December 1st, 2021
By Rehan Piracha
Federal Minister for Human Rights Shireen Mazari on Thursday, December 1, assured the Islamabad High Court that Prime Minister Imran Khan will meet family members of Mudassar Naaru, a journalist missing for the last three years.
The court directed the federal government to satisfy Naaru’s family about the measures taken to recover the missing journalist till the next date of hearing on December 13.
It also sought a reply from Mazari about holding the chief executives personally liable for payment of compensation to missing persons in their government tenures.
Chief Justice Athar Minallah gave the above directions while hearing a petition for the recovery of Mudassar Naaru. Mazari and Interior Secretary Yousuf Naseem Khokhar appeared before the court after being summoned in the last hearing.
Additional Attorney General Qasim Wadud and Deputy Attorney General Syed Tayyab Shah were also present in the courtroom. Imaan Zainab Mazari, counsel for Naaru’s family could not attend the hearing because of health reasons. Usman Warriach appeared on behalf of the family of the missing journalist.
Addressing the federal minister, Chief Justice Athar Minallah said he had summoned her because she had sympathy for missing persons while the State had shown none.
There is a phenomenon of enforced disappearances in the country, the court told the minister. “The disappearance of someone is a crime against humanity,” Chief Justice Minallah observed.
The court said the Prime Minister and the federal cabinet are there to serve the people. “The State’s response to recovery of missing persons is pathetic,” Chief Justice Minallah observed, adding that the State is like a mother but it is nowhere to be seen. The court pointed out that it would deem a State’s failure if a petitioner comes to the court for recovery of a missing loved one.
Mazari told the court that she had previously been summoned by the court over enforced disappearances. “The issue of enforced disappearances is in our party manifesto,” Mazari said.
She said her government was legislating to end enforced disappearances, adding that the National Assembly has passed a bill on enforced disappearances which would soon be sent to Senate.
“Even before becoming the Prime Minister, Imran Khan has had a clear position on enforced disappearances,” Mazari said.
The court said state abduction was a grave crime. The Chief Justice inquired from the minister what would be the response of the State if a loved one of a public office holder went missing, adding that the entire State machinery would spring into action if a loved one of a public office holder went missing.
“The State should respond similarly in the disappearance case of an ordinary citizen,” Chief Justice Minallah observed.
The Chief Justice said the court was told that the wife of the missing person had also passed away.
“It is not a matter of summaries or reports, the government has to satisfy the children and parents of the missing persons,” the Chief Justice observed.
The court said the State has a responsibility to take care of the missing person’s child and listen to the affected family. the Chief Justice suggested that Federal Minister for Human Rights Shireen Mazari should arrange a meeting of the missing journalist’s family members with the Prime Minister and members of the federal cabinet.
In response, Mazari said the Prime Minister would meet the missing person’s young child and grandmother but they were trying to complete the process of compensation prior to the meeting, adding that the government has not yet received an affidavit from the family to process payment of expenditure to them.
“Let the family members complete the process of compensation till next week,” Mazari suggested.
She said her government considered enforced disappearances a serious crime, adding that enforced disappearances could not be allowed in a democracy.
“You (Mazari) should try that the family of the missing journalist return satisfied after meeting the Prime Minister,” observed Chief Justice Athar Minallah, adding that the responsibility of missing persons fell on the Prime Minister and the cabinet members.
Why not hold a chief executive liable for compensation?
Chief Justice Minallah inquired from the minister whether the Prime Minister and cabinet members should be made liable for payment of compensation to missing persons instead of the State. “So that this matter can be settled forever,” the Chief Justice observed.
“If someone went missing in 2002, why not hold the then chief executive responsible and ask him to pay compensation?” Chief Justice Minallah said. “Not only the State but also non-state actors are involved in enforced disappearances,” the Chief Justice added.
The court said someone should be held responsible for the enforced disappearances. “If a person goes missing, his whole family suffers,” the Chief Justice observed.
Mazari said she agreed with the court that all citizens have equal rights. The State’s response should be the same in case of every missing person, Mazari told the court.
Chief Justice Minallah said it was very important that the rule of law prevailed otherwise enforced disappearances could not be stopped.
However, Mazari said the previous governments did not make any serious efforts over enforced disappearances but her government was tackling the issue. The Chief Justice said the sorry state of affairs was a result of non-democratic governments that spanned half of the country’s history.
Court reprimands Additional Attorney General
Chief Justice Athar Minallah also reprimanded Additional Attorney General Qasim Wadud when he sought additional time of a week in the case. Turning down the request, Chief Justice Minallah remarked that the journalist has been missing for three years.
The court told the Additional Attorney General that the government has filed an appeal against the court order for compensation to family members of a missing person in the Mahira Sajid case.
“You have no sympathy at all, this court ruled and imposed a fine and you challenged the verdict before a division bench,” Chief Justice Athar Minallah told Additional Attorney General Qasim Wadud.
The court directed the federal government to satisfy family members of Mudassar Naaru about measures taken for his recovery. The court also sought a reply from Federal Minister for Human Rights Shireen Mazari about holding the chief executives personally liable for payment of compensation to missing persons in their government tenures. Further hearing of the case was adjourned till December 13.
Enforced disappearances would end once law passed: Mazari
Speaking to reporters outside the court, Mazari said enforced disappearances would end once the law against it was passed by Parliament. “The law (on enforced disappearances) has been passed by the National Assembly, it has to be sent to the Senate now,” Mazari said.
She said the Chief Justice has said a very interesting thing that why the governments did not take action against enforced disappearances in their tenures, adding that the court was of the view that the rulers of the time should be held accountable for enforced disappearances.
Mazari said people in Balochistan who have been missing for 15-20 years have returned home due to the efforts of the present government. Asked whether the government has taken action against those responsible for these enforced disappearances, the minister said the matter was being investigated but the major achievement was that the missing persons have returned home.
In response to a question whether the federal government was responsible for Naaru’s disappearance, she said the court would fix responsibility in the case.