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Relief for terror victims

April 24, 2014

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THE ongoing debate on the terrorist attack on the Islamabad fruit market has again highlighted the need for an effective and fair mechanism for the relief and rehabilitation of the civilian victims of terrorism, as little is being said about this aspect of the matter.

For quite sometime after the wave of terrorism hit Pakistan the state recognised only its security personnel’s entitlement to relief. Cash compensation was awarded to the families of those getting killed in the line of duty and in some cases educational stipends or jobs were promised to their children.

This was necessary to acknowledge the sacrifices of the law-enforcement forces and to sustain their morale. The authorities took a long time to realise that the civilian victims of terrorist attacks also were entitled to compensation. But all this was done on an ad hoc basis.

That the civilian victims of terrorist acts need guarantees of relief to a greater extent than the security personnel should not be in doubt. Those serving in the law-enforcement agencies are aware of the risks involved in their jobs. They are supposed to be trained to face the threats to their lives and they are provided with at least some (though arguably inadequate) protective gear.

On the other hand, the civilian victims of terrorism are nearly always caught unawares, while going about their peaceful business or just sleeping in their unguarded dwellings.

Civilian populations have also suffered heavy losses of property in terrorist acts or on being told to abandon their homes because the administration cannot protect them. The need to sustain the citizens’ faith in the state’s capacity to protect them is no less important than the demand for bolstering the state employees’ morale.

The Balochistan government deserves credit for taking the lead in accepting its responsibility “to provide for timely recognition and assistance for civilian victims of terrorist acts; recognise the right of civilian victims to receive state assistance for relief, healthcare and rehabilitation; arrange for adequate funds for such assistance; create an effective mechanism to track, investigate and analyse civilian harm in terrorist acts”.

It began by promulgating the Balochistan Civilian Victims of Terrorism (Relief and Rehabilitation) Ordinance last year and followed it up with a new act early this year.

The law offers a fairly broad definition of the “civilian victim”: “a person, not being a terrorist or a personnel of a law-enforcement agency on duty, who suffers harm to body or property due to any terrorist act and, in the event of death of the person, includes the spouse of victim or, in the absence of a spouse but in order of precedence, a child, mother, father, minor sibling or other legal heirs of the victim.”

The act recognises the civilian victims’ entitlement to relief in the form of a grant from the government. The key functionary in the scheme of relief and rehabilitation is the “notified officer”, who may be the principal administrative officer of a district or another officer so designated. The notified officer will ascertain a victim’s entitlement to relief and rehabilitation and the government will release the funds required. For this purpose the provincial government will create and maintain a special fund.

The scale of minimum relief is given in the schedule: Rs1 million for death; Rs500,000 for grievous injury (amputation or incapacitation of a limb); Rs100,000 for substantial injury (inability to work for more than two weeks); Rs500,000 for complete destruction of a dwelling unit or business establishment; Rs100,000 for partial destruction; and different scales of compensation for loss of cattle and damage to vehicles.

The rehabilitation scheme envisages medical treatment of victims of terror at government expense, monthly grants to the victim’s family for a specified period, education of victims, and continued healthcare for the civilian victim and his family members.

The law specifically promises equal treatment to all victims and prohibits discrimination “against any civilian victims solely on the basis of age, gender, religion, race, creed, colour or place of residence”. Appeal from the notified officer’s decision lies with the commissioner, whose decision will be final.

Unfortunately, despite having made legal provision for relief to victims of terrorism since last year, the Balochistan government has been lagging behind in terms of implementation. It is said the rules have not yet been enforced. While in some cases relief, in accordance with the size of grants mentioned in the schedule to the act, has been provided, decisions are believed to be taken by the government/officials on a discretionary, or ad hoc, basis.

This could make the whole scheme controversial. The government would, therefore, do well for itself and the victims of terrorism if it issued a detailed report about implementation of the law, especially the creation of a special fund, nomination of notified officers in all districts and the nature of claims received and satisfied so far.

As the first law on the subject, the Balochistan Act should be subject to revision in the light of practical experience. Better-endowed provincial governments than Balochistan’s, in terms of both human and material resources, should be able to draft more comprehensive laws, simplify relief and rehabilitation procedures and revise the scale of relief and rehabilitation facilities.

In any case, these other provinces will delay creating the necessary framework for the relief of civilian victims of terrorism at the cost of their credibility as responsible defenders of the people’s rights.