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What does the Pakistani military’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency have to fear from a simple university roundtable discussion on human rights?

Plenty, it would seem.

The ISI ordered the April 8 event, “Unsilencing Balochistan,” shut down shortly after ISI personnel visited the venue, Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS). The justification? Human rights in the embattled province of Balochistan “is a sensitive issue and […] the [event] could be used to malign Pakistan,” according to the agency. 

If the ISI is acting as if it has something to hide, that’s because it does.

Human Rights Watch has extensively documented enforced disappearances, and related allegations of torture, extrajudicial killings, and other abuses by Pakistan’s security forces in Balochistan, including several cases in which those “disappeared” have turned up dead.  The Balochistan Home and Tribal Affairs Department reported in July 2014 that authorities had recovered the bodies of 800 people killed in Balochistan over the past three-and-a-half years, the majority ethnic Baloch “political workers.”

Despite clear rulings from the Pakistan Supreme Court in 2013 demanding justice for victims, as well as recommendations from the United Nations Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances in 2012, the Pakistan government has done little to meet its obligations under the Pakistan Constitution and international law to prevent enforced disappearances. The government has failed to establish the facts about the fate and whereabouts of victims when disappearances occur, or to bring perpetrators to justice. It has also failed to provide reparations to victims, including the families of the disappeared

Instead, the government has responded by passing the Protection of Pakistan Act, 2014, which actually facilitates new disappearances by retrospectively legitimizing detention at undisclosed locations and providing immunity from prosecution to all state agents acting in “good faith.” These steps perpetuate a troubling culture of impunity in Pakistan, casting grave doubts on the government’s seriousness about ensuring justice and protecting human rights.

Pakistan’s government and its security forces, including the ISI, should focus on thoroughly investigating Balochistan’s terrifying epidemic of disappearances and other abuses rather than stifling public discussion of such urgent issues.

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