Report Exposes 'Legal Wilderness' In Pakistani Tribal Areas
December 13, 2012
by Ron Synovitz
Amnesty International says Pakistan's government is failing to respond to complaints of thousands of human rights abuses in its semiautonomous tribal regions.
In a report titled 'The Hands of Cruelty,' the group says people in the tribal areas are being terrorized by Pakistan's military forces as well as the Taliban.
'Our research focuses on the human rights situation for people in the tribal areas and the Northwest Frontier Province bordering Afghanistan,' says Amnesty International's Polly Truscott, who wrote the report. 'The Taliban continue to commit indiscriminate attacks. They are targeting civilians. They are killing those that they perceive as enemies.
'But rather than focusing on trying to strengthen human rights safeguards for those living in the tribal areas, in fact, the Pakistan authorities are doing absolutely the opposite. As one villager told us, 'Everyone hoped that with the [advance into the tribal regions by Pakistan's] army, the situation would improve, but everyone is just as frightened of the army.' People find themselves subject to abuse by the Taliban and/or the Pakistan Army.'
Truscott says Pakistan's armed forces are arbitrarily detaining thousands of men and boys in the tribal regions.
She says many allege torture and ill treatment, while many others are dying in custody or their bodies are found dumped near the place they were last seen.
'There are human rights safeguards under the Pakistani Constitution. But the problem is that those safeguards are excluded from the tribal areas, so that the courts have no jurisdiction over the tribal areas,' Truscott says. 'It's impossible for people to bring a complaint against those that are committing violations against them.
'In addition to that, there are these old and new security laws -- the Frontier Crimes Regulation, a colonial-era law, as well as, for example, collective punishments,' she continues. 'And the other one is the actions in aid of civil power regulations -- called the Actions Regulations. That is a new security law introduced last year. It also seeks to exclude the courts from jurisdiction of the tribal areas and appears to allow this indefinite detention without charge and any judicial supervision of those that are detained, which is resulting in this torture.'
Truscott says Amnesty International's own researchers in the tribal regions did not feel safe interviewing some Pakistani military officials there.
'We did speak to some government officials. Those that we felt safe to speak to did not themselves feel safe to go on record, as in being identified,' Truscott says. 'We also spoke to representatives of the Taliban..because we are very concerned, obviously, about their abuses as well. But we haven't as yet had an official meeting [with the government].
'I did try to meet with a government official in Pakistan, but I wasn't able to arrange that. We're really hoping that their response will be to repeal those laws that are enabling armed forces to act with impunity and to prosecute those that are implicated in human rights violations in trials fairly, without the death penalty.'
When questioned by RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal about the allegations, a spokesman for Pakistan's military forces said defense officials have not yet studied Amnesty International's report but would issue a press statement after they have done so.
Copyright (c) 2012. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.
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