The Pakistani military must stop its harassment of civilians from the Mehsud tribe as they flee the government’s latest offensive against the Pakistani Taleban in the northwest of the country, Amnesty International said on Thursday.
The Pakistani military has refused to allow members of the tribe, some of whom are involved in the senior leadership of the Pakistani Taleban, to use major roads to flee the conflict zone, witnesses told Amnesty International.
“Mehsud tribespeople, including women and children, are being punished on the roads as they flee simply because they belong to the wrong tribe,” said Sam Zarifi, director of Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific programme. “This could amount to collective punishment, which is absolutely prohibited under international law.”
One Mehsud man outside the town of Tank told Amnesty International that he had left his home with his family after army bombing of his area last week.
His family was part of a group of five families, constituting about 20 men, 15 children and 17-18 women with their luggage, who were travelling on donkeys. They were trying to get to their relatives in Tank but were afraid of the army because of the restrictions imposed on Mehsud tribespeople using the road.
The man told Amnesty International:
“We are not allowed to use the roads, the army does not allow any Mehsud to come to the road and use it…When we left our homes we took some food which we used the first two days and after that we had nothing at all and what ever was left we gave to the children, we only drank some tea and water. We had to spend the nights under the open sky. As we were not allowed to use the road we had to walk in the mountains…we lost our way twice.”
“When we reached Murtuza area we hired a pickup and wanted to go by road as the women and kids were very tired and it was very difficult for them to walk any more, but when we reached near Korr there was an army check post where we were stopped by the army soldiers. They asked us why we were on the road, and said that Mehsuds are not allowed on the road. They made us walk back and away from the road, they also abused the driver, who was not a Mehsud but was from the Marwat tribe. He was first beaten by the soldiers and then they told him not to drive anyone from Mehsud tribe.”
“The Pakistani government must immediately investigate this targeting of members of the Mehsud tribe by the army and put an end to it. The group has already suffered years of fear and oppression under Taleban control in their region – the government should help to find a path for them to safety and a solution to their problems – not exacerbate them,” said Sam Zarifi.
Amnesty International recognizes the real threat posed by insurgents and the Pakistan government’s need to ensure the security of all Pakistani citizens. But restrictions on movement should be only imposed if they are absolutely necessary, are related to a specific security threat and are non-discriminatory and proportionate in terms of their impact and their duration.
South Waziristan is the largest of the seven agencies within the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, with an estimated population of 450,000, most of whom belong to either the Mehsud or Wazir tribes. The population of the Mehsud tribe is thought to be around 300,000.
International human rights and humanitarian law prohibit collective punishment. The prohibition on collective punishments is broadly understood to apply to official sanctions and harassment of any sort against persons for actions for which they do not bear individual criminal responsibility.