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Teachers and aid workers tortured in Pakistan’s lawless north west

Teachers, aid workers and activists are routinely tortured as millions of Pakistanis fall victim to Taliban abuse, claims a report out today.

People living in the country’s tribal  north west have virtually no protection from the government and live in a ‘human rights-free zone,’ says Amnesty International’s As if Hell Fell on Me report.

The Taliban has systematically killed tribal elders and government officials who have attempted to challenge their rule as well as torturing teachers, aid workers and activists, the 130-page report claims

A teacher quoted in the report, who fled Swat with his family in March last year, said: “What’s the point of having this huge army if it can’t even protect us against a group of brutal fanatics?”

“They took over my school and started to teach children about how to fight in Afghanistan. They kicked out the girls from school, told the men to grow their beards, and threatened anybody they didn’t like. Our government and our military never tried to protect us from this.”

The human rights campaign group called on the Pakistan government to follow humanitarian law and allow aid organisation access to provide aid, food and shelter to people affected. It has also called on Islamabad to reform the Pakistani constitution, which excludes the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) of the north west from the country’s legal and parliamentary system.

“Nearly four million people are effectively living under the Taliban in north-west Pakistan without rule of law and effectively abandoned by the Pakistani government,” said Claudio Cordone, Amnesty's interim secretary-general.

The report, based on nearly 300 interviews with residents of the Fata and the surrounding areas, exposes what many people in north west Pakistan have often been scared to openly say. It mentions systematic human rights abuses by the Taliban and accuses militants of increasing the likelihood of ordinary people being hurt or killed by planting themselves among the people during clashes with government forces.

Amnesty also accuses the Pakistani army of not doing enough to avoid casualties in its operations against militants, and the government of neglecting the basic needs of the millions of people living in the frontier regions close to Afghanistan.

More than one million people have been uprooted by fighting between the Pakistani military and the Taliban in the tribal areas bordering Afghanistan. Some 1,300 people were killed in the conflict during 2009.

Hayley attribution