Pakistan: no human rights in tribal belt

The first time someone told me about a human rights-free zone, it sounded like some sort of utopia that had been happened upon. Then I saw it in print, and there was a hyphen, not a comma. Amnesty published a report today, ‘As if Hell Fell on Me’: The Human Rights Crisis in Northwest Pakistan, which details the suffering of the four million people living in the north-west tribal areas of Pakistan who find themselves under the draconian rule of the Taleban, and abandoned by their government. 

The dual abuse they face has seen the residents of the area subject to nightmarish conditions with the Taleban initially systematically killing elders and officials who challenged the imposition of their rule, and then sustaining power through torture and killings.  

Schools and hospitals and health clinics have been closed and women and men without beards attacked. Teachers and aid workers have also been targeted on the whim of the Taleban. 

And where is the recourse for the residents? Where is the avenging force in the form of the national army? They are compounding the suffering. Amnesty levels its blows at both the Taleban and the government and calls on the two sides to prevent the huge, ongoing loss of civilian lives. 

One teacher who fled Swat with his family told the report’s authors: “The government just gave away our lives to the Taleban. What’s the point of having this huge army if it can’t even protect us against a group of brutal fanatics?” 

Indeed, the Taleban are known to shelter amongst the civilians when involved in combat with the army, and to block off the exit routes during attacks from the military, making sitting targets of the population. 

The neglect of the people of the north-west tribal belt by the Pakistan government is long standing. They have alternated between failed “peace-deals” and heavy handed military operations that include indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks. People living in the area find they have no refuge from the onslaught and nowhere to turn for help. The very constitution of the country denies residents basic protections, including the rights to political representation, judicial appeal, and freedom from collective punishment.  A collective punishment that is meted out on them on a daily basis and will continue to be, until Amnesty’s call that the people of FATA  be placed under the protection of the law and their human rights recognised, is heeded. To find out more, and watch a video accompanying the report, go here

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