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Shi'ite Muslim men from Pakistan's ethnic Hazara minority mourn around the coffins of their relatives, who were killed in a shooting attack, in Quetta, Pakistan October 9, 2017. © 2017 Reuters

Unidentified assailants killed shopkeepers Jaffar and Muhammad Ali on Saturday in Quetta, Pakistan, apparently because they belonged to the Hazara community.

This was the fourth attack this April on the Hazara, a Shia Muslim minority. Past perpetrators have been members of armed militant groups that have waged a bloody onslaught against the Hazara for more than a decade, while Pakistan’s government has failed both to protect the community or hold those responsible to account.

At least 509 members of the Hazara community have been killed and 627 injured in militant attacks in Quetta, the capital of Balochistan province, over the last five years, according to a March report by Pakistan’s National Commission on Human Rights. Hazara leaders assert that the number killed was actually much higher.

Shia represent some 20 percent of Pakistan’s overwhelmingly Muslim population, and anti-Shia violence has escalated alarmingly in recent years. The roughly half million Hazara living in Balochistan province are particularly vulnerable, because of their distinctive East Asian ethnic features as well as Shia religious affiliation. Hazara participating in religious processions, praying in mosques, or congregating in markets have been targeted by bombers and gunmen.

They have been hounded into virtual ghettoization in Quetta’s two Hazara neighborhoods by authorities on the pretext of security. Hazara residents say the unrelenting attacks and security measures have cut them off from the city, forcing them to sell businesses and pull children out of schools.

The Hazara have not been the only targets of militant violence in Quetta – attacks on security forces in Quetta killed at least 19 members of security forces in 2018.

Pakistani authorities need to take effective, rights-respecting measures to protect the Hazara community. This means disbanding all armed militant groups and holding to account those responsible for planning, ordering, inciting, or enabling sectarian violence.

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