|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Press Conference on Commission of Inquiry’s Findings into Assassination
of Former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto
The December 2007 assassination of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, which could have been prevented by adequate security, was followed by a severely flawed investigation, according to the report of the United Nations independent investigation released to correspondents at Headquarters press conference this afternoon.
“The responsibility for Ms. Bhutto’s security on the day of her assassination rested with the federal Government, the government of Punjab and the Rawalpindi District Police,” Chilean Ambassador Heraldo Muñoz, Chairperson of the Bhutto Commission of Inquiry, said in detailing the report, which had been received by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon just one hour prior.
“None of these entities took the necessary measures to respond to the extraordinary, fresh and urgent security risks that they knew she faced,” he said, again quoting from the report.
Commission member Marzuki Darusman of Indonesia was also present at the press conference and available for questions. The third member, Peter Fitzgerald of Ireland, was not present.
Mr. Muñoz said that the primary Pakistani investigation had been hampered by the lack of an immediate autopsy, the premature clearing of the crime scene and an announcement, 24 hours after the assignation, which placed the blame on Baitullah Mehsud, a Pakistani with links to Al-Qaida.
He said that the Commission believed that the failure of the police to effectively investigate Ms. Bhutto’s assassination was deliberate. “These officials, in part fearing intelligence agencies’ involvement, were unsure of how vigorously they ought to pursue actions, which they knew, as professionals, they should have taken,” he said.
A credible investigation, he said, had to consider the involvement of upper-level jihadi elements, as well as the possibility of the involvement of elements of the so-called Pakistani “establishment”, the military and business elite. It must focus on the conception, financing and planning of the crime, as well as indicting those who actually carried it out, he stressed.
“It remains the responsibility of the Pakistani authorities to carry out a serious, credible criminal investigation that determines who conceived, ordered and executed this heinous crime of historic proportions, and brings those responsible to justice,” he added, quoting from the report. “Doing so would constitute a major step towards ending impunity for political crimes in this country.”
The three-member Commission, which aimed to establish the facts and circumstances around the Bhutto slaying and was not meant to be a criminal investigation identifying individual criminal responsibility, was set up following a request from the Pakistani Government and began its work in July 2009.
The presentation of the Commission’s report had been scheduled for 30 March, but was delayed at the request of the country’s President. Mr. Muñoz could not comment on the reason for the delay, but said that the report had been complete by that date. He was satisfied that the Commission had fulfilled its mandate and that its findings were well substantiated through well over 250 interviews and hundreds of documents, photographs and videos.
Outlining the report, Mr. Muñoz said it placed the assassination in its historical context, as well as against the immediate backdrop of power struggles that were occurring as an end to military rule was foreseen, violence by Islamist extremists and the State increased and the Government of Pervez Musharraf negotiated with Ms. Bhutto on the conditions of her return, along with possible power-sharing arrangements, in talks facilitated by the United States and the United Kingdom.
The report, he said, also detailed the period from Ms. Bhutto’s return in October 2007 -– upon which she had been immediately attacked -- until the assassination. During that time, many threats had been passed on from the federal Government to local authorities and Ms. Bhutto, but commensurate actions to protect here had not been taken, he stated.
Detailing the assassination timeline, the report notes protective actions taken and not taken, starting at 2 p.m. on the day of the murder, through the assassination, hospitalization and burial of Ms. Bhutto.
Among the most critical questions that had yet to be answered were, he said, how was a crowd allowed to form around Ms. Bhutto’s vehicle, and what was the cause of death -- gunshots or the ensuing explosion? Why was no autopsy performed at the hospital and why was the crime scene closed down less than two hours after the assassination?
Responding to questions, Mr. Muñoz stressed he could not accuse anyone of crimes or cover-ups; that was the responsibility of the authorities in Pakistan. In addition, he was not at liberty to reveal the names of interviewees, though it was well known that President Asif Ali Zardari had participated.
He confirmed that Condoleezza Rice, United States Secretary of State at the time, had not been made available, but he had received adequate information on the negotiations over Ms. Bhutto’s return from other sources, including other high-ranking United States officials.
The Commission had found no evidence to treat as credible the hypothesis that President Zadari had been involved in the assassination, he said. “Such theories were the fruit of the lack of a credible investigation,” he added.
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