Pakistan: Protect Civilians From Fighting in North
Pakistan: Protect Civilians From Fighting in North Waziristan
Government Should Open Area to Independent Observers
(New York) – Pakistan’s government and Taliban militants must ensure that civilians are not deliberately targeted and that necessary precautions are taken to avoid civilian casualties in fighting in Pakistan’s volatile tribal areas on the Afghan border, Human Rights Watch said today.
Thousands of civilians have fled their homes since the Pakistani army, backed by helicopter gunships, began operations to put down a rebellion in the town of Miran Shah, the capital of North Waziristan Agency, on March 3. The rebellion began when hundreds of militants seized government buildings in Miran Shah in retaliation for the bombing by the Pakistani military two days earlier of an alleged militant sanctuary in nearby Saidgai. The government reported that 140 people, allegedly all militants, have been killed in the clashes. It has confirmed five military fatalities. The area is now under indefinite curfew and has limited power, though some telephone lines have been restored since the government regained control of the telephone exchange.
The Pakistani military has been targeting suspected al-Qaeda training camps and Taliban groups in the tribal belt in operations that have been ongoing since March 2004. The government has maintained throughout that these actions are part of an “anti-terrorist operation” carried out by the military in aid of the civil administration.
Human Rights Watch has received reports of some civilian deaths and the destruction of property. However, because the area is a closed military zone and barred to journalists and human rights monitors, it is currently impossible to verify this information. Given the scant regard in the past of the militants and army for the welfare of civilians in fighting in the area, Human Rights Watch expressed concern about possible civilian deaths and injuries.
“The Pakistani army and the militants must not target civilians and must take whatever precautions they can to ensure that civilians are not harmed,” said Brad Adams, Asia director of Human Rights Watch. “Journalists and human rights monitors should be allowed into the area as soon as possible to find out what has happened in Miran Shah.”
The BBC reported that its correspondent was expelled from the area after several hours of detention and that two other journalists working for foreign agencies have been barred from entering Miran Shah. Local journalists have left the area and the army is not permitting Pakistani reporters or foreign correspondents to enter.
Human Rights Watch said that there are also disturbing reports and documentary evidence that armed Taliban supporters in Pakistan’s tribal areas have engaged in vigilantism and violent attacks, including murder and public beheadings. Human Rights Watch condemned these acts and called upon armed groups of Taliban supporters and other Islamists to respect international legal norms.
Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas are governed by political agents, who are civilian authorities, under the Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR) of 1901. However, the power of political agents has been almost entirely assumed by military commanders since 2004.
The FCR operates on the principle of collective responsibility and collective punishment. Under the FCR, authorities are empowered to detain members of fugitives’ tribes, demolish their homes, confiscate or destroy their property, or siege a fugitive’s village pending his surrender or punishment by his own tribe in accordance with local tradition.
The Pakistani military has made frequent use of the provisions of the FCR. In January 2004, a tribal militia in South Waziristan used military bulldozers to destroy the homes of seven fugitive tribesmen. At the time, government officials, including the military spokesperson, went on record threatening mass arrests and further collective punishment if those wanted by the military were not handed over. Similarly, the FCR was put to devastating use in the village of Kalusha in South Waziristan. On March 16, 2004, army and paramilitary troops reportedly evicted between 25,000 and 35,000 civilians from the area in and around the village of Kalusha in just a few hours. They remained without shelter for the two-week-long operation and returned to find that the army had destroyed scores of homes, cattle, and crops.
Human Rights Watch said that collective punishment is any form of punitive sanctions and harassment, including but not limited to judicial penalties, that are imposed on families or other targeted groups for actions that they themselves did not personally commit. It is contrary to basic principles of international human rights and humanitarian law, which provide that no person may be punished for an offence he or she has not personally committed. This covers sanctions or harassment of any sort, administrative, by police action, or otherwise.
“Collective punishment is illegal and must not take place in Pakistan’s tribal areas as part of government measures against suspected militants,” Adams said.