Pakistani Law Helps Victims of Conflict, Sets Precedent

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Since September 11, 2001, more than 30,000 civilians have been killed from terrorism and armed conflict in Pakistan. Many more have been severely injured and disabled while countless survivors and families now struggle as a result of their loss.

After years of advocacy by the Institute of Social Policy and Sciences (I-SAPS) and Center for Civilians in Conflict, supported by the Open Society Foundations, a milestone was reached in January 2014 when Pakistan’s Balochistan provincial government passed a compensation law for civilian victims of terrorism and armed conflict. The new, groundbreaking legislation establishes compensation as a right and standardizes the process and provision of assistance.

This breakthrough also could be a model that should be taken up by other provincial governments in Pakistan, as well as the federal government.

Pakistan federal and provincial governments have some history of providing compensation and assistance to victims of conflict, as documented in 2010 report by the Center for Civilians in Conflict. Yet, the Pakistan government’s efforts have been ad hoc, inconsistent, and often subject to political influence. As a result, victims’ losses often go unacknowledged and they are left to cope on their own. Only comprehensive legislation and standardized policies can ensure victims’ losses are properly recognized and addressed.

I-SAPS’ 2011 report on Pakistan compensation practices found a myriad of problems, including a lack of standard definitions and amounts, as well as excessive bureaucracy and politicization of government assistance, which often resulted in discrepancies, exclusion, and appearance of discrimination. For example, when a Shia religious procession in Balochistan veered from its approved route in 2010, over 100 victims of a suicide bombing were denied compensation.

For victims, compensation can never replace the loss of loved ones. But many believe that compensation and assistance from the government can provide practical help coping with devastating losses by providing medical care or a financial cushion in hard times. Such assistance is also important as a dignifying gesture that recognizes victims’ losses, and a publicly acknowledges the government’s responsibility to help victims recover.

“I realized that one of those bodies was that of my son…a father should not have to see what I saw,” recalled Mohammed Anwar, whose son was killed in a bombing in Balochistan in April 2013. “I recognized my son from his shoes…As far as I am concerned it is the government’s responsibility to ensure that I and others like me are offered compensation.” Anwar’s statements are part of an interview conducted for a forthcoming report by the Open Society Foundations.

The new Balochistan law now enables victims to get assistance within 15 days. It requires the government to establish a designated Civilian Victims Fund, which government officials will use based on the merits of victims’ claims, not political expediency. The new legislation also includes an appeals process, government-funded medical care, and provides dependents of the victims with continued economic assistance including education. The new law explicitly prohibits discrimination of any type against victims.

The Balochistan government now needs to take steps to implement this new law.

Firstly, there is a general lack of public awareness about the legislation. Proactively reaching out to victims and community leaders will help educate the public about how to access and realize this new right. In addition, hiring and training existing government officials specifically mandated to implement the legislation and act as focal points within the government will be the key. Moreover, Standard Operating Procedures or Rules of Business need to be put in place, with proactive engagement by civil society to guide such implementation, ensure proper and speedy identification of victims, and update victims about the progress of their cases. Finally, rules to guide implementation of the law need to be formulated, which will also help reduce perceptions of unfairness as a result of executive discretion.

Balochistan’s Civilian Victims of Terrorism (Relief and Rehabilitation) Law 2014 is a model for of the whole of Pakistan. “We congratulate the Government of Balochistan for recognizing the need of the people,” said Ahmad Ali, senior researcher at I-SAPS. “The adoption of similar measures in other provinces is necessary to address the plight of civilian victims of conflict and terrorism in Pakistan.”

According to government reports, in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa alone, 5,152 Civilians have been killed and 5,678 injured as a result of armed conflict and terrorism since 2008. Some progress has been made, but KP and other provincial governments should now follow Balochistan’s lead and adopt comprehensive legislation. The international community, including the U.S. government, could provide important sources of funding, once standard, transparent laws are put in place by Pakistani officials. Such new policies cannot come soon enough for Pakistani civilians, who suffer the most from ongoing conflict and terrorism.

By Javed Rezayee & Christopher Rogers