Enforced disappearances- A stain on Pakistan’s human rights law

Enforced disappearances have long been a stain on Pakistan’s human rights laws. Regardless of the pledges of successive governments to criminalize the practice, there has been slow movement on legislation while people continue to be forcibly disappeared with impunity.

Groups and individuals targeted in enforced disappearances in Pakistan include people from Baloch, Sindhi, Pashtun ethnicities, the Shia community, political activists, human rights defenders, members and supporters of religious and nationalist groups, suspected members of armed groups, and proscribed religious and political organizations in Pakistan.

Rising enforced disappearances and commission report

A government-appointed commission in Pakistan in its report said it has received more than 5,000 cases of enforced disappearances in a country.

In its recent report issued on 31 May 2019, the Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances said it has received 5,177 cases of alleged enforced disappearances since its inception in 2011.

During the past 15 years, families of separatists, members of the-nationalist political parties, peace activists, members of Islamist factions, and critics of the military have often accused authorities of either orchestrating enforced disappearances or failing to help in finding their loved ones.

The northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province together with the merged areas of the former Federally Administered Tribal Areas have the highest number of cases.

The commission’s report stated that out of 2,157 reported cases in the country, the commission has resolved 967 cases and is still working on 983.

The resolved cases include 182 instances that either did not meet the commission’s criteria for enforced disappearances or could not be pursued due to insufficient information.

Many of the cases the commission claims to have “traced” typically established that the victim is currently being detained by police or security forces.

Promises by the government

Prime Minister Imran Khan has committed to criminalizing enforced disappearances. In January 2019, Pakistan’s Ministry of Human Rights submitted a draft bill to the Ministry of Law and Justice to criminalize enforced disappearances, through an amendment in the Pakistan Penal Code.

Minister of Human Rights, Shireen Mazari had also stated that the government wants to sign the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance.

While criminalization of enforced disappearance is a significant and positive first step in ending these ongoing human rights violations, the process has not included consultations with civil society groups and victims’ families.

In recent months, there have been encouraging reports of people released. However, when the forcibly disappeared are released, they are either warned to not speak to the media and seek accountability or the fear of recurrence stops them from speaking up about their disappearance. 

The historic achievement of SHC

Historic achievement of Sindh High Court in cases related to the recovery of enforced missing persons.

A bench comprising of Justice Nazar Akbar and Justice Mubeen Lakho recovered 62 missing persons during the 28-day hearing.

The court also disposed of 162 applications for enforced disappearances in one month. Several DSPs and inspectors were also suspended for non-implementation of missing person recovery SOPs.

The court also directed departmental action against several police officers for misrepresentation and poor investigation.

IG Sindh, Home Secretary, DIG East, DIG CTD and other officers were also summoned for non-recovery of missing persons.

The issue not yet settled down

The issue of missing persons circulating for a decade has not yet settled down. Recently, President Arif Alvi stated that the Army Chief, Prime Minister and the Judiciary are in discussion to address the issue of missing persons.

However, people are missing almost from all over the country, mostly from the province of Baluchistan. The center of the Baluchistan issue is directly connected to the missing people’s issue.

A report from the commission of inquiry on enforcing disappearance exposed that 318 new cases of alleged missing persons have been reported to the commission since February.

Pakistani laws do not allow indefinite detentions because the law enforcement and security services are required to produce suspects in a court of law within 24 hours of arrest.

Families of the disappeared persons are often threatened, harassed and intimidated, especially those whom have been more public with their protests and have campaigned openly for justice for their loved ones.

The government must bring a law on enforced disappearances, declare it a crime and punish those involved in the offense. The right to a fair trial is guaranteed in the Constitution and the government must make sure it.

No one supports any person involved in criminal activity or terrorism but it is the duty of government to respect fundamental human rights enshrined in the Constitution. Missing persons should be presented in courts and punished under the law if found guilty.

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