Today at the United Nations Office of Geneva (UNOG), Members of the European Parliament (MEPs), experts on South Asia, and social and political activists gathered to hold a critical dialogue on the Pakistani state’s ongoing human rights violations against the people of Gilgit-Baltistan.
Rich in resources and minerals, Gilgit-Baltistan is a highly strategic region that is currently part of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (POK). Panel Chair Henri Malosse of the European Economic and Social Committee, Member of the European Parliament (MEP) Mr Ryszard Czarnecki, rights activist Mr Senge Sereng, senior official for the European Commission’s work on South Asia Mr Brian Toll, and prominent activist and leader for human rights in Gilgit-Baltistan Mr Wajahat Hussain all decried Pakistan’s continued denial of Gilgit-Baltistan’s fundamental right to self-determination.
The panelists all spoke of how Pakistani authorities have for decades targeted political activists, human rights defenders, and student protesters across both Baluchistan and Gilgit-Baltistan in order to silence their complaints. Members of nationalist and pro-independence political parties regularly face threats and intimidation from Pakistani security forces, and thousands have been arbitrarily detained over the years. Threats have even been directed at the activists’ families and children.
Mr Brian Toll, a senior official for the European Commission’s work in South Asia, implored the international community to address the widespread human rights abuses in Gilgit-Baltistan. Mr Toll specifically spoke about the lack of adequate education there, stating that a whopping 50% of women are illiterate and 65% of girls do not finish primary education. “Attacks on girls schools,” Mr Toll stated, “are carried out by the Pakistanis and the Taliban especially, who do not want girls to be educated.”
Mr Senge Sering, a rights activist born in Gilgit-Baltistan, urged the UN and other relevant international parties to recognise that the rich cultural heritage of the people of Gilgit-Baltistan has been repeatedly denied. According to Mr Sering, the oldest Tibetan dialect in the world is spoken in Gilgit-Baltistan.
“Historically,” Mr Sering stated, “the mountainous region has been a hub for people who have sought to preserve their culture and traditions. Today, however, Pakistan bans studying and teaching of any local languages in schools. The Pakistani government wants only to promote Urdu.” Language is a conduit for cultural preservation; without the ability to continue speaking and teaching their local languages to younger generations the people of Gilgit-Baltistan are forced to abandon their history and tradition.
The esteemed panelists affirm that, legally, Gilgit-Baltistan is part of India—no matter what Pakistan would like to think.
All of the diplomats and activists gathered at the UNOG conference on Gilgit-Baltistan reasserted that Pakistan must immediately cease its terrorisation of the people of Gilgit-Baltistan. The panelists urged the UN to utilise all available diplomatic channels and strategic bargaining positions in negotiations with Pakistan.
The panelists also asserted that the UN has an integral role to play in denouncing widespread exploitative ventures across South Asia—the situation is not limited to Gilgit-Baltistan alone.
As a powerful global actor, the panelists hold the UN and its connections within the international community to have a huge responsibility for ushering in peace in South Asia. Those who seek peace and justice for Gilgit-Baltistan agree that the UN needs to expose Pakistan’s illegal behaviour and measures in Gilgit-Baltistan and related areas. Pakistan has no legal right to Gilgit-Baltistan, nor to its resources. The UN must live up to its mandate by fighting for the human rights of all people, especially those belonging to the people of Gilgit-Baltistan.
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