July 2nd, 2021
A United Nations panel has called upon Pakistan to raise the proposed maximum sentence from 10 years to at least 25 years, and maximum 40 years for the offence of enforced or involuntary disappearances, as was highlighted in a under a proposed bill tabled in the National Assembly.
On 8 June 2021, the Federal Minister for Human Rights introduced a bill entitled the Criminal Laws (Amendment) Act, 2021, to amend the Pakistan Penal Code of 1860 and the Code of Criminal Procedure of 1898, and criminalise enforced disappearance as an autonomous crime. The bill has been sent to the House standing committee on interior for vetting.
In a communication to Pakistan on 29th June, Tae-Ung Baik, Chair-Rapporteur of the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances in Geneva, welcomed the government’s decision to introduce the bill criminalising enforced disappearances. The UN panel termed the bill as a first yet crucial step to adequately combat ‘this heinous crime and bring its perpetrators to justice’.
“This long-awaited decision is in line with the recommendations made previously to Pakistan by the Working Group, and by other relevant international human rights mechanisms,” the Chair-Rapporteur said in the communication.
In several occasions, the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances had pointed out the lack of adequate codification of enforced disappearances in Pakistan, and the inadequacy of the current” legislation to address the crime.
The Working Group also welcomed that the definition of enforced disappearance inserted in the proposed bill is line with the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance.
“The proposed bill would insert a new section (Section 52-B) into the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC), defining the crime of enforced disappearance as contained in the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, including by enumerating the three cumulative elements of the crime,” the UN panel stated.
However, the Working Group called upon the government to raise penalties proposed in the bill for the offence of enforced disappearance. “As regards the proposed penalties in the bill, the Working Group considers that these should be further raised to better reflect the severity of the crime,” the Chair-Rapporteur said.
“Article 4, paragraph 1, of the Declaration states that: “All acts of enforced disappearance shall be offences under criminal law punishable by appropriate penalties which shall take into account their extreme seriousness,” the UN panel stated.
In its report on ‘Best practices on enforced disappearances in domestic criminal legislation’, the Working Group found that a penalty of 25 to 40 years of imprisonment for the offence of enforced disappearance is consistent with the Declaration.
The Working Group called on the Parliamentary Committee to prioritise the discussion of the bill and convene its hearing as soon as possible. The UN panel also urged the government to ‘ensure that the discussion of the bill allows for the participation of victims, families, civil society organisations and other relevant actors, in an open and transparent parliamentary process’.
The Working Group raised concerns that Pakistan has not ratified yet the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance. “The Working Group reiterates its call on the Government to ratify the Convention and to recognize the competence of the Committee on Enforced Disappearances to consider individual and inter-State complaints, pursuant to articles 31 and 32 of the Convention,” the Chair-Rapporteur said.
TheWorking Group also urged the government to take steps to implement the recommendation on the ratification of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.
The Working Group reiterated its willingness to assist the Pakistani State in its efforts to strengthen the country’s legislative and institutional framework.