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Thursday, October 27, 2005


What motivates people to do this in a situation like the Pakistan earthquake?

Scarce tents and other relief supplies are being put in storage in the city of Muzaffarabad in earthquake stricken Pakistan-administered Kashmir by civilian authorities working under the supervision of the military, rather than handed out to needy, homeless persons, Human Rights Watch said today.

On October 19 at Muzaffarabad’s civil secretariat, Human Rights Watch was present at a supply depot where government civil servants were working to help store supplies on the promise of being provided tents at the end of a day’s labor. The depot was under the control of officials from the “services group,” an administrative unit working for the chief secretary, the highest ranking civil servant in Pakistan-administered Kashmir. Several civil servants informed Human Rights Watch that they had been engaged in the activity for three days, only to return to their shelterless families empty-handed every night.

Human Rights Watch was told by officials at the scene in charge of dispersing these tents, which had been designated for government workers in Muzaffarabad, that tents and other emergency supplies were being stored instead. Officials present said that this was being done so that they would be able to avoid problems when senior military and civilian officials demand supplies that otherwise would not be available. One official said that he would be fired if he handed out the tents. Under pressure from the intended recipients, one official did release some tents to some of the people on the list of designated civil servants. Each tent can provide shelter for six people.

“In Pakistan-administered Kashmir, tents are the difference between life and death,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “It is essential for the public to know that aid is being handled in a non-arbitrary, non-discriminatory manner.”

After the earthquake, Human Rights Watch warned that the greatest threat to human rights often arises in crisis situations and called on the government of Pakistan to adhere to international human rights standards in the organization and provision of relief.

Asma Jahangir, chairperson of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, was also present at the scene. She told Human Rights Watch that, “Tents are now the most important commodity in Kashmir. But they are being used for power and patronage by military and civilian authorities that control the territory. This needs to be sorted out immediately.”

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