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Pakistan's top court investigates alleged use of girls to settle tribal dispute

By Nasir Habib, for CNN
updated 9:04 PM EDT, Tue October 9, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • A tribal council is alleged to have used girls and money to settle a dispute
  • Under the tradition, the girls must marry members of the tribe they are handed to
  • The Supreme Court has ordered authorities to present the 13 girls on Wednesday
  • A provincial lawmaker denies accusations he presided over the tribal council

Islamabad, Pakistan (CNN) -- The Pakistani Supreme Court is investigating allegations that a tribal council in a restive province ordered that about a dozen girls aged between 4 and 16 be handed over from one tribe to another to settle a feud, a provincial official said Tuesday.

The girls are at risk because under "vani," the tradition invoked by the council to resolve the dispute, they will be forced to marry members of the tribe to which they are given. Vani is illegal under Pakistani law.

Following local news reports on the tribal council's decision, the Supreme Court has requested that the provincial authorities present the 13 girls and their parents Wednesday at its building in Quetta, the capital of Balochistan, said Babar Yaqoub, the chief secretary of the province.

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Balochistan is the western Pakistani province where the meeting of tribal elders, known as a jirga, is reported to have been held recently. It was unclear Tuesday whether the girls had been handed over yet.

The Supreme Court judges have also requested the attendance Wednesday of a provincial lawmaker accused of presiding over the tribal meeting in the district of Dera Bugti. The lawmaker, Tariq Masoori Bugti, has denied he was present at the jirga.

The tribal council decided that one tribe should give the other the 13 girls and the sum of about $32,000 as restitution for the killing of a member of the second tribe about five months ago, according to two local government officials.

The officials said they were not present at the tribal meeting but had been briefed on its proceedings by representatives of the village where it is alleged to have taken place. The two local officials declined to be identified, saying they feared they could lose their jobs if the influential tribal elders knew they were speaking to the news media about the matter.

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Syed Faisal Shah, the top government official of Dera Bugti, confirmed that the jirga had taken place but declined to comment further, saying he couldn't afford conflict with the jirga members.

Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, the popular chief justice of the Supreme Court, has decided to investigate by issuing a "suo moto" notice, which allows him to initiate any case of alleged human rights violation even if the victim hasn't filed a petition.

Chaudhry is in Quetta at the moment to hear other cases and held a hearing on the "suo moto" notice Tuesday.

Tariq, the provincial lawmaker who the court has requested to appear before it Wednesday, denied he had presided over the tribal meeting. "I played no role in the jirga," he said by phone Tuesday.

Tariq said that he had not yet been notified of the court request but that he would attend the hearing if he received orders to do so.

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