PAKISTAN: Mass graves found in Swat
MINGORA, 25 August 2009 (IRIN) - Human rights groups and local residents say mass graves have been found in parts of northwestern Pakistan which have seen fierce fighting between government forces and Taliban militants since May 2009.
The autonomous Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has reported the discovery of mass graves in Babozai and Kabal sub-districts of Swat District, North West Frontier Province (NWFP).
"We have also documented credible accounts of numerous extra-judicial killings and reprisals carried out by security forces," Asma Jahangir, the HRCP chairperson, told IRIN.
Senior military spokesman Maj-Gen Athar Abbas denies the military were involved: "The militants buried their associates in mass graves" while retreating from areas of conflict. He also denied charges that militants were subjected to torture or summarily executed.
HRCP has demanded an independent inquiry into the alleged extra-judicial killings.
Sebastien Brack, a spokesman for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Pakistan, refused to be drawn into the argument, saying that the ICRC was focusing on meeting the needs of local people. "The infrastructure was destroyed by the fighting. It now needs to be re-built so people have access to health care and to livelihood, which is another key need."
In Mingora - the principal city of Swat which is beginning to return to normal as markets, offices and schools re-open and supply lines for goods gradually improve - accounts of atrocities during the conflict appear plausible to many.
"I have heard from a cousin in the Kabal area how he was present when a mass grave was found. We have also heard some people were shot on the streets by soldiers," Emaduddin Khan, a local shopkeeper, told IRIN.
Whether or not such testimonies - and others about militants being tied up and dragged behind vehicles or tortured in other ways - are accurate, they reflect the tension and nervousness lingering in Swat.
"These stories are told everywhere. They make me shudder," said Muhammad Amjad, 17. Like other boys and young men in Swat, he also faced pressure from the militants to join them.
Violations of humanitarian law?
Allegations of gross violations of humanitarian law have been widespread. In May, just a week after the fighting began, the New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) warned of violations of war law by the military.
"Beheadings and use of human shields by Taliban forces are not a blank cheque for the Pakistan Army," Brad Adams, Asia director of HRW, said in a statement at the time.
Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions of 1949 stipulate humane treatment for all persons in enemy hands; that the wounded and sick be collected and cared for; and that the ICRC be granted the right to offer its services to the parties to the conflict.
"No one, no doctors, no relief workers, no journalists were allowed here for months. My son was hit by a bullet, and we could not even get him to a doctor to have it removed from his leg for three days because of the curfew and the fighting," said local resident Younis Khan, 50.
The fighting displaced 2.3 million people, of whom 1.6 million have now returned home, over half of them to Swat District, the latest Pakistani government figures show.
Theme(s): (IRIN) Conflict, (IRIN) Human Rights
Copyright © IRIN 2009
This material comes to you via IRIN, the humanitarian news and analysis service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the United Nations or its Member States.
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