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Missing Persons in Pakistan
  • Missing persons in Pakistan
    Missing persons in Pakistan
Pakistan is up for review before the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) for the third time this year, but Islamabad has taken no steps to make enforced disappearances an actionable crime. And on International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances this year on 30th August, victims and activists went through their annual ritual- staging protest rallies.

Defence of Human Rights, a non-governmental organization working for the recovery of disappeared persons, laments that more than 5,000 cases of enforced disappearance have remained unresolved till date in Pakistan, which projects itself as the frontline state that upholds human values as enshrined in Sharia. Most of these cases have been reported from the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), the Provincially Administered Tribal Areas (PATA) and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), Balochistan and Sindh provinces.

But if we factor in the concerns of the Balochis, the number of persons, who were (are) made to vanish by the deep state in Pakistan may be more in number. The Voice of Baloch has been alleging, for instance, that 18,000 people have disappeared in Balochistan since 2001.

How they disappeared? Well, they were forcibly taken away after a midnight knock on their doors. Who can dare to whisk away like that? Only the minions of the state whether it is Pakistan or China or a state under military control.

During Pakistan’s first Universal Periodic Review (of Human Rights) in 2008, Pakistan government accepted recommendations made by France, Brazil and Mexico to ratify the Convention on Enforced Disappearances. The convention, among other obligations, requires the Pakistani authorities to make disappearance a cognizable offence.

Four years later, during Pakistan’s second Universal Periodic Review also, Islamabad received a number of recommendations asking it to ratify the Convention and make enforced disappearance a distinct crime. This time, Pakistan changed tack. It took on board (“noted” was the official phrase) the recommendation on the ratification of the International Convention on Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearances (ICPPED), but accepted recommendations related to the criminalisation of enforced disappearance.

In 2013, Pakistan government appeared to heed the concerns of human rights groups when it constituted a “Task Force on Missing Persons”. The report came towards the year-end.

While the recommendations remain a text hidden from public view, members of the Task Force have revealed that they had called for inclusion in the Criminal Code of Pakistan “disappearances” as a crime, according to a media report.

Who are these members, who had volunteered the inside track? We don’t know. The media did not identify them probably in a bid to save them from possible official wrath.

Yet, going by the dispatch of Atif Khan in The Nation, an English daily from Lahore, they had asked the government to define disappearances as a crime in line with the Convention on Enforced Disappearances.

This recommendation is not even a PUC – paper under consideration if the demonstrations across Sindh and Balochistan for their missing persons is taken as a reality check.

Equally, if not more, distressing is the reality check the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) has just carried out in Pakistan after noting that the Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearance established in 2011 hasn't made any significant progress.

The global body of legal luminaries says the practice of enforced disappearances in Pakistan is no longer restricted to conflict zones alone. “It has become a tactic for suppressing dissenting voices wherever they are present.”

The ICJ report titled “No more ‘missing persons’: the criminalization of enforced disappearance in South Asia”. Frankly, it does not have a very good word about other South Asian nations but what the 58-page report says on Pakistan is a case apart. In support of its critique of Pakistan, ICJ refers to the 'disappearance' of a number of secular bloggers and journalists from across Pakistan earlier this year.

“The practice (of disappearances) has now become a national phenomenon”, it remarks and highlights the case of a journalist, who went missing while on assignment to report about a “disappearance.”

Read this excerpt. “In August 2015, Zeenat Shahzadi, a Pakistani journalist who had been following the alleged enforced disappearance of an Indian engineer, Hamid Ansari, went ‘missing’ from Lahore. According to Zeenat’s family, she had been receiving threatening phone calls asking her not to pursue the case before her alleged enforced disappearance. Two years later, her fate and whereabouts remain unknown. Zeenat’s case is one of the rare cases of alleged enforced disappearance where the victim is a woman. Earlier this year, a number of bloggers and activists were also allegedly ‘disappeared’ from major cities in Punjab.”

India and Pakistan have inherited many of the British legal practices since both nations (Pakistan was carved out of British ruled India in 1947 as the home for Muslims of the sub-continent) but the two do not appear to be on the same page when it comes to accountability of Army to the normal legal processes.

Indian Armed Forces enjoy special powers in insurgency hit areas of the country’s north –east, and Kashmir, where Pakistan exported terrorist groups are creating a mayhem at will in a bid to further Islamabad’s interests in the region. But the Indian forces are answerable to normal courts, and in this respect they and the Police are on the same page, much to the chagrin of the generals and policy makers alike.

To elaborate further, Indian police and the Security Forces cannot get away with ‘encounters’; already under the directions of India’s apex court, judicial inquiries are taking place in insurgency infested Manipur, for instance, to the great relief of human rights campaigners.

The human rights scene in Pakistan is different.

Pakistan’s Constitution guarantees the right to life, liberty and security of a person; the right to a fair trial; and right to freedom from arbitrary arrest and detention as “fundamental rights”. Allegations of violations of these constitutional protections, which are necessarily invoked in cases of enforced disappearance, have been challenged at the Supreme Court and high courts as human rights petitions, as ICJ report notes but the wheels of justice have not helped the families of victims.

And the Pakistani security forces are content with their Kafkaesque working.

What is more the Supreme Court of Pakistan has put judicial imprimatur on government’s plan to let military courts try civilians in terrorism cases. When the world over civilian courts are called upon to try military personnel found involved in objectionable acts, Pakistani civilians are called to face military courts which are acting more or less as the much abhorred Kangaroo courts.

If quick disposal of terror- related cases is the goal, thorough and time bound investigation, and court hearing would be desirable to militarisation of criminal jurisprudence.

This once again proves the theory that was first heard in the wake of fight against terrorism that Pakistan does not want to go along with civilised world.

And it is an oxymoron.
Valentin Popescu