PAKISTAN: The UN must probe the massacre and the continued killings of lawyers in Balochistan

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) joins everyone who is shocked and dismayed by the senseless and brutal attack on civilians in Quetta, Balochistan on Aug 8, 2016. According to the leaders of the Balochistan Bar Association, the attack has killed 97 persons which includes 63 lawyers, and two journalists, the photographer of Dawn and Aaj News channels and injured more than 120 persons including women and children. The attack followed the assassination of the President of the Bar Association of Balochistan, Mr Bilal Anwar Kansi, who called for a boycott of the Balochistan Courts, in solidarity with another lawyer who was assassinated two days before.

The massacre took place when a large crowd including many lawyers had gathered to pay respects to the assassinated President of the Bar Association.

The lawyers have been at the forefront of a campaign demanding the government to take effective action against those whore involved with violence in the region, which has included the assassination of many persons. During the past few months, there have been constant acts of violence disturbing the peace and the stability in the area.

This attack is one of the worst massacres to have taken place in Balochistan, Pakistan. Prior to this attack, there had been calls for the military and the government to play a more positive role in suppressing terrorism in the area and to ensure security. However, both the military and the government have failed to take any special action despite the constant reports of violence and disturbances in the area. Clearly, the government has failed in its duty to protect the people and to maintain the rule of law.

According to reports, immediately following the massacre, the military has authorised the intelligence services to make arrests as they wish throughout the country. The most obvious results of this would be the arrest of many innocent persons and given the previous record in these areas, it would not be surprising if many enforced disappearances and extra judicial killings take place in the aftermath of this massacre.
The AHRC is shocked by the massacre of lawyers in the suicide attack in Quetta, the capital city of Balochistan province. The AHRC strongly condemns the barbarity and condoles the death of 63 lawyers. Quetta has been visited by terror once again as terrorists continue to strike, exposing the inefficiencies and the inability of the law enforcement agencies to curb the tide of militancy.

Through the meticulously planned attack, the terrorists have been successful in exposing the vulnerability of the so called fool-proof National Action plan (NAP), a plan made by the security establishment and the civilian government to combat terrorism, which has thus far proved to be ineffective and unable to stop the attacks. Immediately after the attack, ‘Jammat ul Ahrar’, a terrorist outfit of the Taliban, took responsibility for the attack. However the questions to be asked are “Who was supposed to protect the victims? Why do the government and the agencies responsible go on the defensive after such attacks? Who is responsible for the blood bath and who is responsible for stemming the tide of militant attacks?”

The Balochistan chief minister was quick to point fingers at RAW (the Indian Intelligence agency) blaming it for the attack even before the dust from the debris had settled. The familiar state rhetoric of blame game has been reiterated ad nauseam. Why does the state law enforcement spring into action after the damage has been done? Why aren’t any pre-emptive measures taken to ensure the safety and security of the common man?

It can’t be overlooked that the lawyers were specifically targeted to silence the voices of those representing missing persons, extra-judicial killings and attacks on their houses by the law enforcement agencies including the Frontier Corp (FC) of the Pakistan army. The FC has been there in Balochistan for almost two decades. It has police power and check posts all over the province. Besides the FC, all the 19 intelligence agencies are involved in operations against the terrorists. However, how is it possible that agents of other countries can operate in Pakistan? Instead of asking about the failures of the security establishment, the government finds it easier to relieve itself of the responsibility of providing for the safety and security of the people.

Is it a mere coincidence that most of the targeted attacks this year have been against lawyers in Quetta? On June 8th, the principal of the law college of Quetta, Barrister Amanullah Achakzai was shot dead and on August 2nd, unknown assailants shot dead Jahanzeb Alvi, a prominent lawyer in Quetta. All of the attacks appear to be planned measures to silence the voices of dissent and to pave the way for the ambitious China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).

The ferocity with which the attack was condemned by the Government and Chief of Staff of the Army fell flat when they termed the attack as “an attempt by the enemy to sabotage CPEC”. The blood trail of the economic corridor appears to be lost on the Government. The innocent human lives lost as a result have no significance for the state which appears to be too pre-occupied with its own bourgeois.

To guarantee the smooth commencement of the CPEC project, the Federal government initiated a new phase of military operations in far-flung areas of Balochistan, where there is a general feeling that with the start of the CPEC, the Balochi people will become a minority in their own province. The law enforcement and intelligence agencies have been given a free hand in order to eliminate the terrorists “with full might”. Sadly, the authorities forgot to mention who the terrorists are: Is it the intelligentsia – lawyers, doctors and activists – who have been criticizing the state for its wholesale slaughter of the Balochis? Or is the “jet black” Taliban whom the state is out to eliminate?

In a barricaded and cordoned city, it belies common sense that the planned murders of lawyers have been going on unabated right under the nose of the law enforcement agencies with no one being apprehended for them. How is it possible that the terrorists managed to go scot free, in the presence of check posts and barracks every 1 kilometre? Doesn’t the inaction of the state amount to a silent assent to continue with the barbarity of such a grotesque proportion?

It is a great loss not only for the Balochistan province but also for members of the legal community that feel threatened by the continuous attacks as it is a message from the state that lawyers will be dealt with in this way if they fight for the rule of law and constitutional rights, hindering the absolute power of the state. The assassinated lawyers were from the lower middle class and they were all activists who felt it is their responsibility to fight for the constitutional rights of the missing persons and victims of extra judicial killings, and against the unabated powers of the law enforcement agencies who treat the province as their colony.

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) urges the United Nations (UN) to hold a probe into the planned killings of lawyers, through suicide attacks and targeted killings, in Balochistan, where the state has been conducting operations for the past 14 years and where there are thousands of cases of arbitrary arrests, disappearances and extra judicial killings. It is not possible that the Government of Pakistan can have an impartial and transparent inquiry into the incidents as it is itself a party in the violations of human rights. There have been more than two inquiry commissions that were formed in order to probe the enforced disappearances. The commissions completed their work in 2014 but the reports have still not been made public and it appears that the government does not have any intention to release them. Further, the Supreme Court has been hearing the cases of disappearances from 2005 but the menace continues unabated and the Supreme court has not been able to bring the perpetrators of enforced disappearances before the court of law.

The AHRC urges lawyers from around the world to raise the issue of the killings of members of the legal community and show their solidarity with the beleaguered lawyers of Pakistan, at a global level, as they are being punished for fighting for the constitutional rights of the people and for striving to protect democracy.