September 3rd, 2021
By Rehan Piracha
A resident of Bajaur Agency, who had been missing for about six years, had been shot dead in a police encounter, an official of Lahore police (Counter Terrorism Department) CTD stated in a hearing before the Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances (COIED) last month.
According to details released by the COIED, Umer Farooq, resident of Khar tehsil of Bajaur tribal district, was reported missing since January 1, 2015. The Inspector/SHO of the CTD, Lahore, appeared before the Commission on August 3, 2021 and recorded his statement under oath. In his statement, the CTD official affirmed that Umer Farooq had in fact died in a police encounter, adding that he was wanted in a terrorism case registered on January 10, 2015, with the Barki police station in Lahore.
The COIED gave no further details on when the police encounter took place. However, the police case against Umer Farooq had been registered 10 days after he went missing.
“Ashraf Khan, brother of Umer Farooq, confirmed the position stated in the report and deposed that he and (his) parents visited the grave of Umer Farooq and they do not want the disinterment of the grave,” reads the COIED note relating to case no 6271 P. COIED stated that it had closed the case as the missing person has been traced and declared dead.
According to the COIED data, 22 new cases of alleged enforced disappearances were reported only in August this year. The COIED disposed of 56 cases in the month. Out of the 56 cases, 35 missing persons returned home, five were found confined in internment centres and four others were imprisoned in jails. Umer Farooq was listed as missing person whose dead body was located. The COIED deleted 11 cases for not being cases of enforced disappearances.
911 confined in internment centres
According to the COIED, a total of 911 missing persons have been traced as confined in internment centres till August under the Actions (in Aid of Civil Power) Regulation 2011 enforced in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. Local and international human rights have criticized the law as it gives powers to security forces to detain suspects for indefinite time without trial.
The Peshawar High Court had declared the regulation unconstitutional in 2019 but the Supreme Court issued a stay against the judgment. The apex court is yet to hear the appeal filed by the provincial government against the high court verdict. Out of the total detainees, 757 belong to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, 89 are resident of Punjab, 40 come from Sindh, 20 are from Islamabad, three belong to Azad Kashmir while two others belong to Balochistan and Gilgit Baltistan.
COIED slammed for inability to act against perpetrators
The COIED has also come under increasing criticism by local and international human rights organisations for its failure to act against even a single perpetrator of enforced disappearances during a decade of its establishment.
In a statement on International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) expressed serious concern over the woeful track record of the Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances, including the credibility of its chairperson and its continued inability—or unwillingness—to hold the perpetrators of this heinous practice accountable.
“In the last 10 years, the geographical spread of disappearances has grown, now extending across all provinces and territories, while the profile of victims has expanded to include not only political activists, but also journalists and human rights defenders,” HRCP said.
In September last year, the International Commission of Jurists said the Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances (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.
Bill on enforced disappearances lacks mechanism to track perpetrators
The federal government has tabled a bill to criminilise enforced disappearances in the National Assembly. The proposed bill sets a punishment for up to 10 years for the offence of enforced disappearance. However, HRCP expressed concerned that the bill lacked a concrete and practicable mechanism for identifying and holding perpetrators responsible and did not provide for reparations to victims and their families.
“In addition, until and unless all state agencies can be held collectively responsible under the law—rather than assigning responsibility to individuals alone—the mere existence of the law itself will not curb enforced disappearances,“ HRCP said.
HRCP also called on the judiciary to fulfil its responsibility to enforce citizens’ fundamental rights and show greater resolve in demanding accountability for enforced disappearances.