(London) – Pakistan’s government should take all necessary measures to stop Sunni extremist groups in Balochistan province from committing further killings and other abuses against Hazara and other Shia Muslims, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today.
The 62-page report, “‘We are the Walking Dead’: Killings of Shia Hazaras in Balochistan, Pakistan,” documents Sunni militant group attacks on the mostly Shia Hazara community in Balochistan. Since 2008, several hundreds of Hazara have been killed in steadily worsening targeted violence, including two bombings in the provincial capital, Quetta, in January and February 2013 that killed at least 180 people.
“Sunni extremists have targeted Hazara with guns and bombs while they participate in religious processions, pray in mosques, travel to work, or just go about daily life,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “There is no travel route, no shopping trip, no school run, no work commute that is safe for the Hazara. The government’s failure to put an end to these attacks is as shocking as it is unacceptable.”
The ongoing attacks have meant that the half-million members of the Hazara community in Quetta live in fear, compelled to restrict their movements, leading to economic hardship and curtailed access to education and employment. This oppressive situation has prompted large numbers of Hazara to flee Pakistan for refuge in other countries.
Human Rights Watch interviewed more than 100 survivors, members of victims’ families, law enforcement, security officials, and independent experts for the report.
Since 2008, Pakistan’s Shia Muslim community has been the target of an unprecedented escalation in sectarian violence as Sunni militants have killed thousands of Shia across the country. The Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), group has claimed responsibility for most attacks, yet many of its leaders continue to play command and leadership roles and avoid prosecution or otherwise evade accountability. A number of convicted high-profile LeJ militants and suspects in custody have escaped from military and civilian detention in circumstances the authorities have been unable to explain.
On January 10, 2013, the suicide bombing of a snooker club in Quetta frequented by Hazaras killed 96 people and injured at least 150. Many of the victims were caught in a second blast 10 minutes after the first, striking those who had gone to the aid of the wounded. On February 17, 2013, a bomb exploded in a vegetable market in Quetta’s Hazara Town, killing at least 84 Hazara and injuring more than 160. The LeJ claimed responsibility for both attacks, the bloodiest attacks from sectarian violence in Pakistan since independence in 1947.
“It’s obscene that the Hazara community has been forced into a fearful and terrorized existence because the Pakistani authorities have failed to stop the LeJ’s violence,” Adams said. “But it’s beyond obscene that Pakistani authorities have suggested to Hazara that their severely curtailed rights are simply the price of staying alive.”
Civilian and military security forces deployed in Balochistan have done little to investigate attacks on Hazara or take steps to prevent the next attack. Many Hazara told Human Rights Watch that discriminatory attitudes and hostility towards them by elected officials and state security services are an important reason why such attacks go uninvestigated and unpunished.
The LeJ has also killed with increasing impunity members of the Frontier Corps paramilitary or police assigned to protect Shia processions, pilgrimages, and Hazara neighborhoods. While the Pakistani military and political authorities deny any complicity in the LeJ’s abuses or sympathy for its activities, the LeJ has historically benefitted from ties with elements in the country’s security services.
Pakistani and Balochistan authorities claim to have arrested dozens of suspects in attacks against Shia since 2008, but only a handful are known to have been convicted. Pakistan’s government should disband and disarm the LeJ and criminally investigate its leadership and others implicated in crimes. Pakistan’s international allies and donors should press the government to uphold its international human rights obligations and promote good governance by investigating sectarian killings in Balochistan and prosecuting all those responsible.
“Government officials and security forces need to understand that failure to tackle LeJ atrocities is no longer an option,” Adams said. “Inaction in the face of the slaughter of the Hazara and the wider Shia community is not only a callous betrayal of its own citizens, but suggests state complicity in allowing these crimes to continue.”