PAKISTAN: Missing Persons!

By: Salman Ali

The executive and judicial branches of Pakistan’s state must take serious actions against enforced disappearances and on cases of missing persons

As a citizen of Pakistan, I am very much concerned about the increase in cases of enforced disappearances in Pakistan.

The state has utterly and miserably failed to restrain law enforcement agencies that may be behind the enforced disappearances in Pakistan;agencies whichare indulging in the practice with impunity.

The legacy of this impunityis gross violations of human rights in Pakistan. Just to remind readers that 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.

On the other hand, how does international law define enforced disappearance? “Under international law, a state commits an enforced disappearance when its agents take a person into custody and then deny holding the person, or conceal or fail to disclose the person’s whereabouts.

Family members and legal representatives are not informed of the person’s whereabouts, well-being, or legal status”. Therefore, “disappeared people are often at high risk of torture, a risk even greater when they are detained outside of formal detention facilities such as prisons and police stations”.

I personally think that enforced disappearancesin Pakistan are frequently used as a strategy to spread terror within society: the feeling of insecurity and fear it generates is not limited to close relatives of the disappeared, but also affects proximate communities, and society as a whole.

According to the Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances in Pakistan, during the last six years, the Commission has received 3,740 complaints from different parts of the country. Of these, 121 cases were reported from the national capital Islamabad; 752 cases were reported from the country’s largest province, Punjab. 1,010 cases were registered from Sindh province, where the country’s largest port city Karachi is located. 276 cases were reported from Baluchistan, and 112 cases from the Federally Administrated Tribal Areas (FATA).

A number of peaceful political workers, writers, philosophers, journalists and students have gone missing from Sindh- and all over Pakistan- over a period of time. Among the latest disappeared persons are a 14 year-old child, one journalist, and a prominent human rights defender, Mr Punhal Sario. Punhal is also the Convener of the Voice of Missing Persons of Sindh. Recently he organised a Long March of 200 kilometres against the continuous disappearances in the Sindh and Baluchistan Provinces.

By forcibly ‘disappearing’ an individual, he or she is removedfrom the protection of the law, and it violates many of the rights guaranteed under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Pakistan ratified in 2010; it also violates many basic rights enshrined in the Constitution of Pakistan.

The UN General Assembly has repeatedly described enforced disappearance as “an offense to human dignity” and as “a grave and flagrant violation” of international human rights law. 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.

The role of the judiciary is also dismal because it has stopped taking cognizance of the cases of disappeared persons. The government has failed to recover them and, to date, their whereabouts are unknown. It is a dire need that Pakistan’s government should carry out a full review of security-related legislation, and ensure that all laws conform to Pakistan’s international legal obligations — as well as the Constitution and human rights laws in force — to prevent such violations.

Many believe that all disappeared persons must be released or, if charged with cognisable offences, brought without further delay before a court to see if their continued detention is legal. The government should also fully investigate and prosecute those who are responsible for ordering, participating, or carrying out enforced disappearances without the legal authority or legitimate authorisation to do so.

I request Pakistan’s new prime minister, the Honourable Shahid Khaqan Abbasi; the Chief Justice of Pakistan, the Honourable Justice Mian Saqib Nisar; the federal interior ministry; and all provincial authoritiesto take some serious and concrete actions against enforced disappearances and missing personscases.

I also particularlyrequest the authorities to look into the matter of human rights activist Punhal Sario and take immediate action to obtain his release,and also promptly release those who are wrongfully detained. This would be an important first step in removing the fear and stigma that any Pakistani can be forcibly ‘disappeared’ and held against their will for an inordinate period of time, without any official authority taking notice, leaving their families and loved ones suffering in agony, uncertainty, and sheer hopelessness.

The writer is a social and political activist based in Lahore. He has done his Maters and MPhil in Communication Studies. He can be reached at

The views shared in this article do not necessarily reflect that of the AHRC.