How much neutral is Switzerland?

By K.N. Pandita

Around the year 2000, I was in Switzerland working with an African NGO at the Human Rights Council (then it was called Commission). A story was making rounds in the town that some WW II German Jewish refugees had claimed that their close relatives had deposited certain amounts of money in Swiss banks which should be returned to them. They were prepared to prove their claims through satisfying evidence. But the Swiss Banks declined to release the money and raised a hundred hassles just to force them to abandon their claims. Not only the general public in Geneva even a number of NGOs, sincerely empathizing the deprived refugees also raised their voice in support of the war victims but to no avail. The Swiss government was least responsive. Maybe it might have resolved the issue now of which I have no latest information.

A friend in London has informed me just a day back that one Mehran Bloch, originally from Balochistan in Pakistan but a citizen of UK where he has been living for decades, has been banned by the Swiss government for life from entering Switzerland. I was shocked by this news because Mehran Baloch is a dear friend known to me for last three decades. We first met in Geneva and then we maintained our contact wherever we were, in Europe, London or Moscow. He speaks fluent Russian, Farsi and is quiet at home in English.

Mehran was in his early twenties way back in around 1993/94 when we first met. He came with the specific purpose of presenting before the UN Human Rights Council the case of violation of human rights of Baloch people by Pakistan government. He is a forceful speaker and his presentations were usually loaded with plenty of facts and statistics well authenticated. He was attending all sessions of the UNHRC at Geneva year after year and making powerful interventions under various agenda items. He also used to hold briefs for ambassadors, UN Human Rights functionaries, NGOs, academics, intellectuals, political activists and media persons enriching his presentation with video clippings, visuals and large printed material. All this was aimed at apprising his audience with what atrocities Pakistani government had unleashed against his people in Baluchistan. He would present a list of his close relatives and friends and kinsmen who were either disappeared or kidnapped by the ISI goons back home in Balochistan. Obviously, all this made Pakistan’s position very precarious in the comity of nations at Geneva. I, as his close and trusted friend, often helped him in straightening the angularities or technicalities of his written statements and interventions. We lived together at John Knox Foyer in Geneva.

Mehran has become very popular with almost all NGOs and functionaries at the UNHRC in Geneva because firstly he commands a very attractive and affable personality and secondly he has had an extremely humanitarian cause to sell.

Pakistanis at the UNHRC in Geneva have one and only one errand to perform and that is to note who among the Indians and home dissidents (Sindhis, Baloch, Azad Kashmir nationalists, Gilgatis and Baltistanis) exposes to the international community in Geneva Pakistan government’s perfidy and oppression against them. The swarms of ISI agents pacing up and down in the saloons and lounges and restaurants of the UNHRC report to the home government and then follow the reprisals.

It is in various shapes. The passports of these home-bred critics can be impounded and withdrawn; their families and kith and kin back home are threatened with grave consequences and their re-entry is stonewalled in one way or the other. It is not like Kashmiris from the valley who are freely given passports and are freely allowed to return home after heaping abuses and vitriolic on Indian government in their interventions in Geneva UNHRC.

Some years back Pakistan brought pressure on the UNESCO in New York and got a three year ban imposed on an NGO (Interfaith International) with ECOSOC status at Geneva just because this NGO would give platform to those dissident Pakistanis (based either in Pakistan or in Diaspora) to make interventions exposing their blatant violation of human rights of various communities in Pakistan – Shias, Ahmadias, Christians, Hindus, Baltis, Saraikis, Chitralis and Kashmiris besides ethnic minorities like Balochs, Pushtoon, Gilgatis and others.

My shock was not that Pakistan has lacerated Mehran Baloch. My shock is that the Swiss government, throwing to winds its status of neutrality, has succumbed to pressures from Pakistan and imposed life ban on a British-Pakistani national whose crime is that he is legally, constitutionally and peacefully fighting for the rights of his oppressed people suffering blatant violation of their rights. If the Swiss government is out to block entry of those who want to tell the world body of their suffering, it means that Swiss is a part of the oppressive machine.

We know that Switzerland has enormous financial interests in Pakistan. Swiss pharmaceuticals are in great demand in Pakistan and Swiss pharmaceutical firms are making huge marketing in Pakistan. This maybe so but is Switzerland happy with compromising her neutrality and the value of human rights for its financial interests? Is such a country entitled to be given the status of neutrality? We put this question to the highly sensible and responsible people of Switzerland.

Has the government of Switzerland ever tried to track what the activities and the idiom of anti-India NGOs and delegates from Pakistan is when making anti-India interventions in the UNHRC sessions? Has the Swiss government ever cared what anti-India tirades are unleashed by the Muslim Imams (priests) in Geneva in their mosques before Fridays congregations? Has the Swiss government ever imposed similar life ban on any of the mullas, meaning Muslim clergy, addressing Friday congregations in the mosques of Geneva? No, it has never done anything like that.

Our NGO headquartered in Geneva will formally protest against an illegal ban the Swiss government has imposed on Mehran, and we will also establish close rapport with scores of other NGOs in Geneva to table a motion demanding scrapping of Switzerland’s neutral status by citing Mehran’s case as blatant violation of the norms of neutrality.
(The writer is the former Director of the Centre of Central Asian Studies at Kashmir University, Srinagar and President of AEHRF, an NGO with ECOSOC status).

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