“Legal Wilderness” Precludes Rule of Law, Allows Human Rights Abuses to Persist
(New York) – Human rights abuses committed by the Armed Forces and the Taliban in Pakistan’s northwestern Tribal Areas are locking millions in perpetual lawlessness, said an Amnesty International report released today.
Titled “The Hands of Cruelty” - Abuses by Armed Forces and Taliban in Pakistan’s Tribal Areas, the new report is based on interviews with scores of victims of human rights abuses, witnesses, relatives, lawyers, and representatives of the Pakistani authorities as well as armed groups in the region, highlighting how the region’s “legal wilderness” is fueling a human rights crisis.
Thousands of men and boys have been detained by the Armed Forces, many of which have alleged torture, are held in secret places of detention and never seen again. Investigations into such cases are extremely rare and ineffective even when they do take place.
The Taliban and other armed groups continue to pose a deadly threat to Pakistani society by killing thousands in indiscriminate attacks and deliberately targeting civilians. These armed groups carry out brutal, unlawful killings of captured Armed Forces personnel or suspected spies under quasi-judicial proceedings that fail to meet even the most basic international fair trial standards.
“After a decade of violence, strife and conflict, tribal communities are still being subjected to attack, abduction and intimidation,” said Polly Truscott, deputy director for Asia and the Pacific at Amnesty International.
“By allowing the Armed Forces to commit abuses unchecked, the Pakistani authorities have given them free rein to carry out torture and enforced disappearance. And the Taliban have time and again shown complete disregard for civilian lives by perpetuating these deliberate, indiscriminate attacks.”
Amnesty International has documented many cases of deaths in custody. Nearly every week, the bodies of individuals arrested by the Armed Forces are returned to their families or reportedly found dumped across the Tribal Areas.
Niaz, along with his brother Ayub (both names have been changed), were among those picked up and detained by security forces. Niaz described his treatment in detention in April 2012:
“For the first five days, they beat us constantly with leather belts across our backs, the pain was too much to describe. [The soldiers] would threaten to kill me if I didn’t confess to being part of the Taliban.”
Ten days after being arrested, Niaz was released, but only hours later learned that his brother had died in custody. An Army officer told Niaz that Ayub died of “heart stroke” in detention. As far as Amnesty International is aware, Pakistani authorities have not conducted any kind of investigation into the alleged torture of Niaz and Ayub, or Ayub’s death in army custody.
Niaz’s case is emblematic of the arbitrary detention and alleged brutal treatment of detainees at the hands of the Armed Forces, and the complete failure of Pakistani authorities to properly investigate these cases.
The report details many cases of enforced disappearance wherein detainees were held by the Armed Forces without being brought before a court, given access to lawyers, or permitted to see relatives.
Human rights safeguards laid out under Pakistan’s constitution and the courts are excluded from the Tribal Areas, where the Armed Forces are using new broad security laws and the harsh colonial- era Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR) penal system to commit violations with impunity.
In 2011, the Armed Forces were granted further sweeping powers of arrest and detention under the Actions (in Aid of Civil Power) Regulations (AACPR).
Neither Pakistan’s high courts nor parliament have jurisdiction over the Tribal Areas. Although the courts have heard cases challenging the lawfulness of some detentions, no Armed Forces personnel have been prosecuted for torture, enforced disappearance, or deaths in custody.
“The AACPR must be repealed, and courts and parliaments must be given legal jurisdiction in Tribal Areas,” said Suzanne Nossel, executive director of Amnesty International USA.
“Amnesty International urges the Obama Administration to ensure that abuses in Pakistan's Tribal areas play an important role in the evolution of U.S. - Pakistan relations. The Administration must insist that officers involved in gross human rights abuses are brought to justice, and urge Pakistan authorities to take effective steps to protect civilians.”
Limited attempts by the Pakistan government to reform the FCR have fallen far short of international human rights law and standards, and have been further undermined by the AACPR.
Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots activist organization with more than 3 million supporters, activists and volunteers in more than 150 countries campaigning for human rights worldwide. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates and mobilizes the public, and works to protect people wherever justice, freedom, truth and dignity are denied.