PAKISTAN: Serious concerns about the ongoing enforced disappearances and lack of action by the government 

On the International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances, it is very disappointing that no serious effort has been taken to resolve the issue of enforced disappearances in Pakistan which are carried out by the armed forces, intelligences agencies and other law enforcement agencies. Despite the formation of several judicial and official commissions on enforced disappearances the practice continues. The enforced disappearances in Pakistan in general and Balochistan in particular are ongoing and despite appeals by international agencies and the families of the victims nothing appears to be happening to either curtail the disappearances or recover the victims. In view of the apparent lack of action on behalf of the judicial and government authorities the family members have lost all confidence in the institutions of justice. They have only their hope that one day soon, the missing persons will be returned to them alive. However, when they learn or discover that the bodies of their loved ones have been dumped on the street this has a chilling effect on the families of other victims.

These recent incidents of enforced disappearances and extra judicial killings by the armed forces and police expose the complete breakdown of the rule of law in the presence of an independent judiciary and parliament. The army firmly believes that it is above the law of the land and never misses an opportunity to thumb their noses at the government whenever it gets the chance. The basic concept of rule of law is totally eroded from the governance which is why, time after time, such incidents take place. The army also exerts pressure on the media, never allowing it to work freely. This is plainly evident by the fact that the aforementioned incidents were down played by the media because of threats and intimidation to media houses and journalists. Many journalists have already been tortured and killed by the army and its intelligence agencies which is a forceful reminder for self censorship.

The exact numbers are difficult to ascertain, notably as many of the disappearances are taking place in remote areas affected by armed conflict, such as Balochistan Province (in connection with conflict between governmental armed forces and Balochi nationalist armed forces); Khaiber Pakhtoon Kha province (notably under counter-terrorism, often in connivance with foreign forces); and Pakistani-held Kashmir (typically for refusal to participate in the “Jihad” inside Indian-held Kashmir or to provide information to the intelligence agencies).

There are examples of journalists like Saleem Shahzad, Hyatullah, MusaKhel and many from Balochistan, such as Mr. Siddique Edo who were killed after their disappearance by the intelligence agencies of the army. A prominent journalist, Umer Cheema, was also abducted by the intelligence agency, the ISI, severely tortured and sodomised by army officials. But, as is typical where the military are concerned, no perpetrator has ever been prosecuted nor has any enquiry been concluded.

Disappearances have become a routine matter and it has been accepted by the authorities as a normal practice. The major political parties, who are in sizeable numbers in the parliament, are also silent on the issue of enforced disappearances and torture in military detention cells.

A new trend has been reported in enforced disappearances and that is the extrajudicial killings of the victims following their interrogation under torture. Through this method it is easy for the abductors to wash away all evidence of the disappeared–no question of First Information Reports (FIR), legal process or pointing fingers. Since July 2010 to date more than 430 bodies of disappeared persons have been found on the road sides in Balochistan province alone. The family members of many disappeared persons have filed FIRs but the authorities avoid pursuing cases as the witnesses point to persons from the Frontier Corp and intelligence agencies. Not a single person from these agencies has ever been arrested despite being identified.

The courts, particularly the higher judiciary, have disappointed the people who remained on the streets for almost three years for the restoration of an independent judiciary and especially for the Chief Justice of Pakistan, who was terminated by the then President, General Musharraf. In the cases of disappearances by the military the Supreme Court has conspicuously avoids nabbing the military and its organizations. It has relied on just shouting for effect. But no one from the army has ever been brought to book and the enforced disappearances continue.

Enforced disappearances thrive in societies with ill-functioning, dependent judiciaries, which fail to hold state agents accountable for their actions. Under autocratic governments and military regimes a nation’s judges become markedly subordinate, and these are the issues Pakistan continues to struggle with in the wake of Pervez Musharraf. A much stronger political will is required to forge a fresh start.

One significant case that occurred during the last ten years was that of Dr. Afia Siddiqui, a Pakistani female scientist. She was kept for almost five years incommunicado by the Pakistani and US authorities in different torture cells of Pakistan and Afghanistan. This was the ample proof of how Pakistani authorities arrest people and disappear them so easily. It has been established that she was arrested on March 30, 2003 and was officially declared arrested on July 2008. If she was arrested by the Afghani police on the charges of attacking American officers then why was she produced before the New York court? The whole story is about a covert operation under the name of the ‘war on terror’. The whereabouts of her two children remain unknown.

The nationalist forces of Sindh province claim that about 100 persons have been disappeared. Some of their bodies were found on the road side showing signs of severe physical abuse while their cases were being heard in the higher courts.

Ms. Zarina Marri, a 23-year-old schoolteacher from the Government Middle School at Kahan, in Balochistan province, was arrested in late 2005, and has been held incommunicado in an army torture cell in Karachi, the capital of Sindh province. She has allegedly been repeatedly raped by military officers and is being used as a sex slave, to induce arrested nationalist activists to sign state-concocted confessions.

In the province of Pakhtunkha around 2000 persons have been disappeared since the war on terror began. In one case when it was established before the Supreme Court that four persons had died in a military camp. After the passing of one year the Supreme Court has closed the case without identifying any military officer. It is this lack of action by the higher courts that encourages the military to continue their crimes against the people of Pakistan.

In Balochistan, the local government admitted in 2009 to some 1600 disappearances since 2002, although this has since been retracted, while non-governmental sources claim thousands more persons are currently missing. Pakistan is amongst those countries with the highest number of forced disappearances in the world, thought to number in the thousands over the last decade, with many disappearances continuing to take place. Enforced disappearances are part of a pattern that includes arbitrary or illegal arrests, incommunicado detention in secret locations, and torture, which frequently result in extra-judicial killings.

The Asian Human Rights Commission urges the government of Pakistan to ratify without delay the UN Convention against Enforced Disappearances. The act of enforced disappearances must be criminalised in Pakistani law in line with international law and standards. It is absolutely vital that the judiciary stands up to the military and this can only be done if the government brings them into line, forcing the military hierarchy to close down the illegal detention and torture cells and assist in the prosecution of the officers responsible for this heinous crime.

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AHRC-STM-171-2012
Countries : Pakistan,
Issues : Enforced disappearances and abductions,