May 10th, 2021 

By Rehan Piracha 


The number of complaints regarding enforced disappearances that have been lodged this year with the state-appointed Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances (COIED), is set to cross the highest annual tally of total new cases over the past five years.

In the four-month period from January to April 2021, the COIED has received 952 news cases of enforced disappearances from across the country. This is contrary to claims made by the federal government of having resolved the issue of enforced disappearances in the country.

Recently, the federal cabinet approved a law on missing persons but the draft law was not made public. In March, Prime Minister Imran Khan told a delegation of family representatives of missing persons that the federal government and the military chief both wanted to resolve the issue of enforced disappearances.

In a tweet on May 8, Federal Minister for Human Rights Shireen Mazari said the federal cabinet has approved the “Forced or Involuntary Disappearance (Criminal Law Amendment) Bill”, to criminalise enforced disappearances in the country.

Previously, federal ministers have hinted that the proposed law on missing persons could allow detention of suspects from three months to a year without trial but the security agencies will be bound to inform their families about their detention, which was the foremost demand of families of victims of enforced disappearances.

However, such a law will go against constitutional provisions, human rights activists and senior lawyers have told earlier.

According to data from the COIED from January 2016 to April 2021 available with, the figure is double of the 415 total cases received last year (2020), which was the year of lowest number of complaints as compared to the previous five years. In 2016, the COIED received 728 new cases, followed by 868 cases in 2017. The COIED received 800 new cases in 2019.

The previous highest number of annual cases was 1098 in 2018. However, the four-month tally of new cases (January to April) in 2018 came to 483 cases which is half of this year’s figure of 952 new cases in the same period.

Record 714 new cases lodged in March

Surprisingly, this year also witnessed the highest number of new cases in a month when the COIED received a record complaint of 714 cases in March. Since 2016, the previous highest monthly of new cases of enforced disappearances was 162 cases in April of 2018, followed by 144 cases in February of this year.

According to the breakup of the new cases in March, a bulk of the total complaints was lodged from Balochistan where 692 cases were filed of enforced disappearances with the commission. The rest of the complaints came from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa where 13 news cases were lodged, followed by Punjab with 6 new cases while 3 cases came from Sindh. In March, no new cases of enforced disappearances were reported to the COIED from Azad Kashmir, Islamabad and Gilgit-Baltistan.

Disposed of cases pick up pace

Interestingly, this year also witnessed a record monthly disposal of cases in the last five years. In April, the COIED disposed of 330 cases in April, bettering its previous record of 230 cases disposed of cases in March. The COIED has also shown record improvement in disposal of cases this year. In the four-month period, the COIED has disposed of 738 cases, close to beating the previous best of 899 cases disposed of in 2016.

Similar to March that witnessed a drastic jump in new cases from Balochistan, the bulk of cases disposed of in April were from the same province. Out of the total disposed of cases, 307 cases were from Balochistan, followed by 19 cases from Punjab while 2 cases were disposed of from Islamabad and one case from Punjab in the period.

224 dead bodies in 11 years

International human rights organisations, local activists and families of missing persons have accused security agencies of impunity towards enforced disappearances.

In a briefing paper in September last year, the International Commission of Jurists assailed the performance of the Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances (COIED), saying not a single perpetrator of enforced disappearances has been held accountable.

The ICJ said the COIED has wholly failed to address entrenched impunity, leaving victims and their loved without any redress.

“This Commission has failed in holding even a single perpetrator of enforced disappearance responsible in its nine years,” said Ian Seiderman, ICJ’s Legal and Policy Director.

“A Commission that does not address impunity, nor facilitate justice for victims and their families, can certainly not be considered effective,” the ICJ stated in its paper.

Since 2011, the COEID has received a total of 7,873 cases of enforced disappearances from across the country till 30th April. Out of the total cases, the COIED has disposed of  5,536 cases till last month. Out of these resolved cases, the commission said a total of 224 missing persons had died with their families having found their dead bodies.

According to the COIED data, 66 dead bodies belonged to missing persons in Punjab, followed closely by Khyber Pakhtunkhwa with 61 dead bodies. Similarly, the COIED reported that 56 persons were found dead in Sindh while bodied of 31 others were found in Balochistan. Out of the remaining dead bodies, 8 were from Islamabad and two from Azad Kashmir.

844 missing persons in internment centres

In the last 10 years, the COIED said it had traced a total of 844 missing persons to be housed in various internment centres across the country. The figure is quite low compared to estimates given by rights activists and lawyers of missing persons.

According to Shabbir Gigyani, counsel of a missing person, the number of suspects detained in internment centres in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is close to 8,000.

Most of them are in limbo as the Supreme Court is yet to hear an appeal against the judgment of the Peshawar High Court which had declared internment centres illegal in a landmark judgment declaring the federal Action in Aid of Civil Power Regulation 2011 and the related Khyber Pakhtunkhwa ordinance in the erstwhile federally-administered tribal areas now part of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

The Supreme Court has stayed the decision of the high court in 2019 as well as release of detainees in the internment centres in the province.

Out of the 844 persons located in internment centres, the COIED said bulk of them belonged to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa which had 726 lodged there. Rest of them belonged to other provinces i.e Punjab (87), Sindh (39), Balochistan (1), Islamabad (20), Azad Kashmir (3) and Gilgit-Baltistan (1).

The vicious cycle of pending cases

The COIED said the number of pending cases stood at 2,337 till April. Out of the total pending cases, more than half of the cases belonged to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa with whereabouts of 1457 missing persons yet to be traced from the province. The rest of the pending cases from other provinces including Balochistan (341), Punjab (290), Sindh (178), Islamabad (49), Azad Kashmir (19) and Gilgit-Baltistan (3).

The number of new cases of enforced disappearances has been higher than the cases disposed of by the commission, marginally increasing the number of pending cases over the years.

In 2016, the COIED disposed of 899 cases while receiving 728 new cases in the period. However, the following year of 2017, the COIED received 868 cases as compared to 555 disposed of cases. The next year also added to pending cases as 1098 cases were received while disposal of cases stood at 671 in 2018. The number of pending cases dropped slightly in 2019 when 814 cases were disposed of as compared to 800 new cases. Similarly, pending cases witnessed a slight reduction in 2020 with 433 cases disposed of in relation to 415 new cases.

Even this year, the number of new cases have outpaced disposal of cases by 214 cases being added to the total pending cases in the first four-month period. In 2020, total pending cases till December stood at 2123.