Human Rights Violations in PoJK, Gilgit-Baltistan

Ashwani Kumar Chrungoo
There has been a consistent debate and discourse going on over the human rights situation in the Jammu and Kashmir state over the last three decades. But this discussion has not been taking into account the stories of violations in the other parts of Jammu and Kashmir illegally occupied by Pakistan. Following the dilution of Article 370, Pakistan has been raising a big hue and cry over the recent decision of Indian Government with regard to Special status given to the people of Jammu and Kashmir. However, it very conveniently tends to ignore the various Human Rights violations that are taking place incessantly in PoJK which includes Gilgit Baltistan (G-B).
It can be recalled that PoJK which consists of “Azad J&K” (AJK) and Gilgit Baltistan (G-B), was acquired by Pak Army through armed action in 1947. AJK has been given status of a ‘country’ by Pakistan with a President, PM and its Legislature, however it is neither a country nor a province. ‘AJK’ President and PM only enjoy titular powers and strategically important areas are under the direct control of Pakistan. Violence has been used against the population of PoJK who have dared to raise their voice against the injustices of rulers. Cases of enforced disappearances, murder, detentions, custodial deaths and police torture of civil rights activists/local political parties/journalists are rampant in the region.
Both in AJK and GB, local grievances are mostly blocked and media censorship is imposed to silence the voice of the public. Agitations against poor living conditions, denial of basic human rights, property rights and diversion of funds continue but have not been widely reported due to media blackout policy of Pakistan in the occupied territories. There have been protests against exploitation of PoJK land for China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) projects that primarily aims to benefit Pakistan with little benefit to the region.
As per a report in March 2017 by Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), the Anti Terrorism Act (ATA) has been constantly misused. It states “Security agencies have been given the powers under ‘National Action Plan’ to keep people in check. Anyone who criticizes the agencies even a little are apprehended under the Anti Terrorism Act”.
Local political leaders including journalists have been kept under detention and are serving jail sentences or detained without charge. Some of them include Baba Jan (former Vice President, Awami Workers Party), Husnain Karmal (Political activist of Jammu Kashmir National Awami Party/JKNAP), Safdar Ali (Central President, Balwaristan National Front/BNF), Inam Aziz (President, Traders Association, Bagh, PoJK), Inayat Karim (BNSO), D J Mathal (Editor in Chief of a daily ‘Bang-e-Sahar), Ijlal Hussain & Irfan Karim (Political activists from Hunza) and Iftikhar (Leader, Karakoram National Movement).
Government of Pakistan ensures clear blackout of ground realities for PoJK and has gradually eased out foreign NGOs and human rights organisations from the region to thwart international scrutiny of continuing violations by the Pak forces. In December 2017, at least 10 International NGOs including ‘Open Society Foundation’ and ‘Action Aid’ were asked to shut down their offices. In October 2018, 18 International Aid Agencies were forced to close their operations. The actions resulted in very few channels to report the ongoing Human rights violations in PoJK.
The Hong Kong based ‘Asian Human Rights Commission’ in a report (August 2016) accused Pakistan of using extreme brutality and torture in PoJK. It reported that excessive use of police force was a regular phenomenon and there was lack of basic facilities and proper administration in G-B which had resulted in large scale resentment among the residents of the region.
Residents of border areas of Kotli District held a protest on January 28, 2018 against lack of relief facilities. The protest which was led by local political leaders including Shahid Rashid, Mohamed Wasim Jamal-ud-din, Mohamed Sadiq Mir and Raja Iftikhar, witnessed participation of around 1200 persons. Slogans were raised against PoJK Government and speakers expressed anguish over non-availability of ambulances, medical staff and related facilities in the region.
In March 2018, local residents of Sensa District protested against Karot Power Company, a subsidiary of China Three Gorges Corporation, which was involved in construction of CPEC-related Karot Hydropower Project. The protestors charged that they were yet to be compensated for the land acquired from them.
On March 6, 2018, a protest was organised by Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF)-PoJK Chapter against encroachment of public land at Nikial by Pak Army in Nikial, District Kotli. A series of rallies were organized against the 13th amendment of the so-called PoJK’s Interim Constitution and Government of Gilgit-Baltistan Order 2018 (GBO-2018). The protest was organised on June 6-7 & 11, 2018 at Rawalakot by Jammu Kashmir National Awami Party (JKNAP), Jammu Kashmir Students Liberation Front (JKSLF) and Jammu Kashmir National Students Federation (JKNSF).
Protests were held at several places in PoJK on September 11, 2018 demanding an end to the exploitation of natural resources in the region by Pakistan. Protesters complained of diversion of Krishan Ganga River (known as Neelum River in Pakistan) into Punjab, depriving the people of Muzaffarabad and Kotli of due share of waters etc. They charged that Krishan Ganga River was drying up because of the diversion.
Several G-B based organizations and Gilgit-Baltistan Trade Union (GBTU) organized protests on October 5, 2018 against GBO 2018 alleging violation of Human rights of residents of G-B. The protest was organised at Skardu, Gilgit, Chilas and Islamabad by Awami Action Committee (AAC) and Gilgit-Baltistan Trade Union (GBTU).
A rally was organised in November 2018 at Bagh, PoJK by United Kashmir People’s National Party (UKPNP) against construction of dams in PoJK as they were not yielding any benefit to the residents. They also demanded an end to Pakistan’s illegal occupation of PoJK. A UKPNP activist, Jamil Maqsood charged the Government of Pakistan alleging violation of legal provisions related to ‘State Subjects’ by allowing settlement of retired army-men, bureaucrats and businessmen from parts of Pakistan in PoJK.
In 1996 & 2001 elections in PoJK, parties and candidates who desired to participate on the platform of independence and refused to sign the declaration calling PoJK’s ‘accession’ to Pakistan an article of faith, were denied the right to field candidates.
It is worth mentioning that the oath of office for the President, PM, Minister, Speaker, MLA or MLC of PoJK clearly includes the following clause: “That I will remain loyal to the country (Pakistan) and the cause of ‘accession’ of state of Jammu and Kashmir to Pakistan”. It is completely one-sided and the residents of PoJK have no rights in Pakistan – they can neither vote in Pakistan’s General elections, nor take their grievances to the Pakistani Supreme Court. They also cannot hold any public office in Pakistan, nor do they have any rights on the Pakistan National Budget.
Further, Governments are made or broken in “AJK” at the behest of Pakistan. Section 56 of PoJK Constitution gives Pakistan Government all the rights which states that nothing “shall prevent the Government of Pakistan from taking such action as it may consider necessary or expedient for the effective discharge of those responsibilities.” As a result, there has been widespread discontentment among the people of G-B. An independent movement known as the ‘Balwaristan National Movement’ has been in existence for some time, which has been agitating for the constitutional rights/freedom.
A large volume of human rights violations in these areas remains unreported due to the communication gag in these regions. What has been stated above is only the tip of the iceberg. Some prominent people have reported these violations and their details to the UN and its affiliated bodies from time to time. There is a need of a comprehensive reporting of these violations and time has come to do it now with a purpose to give a voice to the voiceless.