(London) - British Prime Minister Tony Blair should demand an end to Pakistan’s use of torture and “disappearances” in both the fight against terrorism and internal political conflicts, Human Rights Watch said today. Blair is scheduled to visit Pakistan this week and meet with the country’s military ruler, President General Pervez Musharraf.
Human Rights Watch has documented a pattern of “disappearances,” arbitrary detention, and torture by the Pakistani security services in counterterrorism operations across Pakistan. Some of these cases have involved individuals with personal connections to the UK or who are suspected of planning or participating in offenses in the UK. Human Rights Watch urged the British government not to be complicit in Pakistan’s practice of using enforced disappearances, arbitrary detention and torture as part of counterterrorism efforts. The British government should also press Pakistan to take concrete measures to end these abuses.
“Blair should unequivocally affirm his government’s commitment to the global ban on torture by publicly telling Musharraf that the UK will not condone Pakistan’s use of torture in the fight against terrorism,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Torture is so rampant in Pakistan, and the UK’s counterterrorism relationship with Pakistan so important, that Blair cannot remain silent.”
Salahuddin Amin, a British national who has been charged in the UK with conspiracy to cause an explosion, appeared before a London magistrate in February 2005 and told the media that, prior to his return to and arrest in the UK, he was illegally detained in Pakistan for 10 months. While in detention, Amin alleged he was “tortured mentally and physically and subjected to interrogation by British, American and Pakistani intelligence authorities.” His trial is underway in the UK.
Last year Britain’s highest court, the Law Lords, ruled unanimously that evidence gained through torture outside of the country cannot be used in British courts. The use of such evidence is explicitly prohibited by the Convention against Torture, to which the UK is a party. The rampant use of torture in Pakistan makes it almost impossible to prosecute many of the British suspects detained in Pakistan.
Abuses by Pakistani military and civilian authorities against political opponents of the government – including extrajudicial killings, “disappearances,” torture and arbitrary arrests – have also increased dramatically under Musharraf’s rule. Pakistan’s military and its intelligence agencies have tortured and forcibly “disappeared” scores of people in the volatile southwestern province of Balochistan, where the government has confronted an armed rebellion by tribal militants operating under the umbrella of the Balochistan Liberation Army. In Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas, an aerial attack by the military on October 30 in the town of Khar in Bajaur Agency killed 82 people, including several children. A military spokesman claimed the dead were all militants and rejected calls for an independent investigation.
Human Rights Watch urged Blair to tell Musharraf that Pakistan cannot be a partner in the fight against terrorism so long as it practices torture of suspects. Musharraf must take all necessary steps to end torture and remove perpetrators from Pakistan’s security forces.
“The UK’s counterterrorism partnership with Pakistan must be conducted within the ambit of internationally accepted legal standards,” said Adams. “Blair should insist on an independent investigation into the aerial attack in Bajaur and an end to ‘disappearances’ across Pakistan.”
Human Rights Watch also urged Blair to press Musharraf to restore civilian rule and hold free and fair elections.
Musharraf came to power in a 1999 coup and was internationally ostracized until he joined the US-led “war on terror” after September 11, 2001, and received strong Western support. The Pakistani constitution prohibits the chief of the army from holding a political office. In 2003, Musharraf pledged to step down as either army chief or president, but reneged the following year. Recent statements by Musharraf and military-backed politicians have made clear that he intends to stay on as army chief and president beyond the date set for elections in 2007.
“Musharraf came to power by force, and Blair should remind him that the rule of law does not flow from the barrel of a gun,” said Adams.