Compensating Civilian Victims of Terror in Pakistan

Recently, the Sri Lankan president announced allotment of land for 100,000 victims of the three-decade-long civil war that the country was mired in. In this regard, the internally-displaced persons of Sri Lanka will be given land through an apparatus that has been set up for this purpose. In contrast, in Pakistan there is discrepancy in the compensation packages given to civilian victims of terrorism by federal and provincial governments. This needs revision and standardization. For a long time, compensation packages were only given to those victims who belonged to law-enforcement and security agencies and their families. Civilian victims primarily remained dependent upon the discretion of provincial governments. In this regard, the recently-promulgated Punjab Civilian Victims of Terrorism (Relief and Rehabilitation) Act, 2016 is a step in the right direction. Prior to its promulgation, there was no institutional apparatus that could work to compensate civilian victims of terrorism in the province. There was an indirect and unintentional discrimination between civilian victims and those belonging to law-enforcement agencies. Article 9 of the Constitution guarantees the right to life, hence it is obligatory upon the state to transform this guarantee into practical action. Compensating civilian victims of terror is a step in this direction.

Besides Punjab, a similar law has also been introduced in Balochistan. Both provincial governments have not only recognized the right of civilian victims to receive state compensation, rehabilitation and healthcare, they have also notified standardized rates of compensation, and defined procedures and time limits. In case of death, a civilian victim’s family is entitled to receive Rs1 million. For major injuries, civilians are to receive Rs500,000 and for minor injuries Rs100,000. The law also prescribes compensation rates for damaged property. If a house or a shop is completely damaged as a result of an act of terror, the owner is to receive Rs1 million and in case of severe damage to a vehicle, the compensation has been set at Rs500,000. The law also covers losses of livestock in a terrorist incident.

After 9/11, a number of human rights laws were enacted. However, the real issue remains their weak implementation, long bureaucratic chains, and a lack of monitoring and evaluation processes. The state cannot be relieved of its protective and preventive functions after a one-time payment to victims. Rehabilitation is an equally important function that needs to be performed by a viable state. The new law necessitates elaborate procedures for submission, vetting and payment of claims. It states that assistance will be made within 45 days of the occurrence of the act of terrorism. The notified assessing officials are bound to communicate to the government within 30 days of an occurrence and upon receipt of such claim, within the next 15 days the grant is to be transferred to the claimant. It is important here that this entire procedure is carried out with complete transparency so that the people’s confidence in the state grows.

It should be noted that there is a lack of awareness regarding such laws. What is needed is for the government and the media to jointly devise and implement a strategy that creates awareness about these legal instruments. Another possible problem area could be ensuring timely payment to the victims. For this, the new law requires the establishment of the Civilian Victims Fund. While this legislation appears to be very comprehensive, there is always the danger of complications arising, like difficulty in determining the ownership of property, vehicles and heirs. This may create hurdles in the way of timely disbursement, hence what is required are quicker remedial measures.

The Balochistan Civilian Victims of Terrorism (Relief and Rehabilitation) Act of 2014 clearly defines a “civilian victim” as 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 an event of terrorism. The rehabilitation plan includes medical treatment of victims of terror at government expense, education of victims, monthly grants and continued healthcare for the victims and their family members. The law also provides the right to appeal to the office of the respective divisional commissioner.

While two provinces have taken delayed legal action to protect the rights of civilian victims of terrorism, the conversion of these laws into reality requires the immediate drafting of rules. To assess the efficacy of these laws, annual implementation reports should be compiled.

It was a long time before the authorities realized that civilian victims of terrorism need to be compensated for the tragedy befalling them. Even so, the promulgation of these laws is a commendable step. Law-enforcement personnel are usually aware of the threats and risks they face. They are armed and can always take protective, preventive measures against terror acts. On the other hand, civilian targets are usually unaware of terror threats and can easily become victim of acts of terrorism. In the recent past, we have been witness to instances of innocent people dying in the markets of Peshawar, Quetta and Karachi after suicide bombings.

Following the Sri Lankan example of assessing costs and consequences of the war against terror, it is imperative that we also constitute a federal commission that looks into similar matters. Such a commission can be assisted by similar commissions set up at the provincial level, as well as by economists, psychologists, military personnel, academia, researchers, journalists, administration and the police. NACTA should be made a hub of such activities. It should also be able to manage a website recording names of all victims of terror, whether civilian or belonging to the army or law-enforcement agencies. The website should also be able to upload the economic cost of the devastation.

With Balochistan and Punjab taking the lead in this area, it is imperative upon Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces to follow their example and bring civilian victims of terrorism within their protective orbit. Such legislation will definitely increase the faith of ordinary citizens in the state’s capacity to protect them.