PAKISTAN: The AHRC welcomes the visit of the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances
It is very heartening that the five member delegation of the United Nations Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances (WGEID) is, at the time of writing visiting Pakistan. The delegation is on a 10-day official mission on enforced or involuntary disappearances and will hold meetings with the federal and provincial government authorities, representatives of civil society and human rights organisations, the military leadership, intelligence agencies and family members of the missing persons to collect information about enforced or involuntary disappearances in the country.
The delegation is visiting at the invitation of the government of Pakistan which is a good sign that the government has realised the severity of the issue. During the mission the UN experts will gather information on cases of enforced or involuntary disappearances pending before the working group. They will also study the measures adopted by the state to prevent and eradicate enforced or involuntary disappearances, including issues related to truth, justice and reparation for the victims and their families. After collecting information and holding meetings with families of missing persons in Balochistan and other parts of the country, the delegation would also review the measures taken by the government for recovering victims. The delegation would submit its final report to the United Nations Human Rights Council.
The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) welcomes the visit of the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances (WGEID) to Pakistan to collect the information of missing persons and compile a report which would be presented to the UN and will come up in discussion at the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) Session on Pakistan.
Pakistan has amongst the highest number of enforced or involuntary disappearances in the world, with many disappearances continuing to take place, notably in remote areas affected by armed conflict, such as Balochistan Province (in connection with the 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). The AHRC has received information concerning hundreds of disappearances in Balochistan since 2006. Hundreds more have also been reported in Khaiber Pakhtun Kha and Pakistan-held Kashmir, with tens of cases being reported in Sindh and Punjab provinces.
Pakistan has made several commissions on the enforced disappearances but not a single commission was allowed to report on the facts because of strong resistance from the armed forces and its intelligence agencies. A judicial commission was also formed headed by a judge of the Supreme Court, who later on retired. It had the mandate of completing its findings in one year but, in fact, two years have passed and the commission has still not finalized its proceedings. The Supreme Court has been tackling this issue since 2005 but the court has still not come out with the facts about the missing persons. It always shouts in the court rooms for the purpose of media coverage but has never been able to stop the menace of enforced disappearances despite incontrovertible evidence. Nor has any person from the armed forces and its intelligence agencies, responsible for the enforced disappearances been brought to justice.
In many cases victims who were released from the captivity of the armed forces testified before the higher courts that they were held in military torture cells however, the courts refused to make any judgement and proper inquiry on the evidence provided by the persons themselves who remained disappeared for several months.
The AHRC has documented hundreds of cases of extra-judicial killings in Pakistan, which are accompanied by impunity, due to a lack of investigations and prosecutions. Many such killings are linked to enforced disappearances and torture, following which victims only surface after they are dead. For example, in Balochistan Province alone, between July 2010 and July 2012, the AHRC documented more than 400 extra-judicial killings following abductions by paramilitary forces or disappearance by Pakistan's law enforcement and security agencies. Journalists, teachers, political activists, students and human rights defenders have been targeted in particular. The pretext of "encounter killings" is typically used by the authorities to falsely justify extra-judicial killings as being legitimate.
There are hundreds of missing person complaints before the higher courts, including the Supreme Court of Pakistan, notably concerning alleged abductions by state intelligence agencies. However, the military and intelligence agencies are ignoring the Supreme Court orders to produce disappeared persons
The delegation from the UN WGEID must also insist on visiting the torture cells run by the armed forces. The AHRC has documented at least 52 such torture cells throughout the country. In order to discover the enormity of the problem they must examine the court records of the testimonies of family members and the victims themselves. In Balochistan alone there are reports of at least 13,000 persons who are believed to have been victims of enforced disappearances since 2002. As there are no statistics it is difficult to establish the actual number. The government of Balochistan has counter-claimed that only 1,100 persons are missing, whereas the National Crisis Management Cell arrived at the number of 1,600. The Federal Interior Minister claims that only 94 persons are missing and that many of them have actually left the country and are in hiding. However, what all these groups and ministries are blatantly failing to acknowledge is the fact that this number should be zero!
The delegation from the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances will have its work cut out for it given the contradiction in actual numbers of the victims. It is reported in the media that they have a list of 86 actual cases and this would be a good start. The only way in which they are going to get the most accurate picture is by interviewing as many of the family members of the victims as possible and this, given their timeframe, is going to be very difficult.
As stated above the delegation will also review the measures taken by the government for recovering victims. However, this in itself is going to be difficult as the question that begs to be asked is: 'what measures have, in fact, been taken?' It is impossible to improve on a course of action which has not been taken in the first place.
The AHRC does indeed welcome this visit and sincerely hopes that the presentation of the delegation's report will lead, not only the cessation of enforced or involuntary disappearances and extrajudicial killings of victims, but also the immediate release of the thousands of persons still being held incommunicado in military torture cells.