August 30th, 2021
Federal Minister for Human Rights Dr. Shireen Mazari on International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances (August 30) took to Twitter to announce that the government is moving forward to criminalize enforced disappearances via a bill unanimously approved by the National Assembly Standing Committee on Interior last week.
Asserting that there can be no place for enforced disappearances in a democracy, she stated that a bill was drafted with consultation from different stakeholders. Furthermore, she provided that after Prime Minister Imran Khan’s meeting with representatives of 13 families of Baloch missing persons in March this year, some of the victims have returned home while others are still being traced.
Mazari laid the onus of the delay in creating the law on the previous governments’ “lack of will.”
CRIMINAL LAWS (AMENDMENT) ACT 2021
The Criminal Laws (Amendment) Act 2021 introduces 52B, 512 and 513 to the Pakistan Penal Code.
The proposed section 52B defines the term “enforced disappearance” as the “arrest, detention, abduction or any other form of deprivation of liberty by an agent of the state, or by a person or group of persons acting with the authorization, support of 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.”
Section 512 introduces the offense of forcibly or involuntary disappearances, which will be punishable under section 513 with imprisonment of up to ten years as well as a fine. The offence is non-bailable and non-compoundable, and arrests may be made sans warrant.
HRCP TERMS HUMAN RIGHTS SITUATION IN PAKISTAN DIRE
While the PTI government has reiterated its commitment to bringing the practice of enforced disappearances within the ambit of the law since 2018, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan’s (HRCP) annual flagship report The State of Human Rights in 2020 noted a deteriorating human rights situation in Pakistan, including the prevalence of state-enforced abductions.
According to the report, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa recorded the highest number of enforced disappearances according to the Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances (COIED). By the end of 2020, a total of 2,942 missing person cases were registered in the province alone.
However, the HRCP report pointed out that official figures released by the COIED are an inaccurate reflection of the situation on the ground, with anecdotal reports indicating that people were picked up and released throughout the year and that many families were reluctant to pursue such cases for fear of reprisal.
Despite a scathing review from the International Commission of Jurists, which held that the COIED had utterly failed to address the pattern of impunity for perpetrators of enforced disappearances, the government extended the body’s mandate by another three years.
International rights organizations have time and again demanded that Pakistan put an end to the cruel practice of enforced disappearances immediately.
This international Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances, Voicepk.net casts a spotlight on three tales of heartache and tears from the mothers and daughters of some high profile missing persons.
MUDASSIR NAARU – POET, JOURNALIST AND CRITIC
Poet, journalist, and vocal critic of the role of the country’s powerful military establishment in politics, Mudassir Naaru disappeared suddenly during a family vacation in Kaghan Valley on August 20, 2018. In an interview with Voicepk.net, his wife Sadaf Chughtai narrated that they were having tea along the bank of the Kunhar River when her husband went off for a brief trek and never returned.
Upon approaching a local police station to report him missing, Chughtai stated that the police refused to lodge her complaint due to the nature of the case. In the two-and-a-half years that followed, she ran from pillar to post to find out anything concerning her husband’s whereabouts.
She also filed a complaint in the COIED, and attended the Commission’s hearings for two years with no word as to his whereabouts. The commission lodged an FIR under Section 365 of the Pakistan Penal Code and formed a Joint Investigation Team (JIT) to probe the matter. Chughtai also raised her husband’s disappearance with international rights organisations.
On May 8, 2021, Chughtai unexpectedly passed away in her sleep, just two weeks before she was to appear before a session of the United Nations Commission on Enforced Disappearances. She is survived by her now three-year-old son Sachal and her mother-in-law Rahat Bibi, who has vowed to continue the campaign for Naaru’s recovery.
IDRIS KHATTAK – RIGHTS ACTIVIST AND MISSING PERSONS RESEARCHER
Rights activist Idris Khattak was extensively involved in recording and documenting incidents of enforced disappearances in different regions of Balochistan and erstwhile-FATA. According to an eye-witness account, Khattak was abducted from his car near the Swabi Interchange by plainclothes men on November 13, 2019.
No one has seen him since.
Several months after his abduction, on June 16, 2020, a video posted on Twitter by his youngest daughter Talia Khattak helped raise awareness about his plight. In a rare admission, the Military Intelligence admitted in court that Khattak was in fact in their custody and was being tried under the colonial-era Official Secrets Act.
Legal experts believe that the charges were hastily framed and that Khattak, a civilian, cannot be tried under a law explicitly designed to persecute government officials, specifically members of the armed forces themselves. To this day his family remains in the dark about the circumstances of his arrest and the conditions of his detention.
In a September, 2020, communication, the United Nations Office of the Human Rights Commissioner called on the Pakistani Government to end Khattak’s secret detention, and expressed alarm over his incommunicado detention and the risk of torture and ill-treatment.
DR. DEEN MUHAMMAD BALOCH – BALOCH ETHNO-NATIONALIST ACTIVIST
Dr. Deen Muhammad Baloch, is a physician and member of the central committee of the Balochistan National Movement (BNM), an ethno-nationalist political movement working for securing rights for Pakistan’s marginalized Baloch minority group. He was abducted by plainclothes men and Frontier Corps (FC) personnel outside his government-allotted residence in Khuzdar on June 28, 2009. He has been missing since, with his daughter Sami Deen Baloch taking up a 12-year-long campaign for his release.
Sami currently resides in Karachi, after she claimed of receiving threats from the same quarters who abducted her father, and has since participated in a number of demonstrations, protest camps and marches to Islamabad for the release of Dr. Deen Muhammad Baloch as well as other missing Balochis. In a meeting with the Prime Minister in February of 2021, after nearly two months of consistent protesting under the banner of Voice for Baloch Missing Persons, Sami had implored the Premier to look into her father’s.
Contrary to Federal Minister Shireen Mazari’s most recent claims, Sami had told Voicepk.net that 12 of the 13 affected families including hers are still waiting for the return of their loved ones.