November 29th, 2021
By Xari Jalil
For weeks Amina Masood Janjua had been planning to launch her book, ‘We Are Disappeared’ and screen a film with the same name, dedicated to the families of victims of enforced disappearances, and their struggles. The book included 12 stories of the disappeared from across Pakistan.
But when the day finally came, she was met with severe disappointment. Arriving at the venue – Aqs Nirvana Gallery, located in Shakar Parian, Islamabad, Amina saw that it was padlocked and the guard outside shook his head saying no one was allowed inside.
Amina who is the chairperson of Defense of Human Rights (DHR), said that this came as a shock because she had already paid in advance and had booked the gallery, so there was no reason why she should be stopped.
“At first the manager of the gallery told us that the event had to be cancelled because the gallery was closed,” she said speaking to Voicepk. “When we argued with him, he said that there was a VIP movement in the city. We pushed him even more and then he changed his statement saying that ‘something was happening’ at the Pak-China Friendship Centre. Finally he told us to go to CDA and ask government authorities what the matter was.”
At the City Development Authority, Amina said, there was no one except a ‘junior level officer’ and the manager and owner of Aqs who told them that that they had no idea that the event was about enforced disappearances, otherwise they would never have allowed it.
“I was stunned to hear this, as the logo of the Taiwan Foundation for Democracy as well as DHR was on the invitation, and they should have read it,” she said. “But they said when they found out they cancelled because they did not want any FIRs registered against them.”
Even when she called Minister for Human Rights Shireen Mazari, who Amina says usually answers her calls, or the Deputy Commissioner Islamabad Hamza Shafquat, she received no answer from them.
Instead, she says, Shafquat’s assistant told her that he was in the assembly and out of reach.
“It is strange however that when I called, the PA seemed to know exactly who I was, and even confirmed my identity by taking my full name,” she said.
The activist whose own husband Masood Janjua, a businessman, went missing in 2005, said she was immensely disappointed by the PTI government.
“I was certainly not expecting this from Imran Khan’s government,” she said. “I was also not expecting this from Shireen Mazari. Both of them had visited me in my protest camp and had assured me any help when I needed it. Missing persons is an issue close to my heart because my children have grown up without a father. Missing persons are not numbers, they are no case studies; they have names and they have families.”
Amina issued a statement in this regard, on Twitter, where she blamed the government for this act and said that while they had been expecting around 50 guests, only 28 showed up and she was thankful for their solidarity.
“We changed our venue to a hotel at the last minute. Several people could not join us, but most blatant was the absence of the government representatives. Later, we found out that it was Minister of Interior Sheikh Rasheed who had sealed the premises on account of the lease not being paid, but the owner insists this is factually incorrect and that he has paid it for the last 10 years.”
However when contacted the DC Islamabad, Hamza Shafquat said that the sealing of the gallery was not concerned with the missing persons issue at all.
“Its fake news,” he said. “MCI (Metropolitan Corporation Islamabad) cancelled the lease of Aqs Gallery because of violations and payments. They are trying to project it and making it an issue. Warnings and notices were issued a month ago.”
When asked why the place had been sealed all of a sudden, he said that it was sealed the same day.
“In any case the missing persons’ event was shifted and it was carried out smoothly. Only the owners of Aqs are propagating this other narrative. Otherwise why was the missing persons show held in the hotel without interruption?”
Condemning the crushing of freedom of speech, she said that they were “so hurt and disappointed by the act that the government should clearly tell its subjects that this is a police state, where constitutional and fundamental rights are never respected and civil liberties, freedom of speech, assembly and protest, do not exist. There is only one law here which is might is right. If injustice is the law, then resistance is our duty.”
DRH’s own recorded data says that till October 12, 2021, that out of 2165 cases that they have received, only 513 have been released while, 1379 remain missing. A total of 196 have been traced (those who have surfaced after being missing for a period of time but remain in detention), while a total of 77 persons have been found dead. Sixty five cases do not have the complete data.
One of the those who was invited to the launch was former Senator Farhatullah Babar, who could not make an appearance, but online he condemned the incident.
The senior politician had also recently shared a panel with Amina Janjua at the AJ Conference, titled ‘Extrajudicial Killings, Arbitrary Detention and Enforced Disappearances’.
Babar had said that the journalists, bloggers, nationalists, human rights defenders, dissidents and those advocating alternate views on national security had all been disappearing with impunity, not only in Balochistan but also in Sindh, Khyber Pukhtunkhwa, former FATA and even in the federal capital.
“Victim families have been so disgusted that in 2017 the Senate HR Committee learnt that 51 mutilated bodies of missing persons were found dumped during the previous two years,” he had said. “In none of the cases relatives of victims lodged FIRs because of the frustration and disconnect between the state and the citizen.”
Babar had gone on to say that the courts’ warnings were not heeded, and that the Parliament had become powerless while the Commission on Enforced Disappearances (COEID) had “totally failed”.
“The crime of enforced disappearances has been in existence for the past over three decades but it was institutionalized after 9/11 by Musharraf. In his memoirs “In the Line of Fire”, he admitted that we ‘earned bounties worth millions of dollars’ by handing over suspects to the CIA,” said Babar. “This confession was deleted from the Urdu version of his book. Musharraf was not held accountable and the crime has been institutionalized.”
Babar blamed State agencies for being involved, saying that it was evident because of several reasons.
One of these was that the ISPR had admitted in July 2019 that “not all missing persons” were in the army’s custody or ‘special cell on missing persons in the GHQ’.
“For the first time admission has been made. No one knows the details,” said Babar.
He also said that when Baloch leader Akhtar Mengal had threatened that his party would not vote for the budget of 2020-21 unless about 35 missing persons whose names he had given, were released.
“To secure his Party’s vote the missing persons were released. It clearly showed that those people had been held up by state agencies without acknowledging it.
‘The Commission has failed’
During his session at the AJ CONF, Farhatullah Babar quoted a meeting of the Senate human rights committee on Aug 28, 2018, where the Chairman of COIED had disclosed that 153 army personnel were involved in disappearances. No one knows who those 153 army personnel were and what action was taken against them if any, he said.
“The Commission has failed to investigate and prosecute even a single perpetrator of this crime,” he had said. “The courts pointed out perpetrators but even then not one was held accountable. The Commission cannot even make its report and recommendations.”
A law meant to damage
Moving on Farhatullah Babar said that the new draft law regarding enforced disappearances was an eye wash. Thousands of FIRs had already been filed under the PPC but no action had been taken. Under this law, if the complainant chooses to lodge an FIR concerning a missing person, he or she must prove who the abductors are, and if they cannot prove it then they must face up to 5 years of prison.
While this was extremely problematic, the real issue he said, is the unaccountability of intelligence agencies and the impunity they have.
In 2013 the Senate HR Committee recommended the following measures:
-Legislation to bring ISI under the ambit of law and determine its mandate,
-Signing of international convention on enforced disappearances and payment of compensation to victims. The report was adopted by the Senate.
-In December 2015 the Senate Committee of the Whole asked the government to implement the senate HR committee recommendations including the legislation for the ISI. Under rules, the government was supposed to either implement the report within 60 days or revert to the senate and explain why it could not implement the recommendations. The senate also laid down a procedure to follow in case the government expressed inability to make ISI legislation and implement other recommendations. However, the government neither implemented the recommendations nor explained reasons why it could not implement them.
Meanwhile, recommendations given by Farhatullah Babar include that first and foremost the state agencies be brought under the ambit of legislation.
Meanwhile, in July 2019 ISPR said that a special cell had been set up in GHQ to address the issue: the terms of reference of the special cell and the progress made should be made public.
The internment centers (known as Guantanamo bay prisons) set up in ex-FATA and KP must be disbanded, said Babar, and converted into prisons subject to the jail manual. Those in the internment centers should be tried in courts of law.
He also suggested that ‘since the Commission on Disappearances had failed, a new one should be set up.
“Pakistan should sign the Convention on Enforced Disappearances,” said Babar. “Also the report of the first Commission in 2010 must be made public and implemented.”