New focus on rights abuses in Pakistan

Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf’s visit to the US and Britain has drawn new focus on human rights abuses in the country. The two leading human rights groups, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International both used the visit to draw new attention to areas and activities about which little was said earlier. Human Rights Watch reported widespread abuse of rights within Kashmir on the Pakistani side. Amnesty picked on Musharraf’s own claims to point out that Pakistan had ‘sold’ suspects to the US in the name of the war on terror.

“In Azad Kashmir, on the Pakistan side there’s a general state of political repression,” Brad Adams from Human Rights Watch said. “To run for office there, to participate in politics, to be a public figure, you have to sign up to the idea that Azad Kashmir should accede to Pakistan.” The position is similar on the Indian side, he said. “You pretty much have to sign up to the same proposition in Jammu and Kashmir.” In Pakistan there is widespread fear of offending the government over this, Adams said. “There is a great deal of torture of people involved in politics in Azad Kashmir and a lot of people won’t be involved because of the fears and the demonstration of brute force by the ISI, and by the military and the police.” Adams added: “We found people were more afraid to talk to us in Azad Kashmir on these subjects than almost anything else we talked to people about in Pakistan.”

Human Rights Watch produced a report on abuses in Kashmir on the Indian side in a report released in Srinagar, capital of Kashmir on the Indian side, on September 12. The report was critical of both the Indian government and of support that militants enjoy within Pakistan.

“There are militant abuses on the Indian side that are fuelled from the Pakistan side and in the India report we dealt with that,” Adams said. “We made a big point of saying it’s not just the Indian army which engages in political abuses.” The report on Pakistani Kashmir followed the Indian report, he said. “We thought as a matter of principle we need to take a look at what is going on in Azad Kashmir because there is a propaganda out there that life in Azad is paradise. The idea is widely held that if only the two Kashmirs would be united under Pakistan, then things would be well.” That is not likely, Adams said.

“Amnesty has been monitoring human rights violations in Pakistan for decades, and it’s never been a country where we’ve particularly detected the phenomenon of disappearances, of people being removed by the police or by security forces and never again being seen,” said Sarah Green from Amnesty International. “Of the people at Guantanamo Bay we are able to trace, we believe that two-thirds of them were originally apprehended in Pakistan.” Amnesty made two immediate demands. “What we are demanding is that President Musharraf publish two things: he must publish a list of all detention centres. No detention centre should be secret.

If people are being held by the authorities, then their friends and families should be able to get access to where they are.” Secondly, she said, “We want the Pakistan government to publish a list of all detainees. We want their names, because we simply cannot have people disappeared like this.” — IPS