March 5th, 2021
By Rehan Piracha
According to human rights activists, there has been an apparent decline in the number of new incidents of enforced disappearances in Sindh and Balochistan during recent months. At the same time, the government data shows a 50 percent decline in the last year.
Comparative data from the state-appointed Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances (COIED) shows that new cases had declined to half from 800 in 2019 and to 415 cases in 2020.
The commission received 415 new cases and disposed of 433 cases in 2020 while it received 800 new cases in 2019 and disposed of 814 cases in the period.
In the two month period this year, the commission received 167 new cases in January (23) and February (144) and it disposed of 178 cases (24 in January and 154 in February) of enforced disappearance in the period, showing a negligible difference of 11 cases during the period.
According to COIED data, The difference between new cases and disposed of cases remained 18 in 2020 and 14 in 2019.
A total of 144 new cases were lodged with the commission in February. The highest number of missing persons were reported from Balochistan where 109 cases were lodged with the commission in the month. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa reported 25 new cases, followed by Punjab and Sindh with five cases each. No cases of enforced disappearances were reported to the commission from Islamabad, Azad Kashmir, and Gilgit-Baltistan in February.
The COEID data shows that the number of pending cases of enforced disappearance from Sindh stands at 166. The commission has disposed of a total of 1485 cases out of the total of 1651 reported since March 2011. In February, the COIED disposed of 28 cases.
Speaking to Voicepk.net, Asad Iqbal Butt, co-chairperson of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), said the number of missing persons in Sindh had now started declining from the peak witnessed in the recent past. “Of the 200 cases reported in the last two years, only 54 cases are pending presently,” Butt said.
He said the reduction in cases was possible due to the public pressure generated by protests and demonstrations of family members and activists in cities across the province. Besides, the state institutions have also become cognizant of the fact that such detentions lead to public distrust and anarchy in the country. He said the detention of missing persons without trial was a serious violation of human rights, adding that no state institutions are allowed to subject anyone to tyranny.
The other reason for the decline in the number of enforced disappearances could be that families are hesitant to report them in hope that their loved ones will be released early. “In some instances, the missing persons are allowed to call family members who do not report in hope of early release,” Butt said.
Joyo Sarang, the coordinator for Voice of Missing Persons in Sindh, said the apparent decline in the number of new cases of enforced disappearances in Sindh was due to demonstrations, marches, and sit-ins held by family members and activists in different cities of the province to highlight the plight of the victims since October last year. “The protests and demonstrations have led to the release of several individuals missing for the last many years,” Sarang told Voicepk.net. He said the demonstrations have increased media glare and public pressure on institutions over enforced disappearances.
“However, the cases of enforced disappearances have not seen an end in the province as recently five persons were picked up while four of them were released after a couple of days, the fifth person is still missing,” he said.
Similarly, activists working on cases of enforced disappearances in Balochistan are of the view that new cases have witnessed a decline in numbers. The COIED data shows that 170 cases of enforced disappearance are pending from Balochistan. The commission has disposed of a total of 477 cases out of the total of 291 reported since March 2011. In February, the COIED disposed of 109 cases from the province.
Nasarullah Baloch, the chairperson of Voice of Balochistan Missing Persons, attributes the reduction in a number of cases to a change in the mindset of state institutions. “In recent months, several missing persons have reunited with families,” Baloch said, adding that the sit-in outside the Parliament building in Islamabad by family members of missing persons in February and holding of rallies in cities of Balochistan have had an impact in securing the release of missing persons.
In February, the federal government acceded to demand that the prime minister will meet with protesting family members of the 13 missing persons by March 15. “The VBMP has provided details of the missing persons to the government officials but there has been no further response,” Baloch said. According to the VBMP, the organization has shared a list of 266 missing persons with the provincial government after proper verification. “A total of 266 individuals are still reported missing from Balochistan,” Baloch said.
According to the COIED data, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has the highest recorded number of cases of enforced disappearances among the provinces. A total of 2979 cases were reported to the commission since March 2011. Out of the total cases, 1431 cases were pending before the COIED till February this year. Last month, the COIED disposed of 8 cases from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa as 25 new cases were reported to the commission.
Amina Janjua, chairperson of Defense of Human Rights, said his organization had a list of 1022 missing persons from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Unlike Balochistan and Sindh, there has not been significant progress in resolving enforced disappearances in the province, she said. “The reason for the high number of cases of enforced disappearances in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has been the porous Pak-Afghan border and military operations,” said Amina Janjua.
She said hundreds of people were detained in internment centers in the former federal administered tribal areas (FATA). She said suspects were put in internment centers to keep them out of the purview of courts. “Presently, close to 200 individuals are reported missing that were in these internment centers,” she said, adding that the government has challenged the verdict of the Peshawar High Court in the Supreme Court that directed that all internment centers in the province should be shut down.
Amina Janjua said the missing persons included hundreds of children and the elderly. The enforced disappearances of their loved ones are the cause of great anguish and resentment among the local residents of the province.
According to Amina Janjua, a total of 750 missing persons were listed with her organization from Punjab. The COIED data shows that a total of 1432 cases were reported from Mar 2011 to February 2021. The number of pending cases from the province was 277. In February, the COIED disposed of a single case while five new cases were reported from the province.
Janjua called for a constitution of a truth and reconciliation commission in place of the COIED to resolve the issue of enforced disappearances in the country, adding that the new commission would compensate victims who have been wrongfully detained for years as well as expedite cases lingering with the COIED for years.
ICT, AJK and Gilgit-Baltistan
The COIED received 302 cases of enforced disappearances from Islamabad, 58 cases from Azad Kashmir, and 9 cases from Gilgit-Baltistan from March 2011 to February 2021. The number of pending cases from Islamabad was 47, followed by 18 cases from AJK and 3 cases from Gilgit-Baltistan.
Out of the total cases of 7088 reported across the country, the COIED had traced 3,953 missing individuals till February. Out of the 3,953 traced individuals, 2330 had reunited with their families, 862 were detained in internment centers, 539 were imprisoned in jails while dead bodies of 222 individuals were found. The commission closed 1023 cases due to not being enforced disappearances, incomplete address, withdrawal of complaints, and non-prosecution.
However, human rights activists have disputed figures of the COIED stating that families do not report many cases of enforced disappearances out of fear as well as in hope of securing the early release of their loved ones. Presently, there is no legislation on enforced disappearances in the country. Government ministers have claimed that the legislation on enforced disappearances is being fast-tracked through a committee, headed by the federal law minister.