PAKISTAN: International Day of Victims of Enforced Disappearances – Government refuses to criminalize the menace

A joint statement of Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC), World Sindhi Congress (WSC), Voice of Baloch Missing Persons (VBMP) and Rightsnow on the  International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances

Each year on August 30, the world stands in solidarity with the victims of the enforced disappearances and their families and vows to fight against the menace of denial of one’s liberty and freedom of adopting life according to his/her free will.

Sadly, in Pakistan the enforced disappearances have given legal coverage through many laws on combating terrorism and other pretexts. The government of Pakistan is conspicuously avoiding criminalizing the enforced disappearances.

The practice of enforced disappearances, which results in the custodial torture and extra judicial killings, has become a norm in Pakistan and hardly elicits any response from any state functionary who are fearful of the powerful security establishment. The military and other law enforcement agencies indulge in the practice with complete impunity. The fact that the army is actually more powerful than the institutions of state including the judiciary.

The Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances (WGEID) in its 2012 reports on Pakistan observes that Pakistan’s counterterrorism legislations allow arbitrary deprivation of liberty. The WGEID has observed that these laws are a catalyst for enforced disappearances. These laws include the Anti-Terrorism Act 1997, and the Federally Administered Tribal Area (FATA)/Provincially Administered Tribal Area (PATA) Action (in aid of civil powers) Regulations 2011 and the Protection of Pakistan Act, 2014

Until 2014, the Supreme Court was proactively hearing and proceeding with the cases. The said year Supreme Court and the Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances had demanded that there should be a law to regulate the operation of Pakistan’s intelligence agencies. However, successive governments have failed to do so, due to threats from the armed forces.

Enforced disappearance is frequently used as a strategy to spread terror within society. The feeling of insecurity and fear it generates is not limited to the close relatives of the disappeared, but also affects communities and society as a whole.

In its resolution 65/209 passed on 21 December 2010, the UN General Assembly expressed its deep concern about the increase in enforced or involuntary disappearances in various regions of the world, including arrest, detention and abduction. When these are part of or amount to enforced disappearances, and by the growing number of reports concerning harassment, ill-treatment and intimidation of witnesses of disappearances or relatives of persons who have disappeared.

In Pakistan enforced disappearances is used as a strategic and tactical tool of oppression against dissenters, nationalists and any and all sundry daring to defer with state policy or brave enough to demand equal opportunity. Enforced disappearance under the aegis of intelligence and security agencies has been ongoing for decades while thousands have disappeared without a trace many are on the radar of the agencies to be picked up at a short notice these include nationalist leaders and party workers and now even bloggers and social media activists are also disappeared for voicing their concerns.

The statistics about the disappeared persons are not available however, the civil society groups working on the disappearances gathered the information from the family members of disappeared persons claim thousands of persons are missing after the war on terrorism started. The Voice of Baloch Missing Persons (VBMP) claims that in Balochistan province during the past 15 years more than 16000 persons are missing since the military government started operation, which still continues. A recent trend in disappearances is that involving minors. The AHRC has reported and documented two cases of enforced disappearances of minors in 2017. According to the list of missing persons, prepared by Voice of Baloch Missing Persons (VBMP), among those documented as missing 170 were children and women. In one instance, a schoolteacher, the mother of a one-year-old son, was picked up.

From the Sindh province, the Voice of Missing Persons has collected data about the missing persons. Though, the list is based on the information collected from the family members of missing persons after their arrests by the intelligence agencies and men in uniforms. Please find here the link of list of missing persons from Sindh Province;

However, more persons are missing from Sindh as the family members are pressurized to keep shut their mouth otherwise their other male persons will be disappeared.

Politically motivated enforced disappearances also continue unabated as according to the reports made by Jeay Sindh Qoumi Muhaz (JSQM) and Jeay Sindh Muttehda Mahaz (JSMM), the Sindhi nationalist groups, at least 100 members of the party are missing since many months after their arrests by Rangers, intelligence agency Inter service Intelligence (ISI) and police. The government has failed to recover them and to date their whereabouts are unknown.

In another case reported by the AHRC a 16-year-old young boy, Master Saif Jatoi, the son of a prominent columnist was taken from his home in Hyderabad Sindh province and dragged off by officials in plainclothes. The Police -as is always the case- refused to file a FIR of the abduction by the LEA. The petition against the boy’s disappearance is still pending in the courts.

In 2014, Pakistan armed itself with the Protection of Pakistan Act, 2014 to legalize enforced disappearances. The section 9 of the Act provides that “Pakistan may not in the interest of the security of Pakistan, disclose the grounds for detention or divulge any information relating to a detainee, accused or internee who is an enemy alien or a militant”, and authorizes the government, joint investigation team, armed forces or civil armed forces to “withhold the information except from a High Court or the Supreme Court regarding the location of the detainee or accused or internee or internment centre established or information with respect to any detainee or accused or internee or his whereabouts.” According to The aPolitical, the question remains how many would dare and could afford to approach a High Court or the Supreme Court.

As per media reports, a number of missing persons, whose cases were being heard by the Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances, were later found detained at internment centers maintained by the intelligence agencies. The exact number of ‘missing persons’ convicted by the military courts is still not known. The media reported that several missing persons are being tried in the military courts that handed down death sentences after a summary trial.

According The aPolitical, from 31st December 2010 to 31st March 2017, the highest number of enforced disappearance cases was reported from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province (1486 cases), followed by Sindh (1031), Punjab (819), Balochistan (282), Islamabad Capital Territory (138), Federally Administered Tribal Areas (113), Azad Jammu & Kashmir (40) and Gilgit-Baltistan (6).

The minority Shia community is also not spared from being arrested arbitrarily as recently on July 12, 2017 two Shia brothers Mohammad Ali Kashifi and Nasir Abbas Shah who were studying in Iran and Iraq, were taken into illegal custody from their house in a locality in Kabirwala district of Punjab province where they had returned to get medical treatment and marriage. The law- abiding Shia brothers and religious scholars were taken into illegal custody illegally as they were not named in any case

It is ironic and a failure of the government that until today, not a single perpetrator of the crime of enforced disappearances has been made accountable due to the absence of a law. The role of the Judiciary is also dismal as it has stopped taking cognizance of the cases of disappearances.

In December 2016, the Senate had unanimously adopted half a dozen recommendations, including a draft legislation, to oversee the functioning of intelligence agencies. However, the Senate failed to pursue the matter. The recommendations adopted by the Senate, included legislation to criminalize enforced disappearances, bringing state agencies under a law and the ratification of the Convention on Enforced Disappearances.

According to statistics shared by the government-constituted Commission of Inquiry On Enforced Disappearances (COIOED), 144 new cases were brought to the attention of the Commission from April to June 2017. As per the COIOED till March 2017 a total of 3915 cases were reported of which 2652 cases were resolved thus 1263 people still remain missing. The report also states that that during the month of January 64 new cases were reported while in February 52 fresh cases were reported. Notwithstanding the official numbers the government is in denial of the existence of the menace. It would be pertinent to mention here that during the last six years the commission has received 3740 complaints from different parts of the country. In 2016 some 728 Pakistanis were added to the list of missing persons – the highest in at least six years – taking the total to 1,219, according to the Inquiry Commission on Enforced Disappearances

Maintenance of state writ and rule of law can’t be used as an excuse for enforced disappearances or extra judicial killings under any circumstances. A complete media blackout is enforced upon mainstream media while journalist are threatened and harassed for reporting From Balochistan. The correct figure of state atrocities is unknown due to this. State narrative is fed to the main stream media which barely scratches the surface of the real problem. Media clamp down has violated the citizens of Pakistan’s right to know, and has further alienated the ethnic Balochs.

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) World Sindhi Congress (WSC), Voice of Baloch Missing Persons (VBMP) and Rightsnow on the international day of the victim of the enforced disappearance would like to extend their support to the victims and their families and vows to continue to raise its voice against the barbaric practice. The AHRC, WSC and VBMP urge the government of Pakistan to immediately halt the practice and criminalize Enforced Disappearances. The Government should call to order Law Enforcement Agencies to question them about the disappearances. Right to fair trial and free legal aid should be given to those who were disappeared.

Furthermore, the AHRC, WSC,VBMP and Rightsnow urge the government to legislate to make the International Convention national law and Implement the International Convention and accept the competency of the Committee on Enforced Disappearances. An inquiry commission comprising of senior police officers, civilians and ex victims, should be set up to deal with cases of disappearances.

In cases where arbitrary arrest is proved against the Law enforcement Agency official, the perpetrator must be reprimanded, relieved from duty and punished. Stern actions should be taken against the erring police officers for exceeding their authority and torturing an innocent men and women.

Finally, it is demanded to immediately release all who have been abducted by force and laying in the dungeons of torture and bring to justice all the perpetrators responsible for the enforced disappearances.