March 10th 2014, marked the 25th Human Rights Council session in Geneva, Switzerland. Held 3 times a year, the Human Rights Council, which comprises of 47 member states, is the principal UN intergovernmental body related to human rights. On this occasion, GHRD was able to send one of its Human Rights Officers to the event in order to meet influential Human Rights Defenders who work in our target regions.
During the event, the UNPO along with Balochistan House and the United Towns Agency for North-South Cooperation organised a conference called ‘Human Rights and Security Perspectives for Balochistan and Pakistan post 2014. This conference aimed to inform the audience about recent developments in the Balochistan region as despite the intense and ongoing military operations and human rights violations, few Pakistanis foreigners outside of Balochistan, let alone foreigners, know about the existence of the province and the problems that plague it. It is for this reason that before speaking of the event, here is some information about Balochistan:
Balochistan is the largest region in Pakistan, yet it is the least densely populated. The Baloch people are spread throughout Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan and have been the victims of marginalisation throughout history. Brought into Pakistan in 1947, several rebellions have taken place in the Balochistan region with the aim of creating an independent nation known as ‘Greater Balochistan’. Even to this day, the Baloch people fight for greater independence, recognition and dignity.
Although the Balochistan province is the most resource-rich region in Pakistan, supplying much of South Asia with fuel it remains the most under-developed. The region suffers from limited economic opportunities, severe floods and high restrictions on international relief organisations. The province is also far behind the national and average in terms of literacy levels, school enrolment and gender parity. Balochistan also has the highest infant and maternal mortality ratio in the whole of South Asia.
Additionally, sectarian violence in Pakistan also keeps Balochistan from developing, as does the influx of Pashtun refugees from Afghanistan which has numerically marginalised the Baloch population in their own province. Furthermore, the presence of extremist Taliban militants in the region has also caused unrest and is significantly hindering the Baloch struggle for independence.
In terms of human rights violations, the Baloch suffer disproportionately and the biggest concern (although there are of course many other human rights violations occurring) among human rights groups is the situation of ‘enforced disappearances’. Extensive investigations have caused many international human rights groups to accuse Pakistan security forces of enforcing the disappearance of ethnic Baloch people whom they believe to be involved in the nationalist struggle. These accusations were reinforced in 2011 when mass graves were discovered.
During the event, several key members spoke of their experiences of working in the region. For example, Mr Kumar, the Director of International Advocacy at Amnesty International USA, said that since the founding of Pakistan in 1947, Pakistan has attempted to put together a secular structure. However, this has been entwined with Muslim tradition, culture and religion. More than 65 years later, we have to conclude this attempt did not come up to the challenge. He stressed that religious minorities in Pakistan, including Christians, Shia, Hindu, Ahmadiyya, etc. as well as indigenous people of the western province of Baluchistan, the Baloch, still face continuing discrimination. Mr Kumar believed that nowadays sectarian policies in Pakistan are growing in religious, ethnic or linguistic terms.
In addition, Mr. Russ Hiebert, a senior member of the Canadian Parliament, also spoke at the event. Our Human Rights Officer met with him after and Mr. Hiebert thanked GHRD for reminding him about their previous conference together during the EU Lobby Tour last November. During that event human rights defenders had discussed with MEP’s the impact of trade on human rights in Pakistan. Mr Hiebert stressed that ‘Pakistan has not changed a lot in regards to human rights recently and internationally we should emphasize the links between trade and human rights’.
Overall, these conferences held at the 25th Human Rights Council aimed to increase awareness of human rights issues which receive much less media attention, such as the issues in Balochistan. This was highly beneficial to GHRD as we could meet with current acquaintances and make new contacts with other organisations who are equally dedicated to preventing human rights abuses in Pakistan. This allowed us to extend our network making our work more well-known as well as giving the people of Balochistan a more hopeful future as more and more international organisations fight for their cause and raise awareness of their suffering in the international community.