July 1st, 2021
By Rehan Piracha
A total of 1142 cases of enforced disappearances have been reported to the Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances (COIED) in the first six months of 2021, crossing the previous highest annual tally of 1098 cases in 2018.
According to the data from the COIED, the number of reported cases this year (2021) has reached the highest annual tally on enforced disappearances as compared to the previous five years.
In 2016, the COIED received 728 new cases of enforced disappearances while it received 868 cases in 2017. The number of new cases jumped to 1,098 in 2018. The new cases declined to 800 in 2019 while further reducing to 415 cases in 2020.
The jump in numbers of enforced disappearances is surprising as activists and representatives of missing persons have previously told Voicepk.net that apparently the cases of enforced disappearances were witnessing a decline in the previous six months.
Scores of missing persons have been reunited with their families in the same period. Activists have also spoken about how families are now less likely to report cases of enforced disappearances on assurances from authorities that their loved ones will be released sooner if the families don’t report them missing.
In March, Prime Minister Imran Khan had told a delegation of families of missing persons that the military and the federal government are on the same page to resolve the issue of enforced disappearances that have plagued the country for over two decades. On June 7, Federal Minister for Human Rights Shireen Mazari tabled a bill in the National Assembly to criminalise enforced disappearances in the country. The bill titled Criminal Laws (Amendment) Act, 2021, states that a new section 52-B (enforced disappearance) should be inserted into PPC after section 52-A.
“(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 places such a person outside the protection of the law,” according to the proposed section. The bill has been referred to the standing committee on the interior for vetting.
PPP objections to bill on enforced disappearances
The Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) has called for further debate and amendments to the bill. According to PPP Secretary General Farhatullah Babar, enforced disappearances must be treated as a separate autonomous crime and a separate legal mechanism was needed for taking up complaints, holding perpetrators accountable, and providing for compensation to the aggrieved families.
Record disposal of cases
However, the commission was able to dispose of a record number of cases this year as compared to the previous five years. Till 30th June, the COIED disposed of 969 cases in the six-month period as compared to disposal of 433 cases in 2020. Similarly, the COIED disposed of 814 cases in 2019; 671 cases in 2018; 555 cases in 2017; and 899 cases in 2016.
According to the data from the COIED, 45 new cases of enforced disappearances were reported to the commission in June. The commission disposed of 45 cases in the same month while the total number of pending cases stood at 2296 till 30th June.
The COIED stated that out of 45 cases disposed of in the month, 36 missing persons were traced. Out of the 36 traced persons, 20 individuals were reunited with their families. Out of the remaining, 11 missing persons were confined in internment centres and 5 others were confined in jails. The commission rejected 9 cases for not being enforced disappearances.
2,296 pending cases
Out of the total 2,296 pending cases with COIED, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has the highest pendency figure of 1436 cases. The number of pending missing person cases in Balochistan stands at 334, followed by Punjab with 277 cases. Sindh had 180 pending cases; Islamabad had 39 cases; Azad Kashmir had 17 cases, and Gilgit Baltistan had 3 cases.