reluctant to talk about their experiences for fear of being disappeared again or facing other repercussions. Many have been threatened with retaliation if they discuss who abducted them or reveal that they were tortured in custody. Without exception in the cases Human Rights Watch investigated, released detainees and relatives who were able to obtain information about the disappeared person’s treatment in custody reported torture and ill-treatment. Methods of torture included prolonged beatings, often with sticks or leather belts, hanging detainees upside down, and food and sleep deprivation.
In seven cases documented by Human Rights Watch, Pakistani authorities attempted to legitimize disappearances by bringing criminal charges against the missing persons. In some cases, the detainees were then transferred into police custody and brought to trial. In other cases, such as that of Dr. Din Mohammad Baloch, the families found out about the charges from the media, yet were still unable to locate or meet with their missing relative.
There is increasing evidence to substantiate the fears of many families that disappeared relatives who have been missing for months or years have been killed in custody. According to media reports, more than 70 bodies of previously disappeared persons have been discovered between July 2010 and February 2011.
While the problem is widespread, the exact number of enforced disappearances perpetrated in recent years by Pakistan’s security forces remains unknown. Antigovernment Baloch nationalists claim thousands of cases. Official numbers of disappeared persons are wildly contradictory. In 2008,Pakistan’s interior minister, Rehman Malik, admitted at least 1,100 victims. In January 2011 Balochistan’s home minister, Mir Zafrullah Zehri, told provincial legislators that only 55 persons were considered missing. The minister provided no explanation for these figures, which are inconsistent with those of credible sources.
Some of the disappeared have been traced by various institutions. The Balochistan home minister claimed in January 2011 that 32 people had been traced. According to separate investigations by the federal Interior Ministry and provincial Home Ministry, 23 victims of disappearances have been traced. The Commission of Inquiry for Missing Persons, established by the Supreme Court of Pakistan, has traced a total of 134 persons throughout Pakistan, of which 23 have so far been released. However, this list is not publicly available and it is not known if disappeared persons from Balochistan are on this list.
Since President Zadari took office in 2008, his government has taken significant steps to address Baloch grievances. It offered a public apology to the people of Balochistan for human rights violations perpetrated by the state under military rule, including large-scale disappearances. In December 2009 the government, seeking political reconciliation in Balochistan, passed the Aghaz-e-Haqooq-e-Balochistan (“Beginning of Rights in Balochistan”) package of constitutional, political, administrative, and economic reforms. It noted the province’s “sense of deprivation in the political and economic structures of the federation” and past failure to implement provisions of the 1973 Pakistan Constitution that sought to empower the provinces.
Yet the government has not kept its promises to address the crisis of enforced disappearances in Balochistan. Those responsible for enforced disappearances in the cases documented in this report have not been held accountable. The security forces have continued to behave with the same impunity they enjoyed under the military government of President Musharraf. This impunity seems to penetrate the system at all levels: police who refuse to register and investigate disappearance cases, courts that appear unwilling or unable to fully enforce the law against the security forces, intelligence agencies that continue to blatantly ignore court orders, and high-level government officials who talk of the need for accountability yet are unwilling or unable to rein in the security forces. The reality is that security forces controlled by the military, including intelligence agencies and the Frontier Corps, continue to act outside all formal mechanisms of civilian oversight.
In the vast majority of cases we documented, relatives of the disappeared reported the cases to the local police. In most cases the police eventually, often after an order from the Supreme Court, registered the cases. Yet that is where official activity usually ended, as no investigations followed. Police often explicitly told the families that they had no powers to investigate disappearances allegedly committed by the intelligence agencies or Frontier Corps personnel.
The right to habeas corpus continues to be largely undermined both by the failure of the courts to meaningfully uphold it and by security agency defiance. In 27 disappearance cases documented in this report, the families of the victims or lawyers acting on their behalf filed petitions with the Balochistan High Court. In none of those cases did the court establish the whereabouts of the disappeared.
The Supreme Court has been more active. In 2009, it reopened the inquiry into disappearance cases acrossPakistanthat it began during the Musharraf period and that had led to a confrontation resulting in Musharraf’s dismissal of the chief justice. In May 2010 the Supreme Court formed the Commission of Inquiry for Missing Persons, with a mandate to investigate enforced disappearances and provide recommendations for eliminating this practice. A new Commission of Inquiry for Missing Persons was established by the federal Ministry of Interior on March 1, 2011. While some of the disappeared were traced by the first commission, no perpetrators were brought to account, possibly because of fears within the courts about confrontingPakistan’s powerful intelligence and security agencies.
The inability of law enforcement agencies and the criminal justice system to tackle the problem of disappearances is exacerbated by the continuing failure of Pakistani authorities at the national and provincial level to exert the political will to address the issue of disappearances in Balochistan. The authorities have failed so far to send a strong message to the security forces and intelligence agencies and to implement a set of concrete measures that would put an end to the practice of enforced disappearances.
This failure remains one of the key factors contributing to the persistent cycle of abuse and impunity in the region, which takes a heavy toll on the Baloch community. It not only affects the victims whose lives are brutalized and lost, but also their families who live in the anguish that they may never learn the fate of their loved ones. It also deeply undermines the efforts of the Pakistani government to win the trust of the Baloch people and achieve reconciliation in the province.
To the Government ofPakistanand the Provincial Government of Balochistan:
- Investigate all allegations of enforced disappearances until the fate of each victim is clearly and publicly established. Investigate all related allegations of torture, extrajudicial killings, or other abuses.
- Account for every person detained by all authorities in Balochistan, and in particular those accused of involvement in attacks by Baloch armed groups or arrested in military operations in Balochistan.
- Instruct the police to register all cases of abductions and unlawful arrests, even if the alleged perpetrators include the personnel of the intelligence agencies, the Frontier Corps, or other security forces.
- Ensure that the police and Commission of Inquiry for Missing Persons (CIMP) have the necessary authority and resources to vigorously investigate cases of disappearance, including those perpetrated by the intelligence agencies and paramilitary forces.
- Authorize the police and the CIMP to obtain information from any state agencies, including the military and intelligence agencies, about the whereabouts and status of the disappeared. Provide the police and the CIMP with investigative powers to make unannounced and unaccompanied searches of security force facilities and records.
- Dismiss from service and prosecute as appropriate all officials, regardless of rank, found responsible for committing or ordering disappearances or related abuses. Hold superior officers, whether civilian or military, criminally accountable if they knew, or should have known, that forces under their command had committed or were about to commit criminal acts, and they did not take reasonable steps to prevent such acts or punish those responsible.
- Require arresting officers to identify themselves and present official identification.
- Inform detainees immediately of the reasons for arrest and any charges against them.
- Inform the family promptly of the arrest and location of the detainee. Allow direct contact with family and unhindered access to legal counsel as soon as possible, but in all cases within 24 hours.
- Bring detainees promptly before a judge and inform them of the reasons for arrest and any charges.
- Ensure that all persons detained by security forces are held at recognized places of detention.
- Order the military, intelligence agencies, the Frontier Corps, the police, and all other security and intelligence agencies to promptly respond to inquiries and comply with all habeas corpus orders issued by the courts.
- Release accurate information on all those formally arrested or otherwise taken into custody, detained, and released in Balochistan and elsewhere in Pakistan.
- Introduce legislation making enforced disappearances a criminal offense punishable by sanctions commensurate with the gravity of the crime.
- Sign and ratify the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance and enact national legislation that gives force to its provisions.
- Repeal or revise all laws that allow arrest and detention on vaguely defined charges and grant sweeping immunity to the security forces. These laws include Maintenance of Public Order Ordinance (1960), the Anti-Terrorism Act, 1997, the “Sedition Law” Section 124-A of the Pakistan Penal Code, and the Security of Pakistan Act, 1952.
To Pakistan’s International Partners, in particular those such as the United States and United Kingdom that have relationships with Pakistan’s security and intelligence agencies:
- Demand the government of Pakistan make it a priority to end the practice of disappearances and arbitrary detentions and that it hold all persons who order or carry out disappearances accountable.
- Communicate directly to the agencies responsible for disappearances, including the army, ISI, IB, Frontier Corps, police and other law enforcement and intelligence agencies they have relationships with, and demand an end to disappearances. Make it clear that continued disappearances will result in conditions on or an end to relationships with those agencies.
- Suspend police and military assistance and cooperation programs with Frontier Corps , police and Pakistan Army units based in Balochistan until military and civilian authorities fully investigate and take appropriate action regarding allegations of disappearance and other abuses by their forces.
- Ensure that adequate mechanisms are in place to ensure that no security unit funded and trained by external forces is responsible for human rights violations and that adequate vetting and oversight mechanisms are in place to help deter abuse in the future.
- The US should fully implement the Leahy Law which prohibits the provision of military assistance to any unit of the security forces or a foreign country where there is credible evidence that such unit has committed gross violations of human rights.