COMMENT: Closed cases, open wounds — Mir Mohammad Ali Talpur

The UN’s FSC has cautioned in a report that another disaster is in the making, as the majority of the Awaran earthquake survivors are facing an acute food shortage

Mir Muhammad Ali TalpurOn October 21, the Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), in the Inés del Río Prada detention case, found Spain guilty of breach of convention, and termed its ‘Parot doctrine’ illegal. Prada, sentenced to 3,828 years in jail in 1987, was denied release in 2008 under the Parot doctrine. It was adopted by Spain’s Supreme Court in 2006 to restrict ‘Euskadi Ta Askatasuna’ (ETA), i.e. Basque Homeland and Freedom prisoners’ entitlement to early release and other benefits. It is named after Unai Parot, a convicted ETA member, who was the first to see his prison penalty extended. This doctrine ensures that the remission for work done in prison is deducted from the total sentence, rather than the Spanish law’s 30-year limit.

Spain seems to be good at denial of justice; crimes committed during the civil war and Francisco Franco’s 38-year rule have amnesty. Despite the UN calls, Spain resists probes into the crimes against humanity during that period. These crimes have immunity under the amnesty approved by parliament in 1977, which was agreed to by all Spanish political parties, and termed as the ‘Pact of Forgetting’. During the said period, the number of forced disappearances totalled at least 114,000, and some 30,000 babies and toddlers were stolen from their parents. An Amnesty International report, “Closed Cases, Open Wounds” said that it has created an unfortunate situation whereby victims have been abandoned by the justice system.

According to Emilio Silva, who heads the Association for the Recovery of Historical Memory, which spearheads efforts to help people find the remains of relatives who went missing during the Spanish civil war, in the last 13 years, 2,500 of the 6,300 bodies exhumed from mass graves have been identified. Unable to seek justice in Spain because of the amnesty, some 50 Spaniards, who say four policemen tortured them or their families during the Franco era, have brought charges against them in Argentina for crimes against humanity under the principle of the doctrine of ‘universal jurisdiction’, which allows courts to try cases of human rights abuses committed elsewhere.

In Balochistan, it is not that different either. The protest by the Voice of Baloch Missing Persons (VBMP), led by Nasrullah Bangulzai and Mama Qadeer Baloch, for the recovery of nearly 14,000 persons, and justice for 700 plus abducted, tortured and killed Baloch activists continues. This 1,315-day old protest remains largely unnoticed; perhaps Baloch miseries are too remote for many to garner sympathy. A VBMP protest march is planned from Quetta to Karachi, but it too will receive scant attention, even from civil society, which, by and large, shuns the Baloch issues. Apparently, the Baloch missing persons and mutilated bodies too seem to be ignored under an undeclared tacit ‘pact of forgetting’ here.

However, it is not only the missing persons and the victims of the systematic dirty war who are ignored and forgotten; the victims of Awaran’s last month’s earthquake too have failed to get the attention that any disaster-affected people would naturally deserve. The situation is one of sheer hopelessness and despair, but the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) smugly announced a week ago that the relief work had been completed. It is a month since the deadly Balochistan earthquake, and the UN’s Food Security Cluster (FSC) has cautioned in a report that another disaster is in the making, as the majority of the Awaran earthquake survivors are facing an acute food shortage, which is set to intensify as their existing sources dry up and cold weather sets in. Needless to say, the earthquake destroyed not only houses but also the possibility of economic activities that brought money, and in turn, food for families. The three most important sources of livelihood and economic dependence of households in Awaran are as follows: agriculture 39 percent, daily wage labour 26 percent and livestock 22 percent. Daily labour is the most affected area, with a reported loss of income of 48 percent, followed by livestock 20 percent and agriculture 13 percent.

This FSC report also says: “About 46 percent of the households in the areas covered by the assessment reportedly do not have any food stock at all, whereas another 45 percent have food stocks lasting no more than a week. This implies that more than 90 percent of the population is in need of immediate food assistance.” Moreover, less than 10 percent of the households have enough money to buy food, and more than 85 percent of the key informants termed markets as inaccessible or non-functional/destroyed. The key informants of this survey were males so the condition and needs of women and children, who are most vulnerable and suffer the most in disasters, remain unidentified.

This situation spells an unparallelled catastrophe for the quake-affected people, and yet Pakistan continues to deny permission to international organisations to help them. The express purpose of barring international aid seems to be to deny people any return to normality of livelihood means, to keep them on the fringe of starvation so they may desist from supporting the Sarmachars (insurgents). The aim seems to be to keep lives wrecked, already destroyed by the earthquake. This denial of aid to the earthquake-affected people is a brazen crime against humanity. However, absence of protests proves that there is an undeclared ‘Pact of Forgetting’ injustice to the Baloch here.

Incidentally, Pakistan does not need a Parot doctrine in Balochistan; it did not in Bangladesh either, because it meticulously enforces the doctrine of ‘dirty war’. The Baloch are picked up and later found dead, because the courts here excel at making a mockery of justice. They issue a week’s ultimatum, and as years lapse, nothing happens. Moreover, there is no ECtHR to challenge these atrocities. Consequently, apart from Balochistan, extrajudicial killings have also been rife in Sindh, Swat, Dir, Mohmand Agency and Bajaur.

Though the real solution will however come when the Baloch get their rights, yet it surprises and saddens me that in spite of decades of atrocities and brutalities perpetrated against the Baloch people, the large Baloch Diaspora has never even contemplated using the principle of ‘universal jurisdiction’ to their advantage. They should now make a concerted effort to bring the perpetrators of atrocities against the Baloch to book, or at least, secure the much deserved international reprobation and opprobrium for them. The action against the Bengalis, and now the Baloch proves that, like Spain, the enduring situation of victims of atrocities being abandoned by the justice system here will be institutionalized, and unless people resist the injustices and atrocities against the Baloch, they will be the next victims.

The writer has an association with the Baloch rights movement going back to the early 1970s. He tweets at mmatalpur and can be contacted at

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