July 15th, 2021
By Rehan Piracha
The National Assembly’s standing committee on interior might take three to four months for vetting a bill that proposes to criminalise enforced disappearances in the country, Raja Khurram Shahzad Nawaz, head of the committee, told Voicepk.net on Monday.
On June 8, Federal Minister for Human Rights, Shireen Mazari introduced the bill titled the Criminal Laws (Amendment) Act, 2021 which states that a new Section 52-B (Enforced Disappearances) should be inserted into the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) after Section 52-A. Under the proposed legislation, the offence of enforced disappearances will be punishable with up to 10-year imprisonment. The bill has been to the National Assembly’s standing committee on interior.
Speaking to Voicepk.net, Raja Khurram Shahzad Nawaz, member of National Assembly from the ruling Pakistan Tehrik Insaf and chairperson of the committee on interior, said he had to check with his staff whether they had received the bill yet from the assembly secretariat. “It usually takes a week’s time for any bill to land in the committee following it’s tabling in the National Assembly,” he said.
Due to the ongoing federal budget session in the National Assembly, he said the committee on interior is likely to hold their first meeting to consider the bill on the Criminal Laws (Amendment) Act, 2021 by the end of July. “The vetting is a long-drawn process as members of the committee go through each and every word of the draft bill,” he said.
A government bill usually takes about 8 months to a year to be approved from a standing committee in the National Assembly. However, if the committee fails to consider a bill within a month, the government has the option to remove a bill from the committee and take it directly to National Assembly for passing it under the rules.
The committee chairperson said Federal Minister for Human Rights Shireen Mazari has also spoken to him about the bill. In his opinion, the committee has to also take inputs from the provinces about the proposed insertion of the new section on enforced disappearance into the Pakistan Penal Code. “Usually, it takes a month’s time to send letters to the provincial governments alone due to the paperwork involved,” Nawaz said. He said the provincial governments take their own time to respond to the committee.
Similarly, members of the committee comprising opposition and treasury benches might reject the bill or propose further amendments in the bill, he said. “In my view, the committee members will be able to vet the bill after three or four meetings,” Nawaz said.
According to Section 52-B of the bill, the term ‘enforced disappearance relates to the arrest, detention, abduction or any other form of deprivation of liberty by an agent of the State or by person or group of persons acting with the authorisation, support or acquiescence of the State, followed by a refusal to acknowledge the deprivation of liberty or by concealment of the fate or whereabouts of the disappeared person, which place such a person outside the protection of the law.
Human rights organisations and representatives of families of missing persons have welcomed the much-awaited bill, expressing hope that its implementation must lead to ending the culture of impunity in the country.
International and local human rights organizations, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have repeatedly expressed concern over enforced disappearances in Pakistan. The UN Working Group on Enforced Disappearance has also described a “culture of entrenched impunity” regarding enforced disappearances in Pakistan. The WGEID has received 1144 cases of allegations of enforced disappearances from Pakistan between 1980 and 2019, of which some 731 remained unclarified as of May 2019. Pakistan has also not allowed country visits from the WGEID since its last visit in 2013.
According to the state-appointed Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances, 2,296 cases of alleged enforced disappearances were pending before the commission till May of this year.