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US Congressman BradSherman's remarks on abduction of #PunhalSario, HR violations & forced conversion

October 12, 2017


The SPEAKER pro tempore (Mr. ARRINGTON). Under the Speaker’s announced policy of January 3, 2017, the Chair recognizes the gentleman from California (Mr. SHERMAN) for 30 minutes.

Mr. SHERMAN. Mr. Speaker, I am the Ranking Member on the Asia and the Pacific Subcommittee and the founder and chair of the Sindh Caucus. In those two roles, I have focused on human rights and the rule of law in Pakistan, and particularly in Sindh.

We have dedicated ourselves in the Sindh Caucus to efforts to preserve the culture and the language of the Sindhi people, and particularly their dedication to religious tolerance. Unfortunately, the human rights picture in Pakistan and in Sindh is not good.

I would like to say a few words about the disappearance of Punhal Sario, the leader of the Voice for Missing Persons of Sindh movement, and about the very serious problem of disappearances in Sindh.

Just this past summer, Punhal Sario led a march between Sindh’s two major cities, from Hyderabad to Karachi, demanding accountability for Sindhi activists who have been abducted by Pakistani security forces or simply disappeared.

Where is Punhal now? It appears that he, too, has fallen victim to the very serious forces that he marched against. Punhal’s case is hardly an isolated one. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan reported that over 700 people disappeared, were kidnapped, and never heard of again in Pakistan in the year 2016 alone.

In the past year, the United Nations Human Rights Committee, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the State Department’s own Report on Human Rights have all noted serious concerns about extrajudicial and targeted killings and disappearances in Pakistan and, particularly, in Sindh.

Elements of the Pakistani government or military see an opportunity to simply make their opponents disappear. Here are a few particulars. In 2016, Amnesty International reported that the Pakistani security forces had, and these are their words, “committed human rights violations with almost total impunity.” Human Rights Watch observed that “law enforcement and security agencies remained unaccountable for human rights violations.” The State Department itself noted in Pakistan, “the most serious human rights problems were extrajudicial and targeted killings, disappearances, torture, [and] the lack of the rule of law.”

Two years ago, in 2015, Sindhi leader Dr. Anwar Laghari was brutally murdered in Pakistan. Days before his death, he had sent a memorandum to President Barack Obama about human rights violations by the Pakistani military and its Inter-Services Intelligence agency, the ISI.

I attended a memorial service for Dr. Laghari here in Washington and have come to know of his work for human rights for the Sindhi people of southern Pakistan. The Pakistani Government has not been responsive to numerous inquiries into the reason for Dr. Laghari’s death and for why his perpetrators have not been brought to justice. Two months ago, on August 18, I sent a letter to the Acting Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs and the U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan expressing strong concerns about human rights violations of the Pakistani Government in Sindh. Six of my House colleagues—three Democrats and three Republicans—joined me in that effort.

There are other human rights concerns in Pakistan that I should also bring to the attention of this House. The people of Sindh face religious extremist attacks. ISIS, for example, claimed responsibility for an attack on a Sufi shrine in Sindh that killed 80 people. Yet the government has not acted to protect religious minorities and, in general, has not acted to protect the people of Sindh from Islamic extremism.

In addition, in Sindh, there are forced conversions of Sindhi girls belonging to minority communities. While the numbers are unclear, reports suggest that every year perhaps 1,000 girls and young women in Pakistan, including many in Sindh, are forcibly converted upon a marriage, not of their choice, to Muslim men. The Pakistani Government has not done enough to stop this practice, and reform measures have been circumvented and not enforced.

Human rights abuses of this type cannot go unanswered. Activists disappear under suspicious circumstances. It is our obligation to speak out and demand accountability. These disappearances and other violations of human rights should be a major topic of conversation in all bilateral discussions between our government and the government in Islamabad.

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