Populations at Risk
Previously Studied Situations
Ongoing sectarian attacks in Pakistan leave civilians at risk of potential mass atrocity crimes.
BACKGROUND: Thousands of civilians from ethnic and religious minority groups have been killed in targeted attacks in Pakistan over the past decade. Shia Muslims, who comprise approximately 20 percent of the population, continue to be the focus of most sectarian violence. Other minority groups have also been targeted for attack, including Ahmadis, Christians and Hindus.
Sectarian killings are mainly perpetrated by extremist Sunni Muslim groups, such as the Pakistan Taliban (TTP), Lashkare-Jhangvi (LeJ), and their affiliates. TTP and affiliated groups have perpetrated terrorist attacks on Shia mosques and government buildings, including a December 2014 attack on a government school in Peshawar that killed more than 130 students.
TTP and its affiliates have conducted targeted attacks on Shia Muslims across Pakistan during 2015. TTP militants attacked worshippers at Shia mosques in Peshawar and Rawalpindi during February while an unidentified group attacked a Shia mosque in Karachi. On 13 May at least 45 Ismaili Shia Muslims were killed when TTP-affiliated Jundullah gunmen targeted them a bus outside Karachi. At least 15 Shia Muslims, primarily members of the Hazara ethnic group, were killed in multiple attacks in Quetta during May, June and July.
On 7 July the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan expressed grave concern over the increase of targeted sectarian and ethnic attacks in Balochistan, calling for perpetrators to be brought to justice and addressing root causes of the violence.
On 29 July police killed the founder of LeJ, Maliq Ishaq, and his two sons after gunmen attacked a police convoy that was transporting them after being arrested for dozens of murders. During violent protests at Ishaq's funeral at least two people were killed and there was an attempted attack on a Shia mosque.
Human rights abuses, including enforced disappearances, continue in Pakistan's Balochistan province. In May former Balochistan minister Kachkol Ali sent a letter to the UN Secretary-General, stating that crimes against humanity had been perpetrated against the "Baloch nation" and that the government had failed to uphold its Responsibility to Protect.
Retaliation attacks also continue. On 29 May at least 22 ethnic Pashtu traveling from Quetta to Karachi were targeted and killed by gunmen. No one claimed responsibility, but similar attacks have been carried out by Baloch separatists in the past.
ANALYSIS: While the majority of Pakistan's international partners have focused on the issue of terrorism perpetrated by TTP and other Islamic extremists against the security establishment, sectarian attacks against civilians are a growing threat, particularly for the Shia community.
The current government faces myriad security and economic challenges, but must make upholding its Responsibility to Protect populations from targeted violence an urgent priority.
INTERNATIONAL RESPONSE: The response of the international community to sectarian violence in Pakistan has been inadequate and is routinely overshadowed by concerns regarding regional security and counter-terrorism.
The UN Secretary-General has repeatedly condemned sectarian attacks in Pakistan and issued numerous statements regarding violence against Shia and other minorities.
NECESSARY ACTION: The government must provide enhanced protection to vulnerable communities at risk across Pakistan. The government should intensify efforts to promote religious and ethnic tolerance.
Pakistan's federal and local governments must work closely with religious leaders to prevent hate speech aimed at members of other religious communities. Formal investigations must be conducted into sectarian killings and those responsible held accountable.
The UN and major donors, including the United States and United Kingdom, should actively assist Pakistan in upholding its Responsibility to Protect through supporting programs aimed at strengthening the rule of law and promoting inter-faith and inter-communal dialogue.
Last Updated: 15 August 2015