ISLAMABAD (AP) — Families of people who disappeared in Pakistan’s restive Baluchistan province ended a 10-day sit-in near parliament in Islamabad on Saturday, after a government minister promised to look into their relatives’ case files.
The dozens of protesters say there has never been a proper enquiry into the fate of their loved ones, who they allege were kidnapped by state security forces over the past 12 years.
The government’s stance has long been that the individuals had joined extremist groups and were either killed in fighting or still at large as fugitives.
“We want rule of law in this country, and an end to forced disappearances,” said Nasrullah Baluch, leader of the Voice of Baluch Missing Persons organization.
”Those missing should be brought to court of law and innocents be freed,” he said, adding that the government had assured him Prime Minister Imran Khan would meet a delegation from the group and give priority to the protesters’ relatives.
Rights groups say thousands of individuals have been forcibly disappeared in the region since a separatist insurgency began there a dozen years ago. The province borders Afghanistan in the country’s southwest and has its own majority ethnic group.
The families had come from the region and slept in the open near parliament, holding placards by day and braving cold weather by night.
Human Rights Minister Dr. Shireern Mazari said the government was committed to stop enforced disappearances and was putting forward legislation to that effect.
Baluchistan has experienced a low-level insurgency for over a decade over demands for autonomy or a greater share of the local mineral and gas wealth. Activists accuse the army of excesses in their crackdown, and being responsible for the disappearance of Baluch youths for years.