September 9th, 2021
By Rehan Piracha
A much-awaited bill on enforced disappearances has cleared another hurdle in the lower house of parliament after a house panel approved it without any amendments.
On June 8, Federal Minister for Human Rights, Shireen Mazari introduced the bill titled the Criminal Law (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 upto 10 years imprisonment. The bill came as reported cases of enforced disappearances jumped to record high this year. A total of 1201 cases of enforced disappearances have been reported to the Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances (COIED) from January to August, crossing the previous highest annual tally of 1098 cases reported in 2018.
Speaking to Voicepk.net, Raja Khurram Shahzad Nawaz, chairperson of the National Assembly standing committee on interior, said the committee had recommended that the National Assembly pass the Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill, 2021, on criminalizing enforced disappearances in its meeting on August 25. “The committee has done its job and sent the bill to the legislative branch of the National Assembly secretariat,” Nawaz. MNA from the ruling Pakistan Tehrik Insaf, told Voicepk.net.
Once a committee approves a bill, normally it takes about two weeks for the approved bill to land in the legislative branch of the National Assembly secretariat, according to a source in the NA secretariat. The committee has to also lay its report on the approved bill in the House before the ministry of parliamentary affairs could include it in the business agenda of the House.
No date yet for vote on bill in NA
The proposed bill has to clear another hurdle when the parliamentary affairs ministry will put it on the agenda of the House for a vote. The joint sitting of parliament for the address of President Arif Alvi is scheduled for September 13. There is no indication yet that the National assembly take up the proposed bill on enforced disappearances in its first sitting of the new parliamentary year.
Asked about when the Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill, 2021, would be put up on the House agenda for passage in the National Assembly, Dr Babar Awan, adviser to Prime Minister on Parliamentary Affairs, said he has not received the bill from the committee yet. “I cannot give a date as I have not received the bill,” Awan told Voicepk.net.
Opposition expressed reservations on lack of legal mechanism
Abdul Qadir Patel, one of the opposition member on the standing committee, said Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill, 2021, on criminalizing enforced disappearances was approved without any amendments.
Patel, member of National Assembly from the Pakistan Peoples Party, said opposition members expressed reservations on the lack of legal mechanism in the proposed bill to hold state institutions and personnel accountable for enforced disappearances. “The opposition members did not propose any amendments in the bill as not to further delay the important legislation,” Patel said.
In a statement in June, PPP secretary general Farhatullah Babar pointed out serious defects in the proposed legislation on enforced disappearances.
According to 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.
Last month, Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) also 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.
While welcoming the tabling of the proposed bill on enforced disappearances, the United Nation’s Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances called upon Pakistan in a communique in June to raise the proposed maximum sentence from 10 years to at least 25 years in the bill for the offence of enforced or involuntary disappearances.
Definition of enforced disappearance
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.
However, the proposed bill lists presence of three constitutive elements for an act to be classified as an ‘enforced or involuntary disappearances’. Firstly, any enforced disappearance must have an element of ‘an unlawful or illegal deprivation of liberty or a deprivation of liberty that was legal but no longer is. Secondly, it should be an act allegedly carried out by agents of the State or by person or group of persons acting with the support, authorization or acquiescence of the State. Lastly, the element of ‘refusal to acknowledge the deprivation of liberty or concealment of the fate or whereabouts of the disappeared person’.
Punishment forcible or involuntary disappearances
The bill also proposes insertion of new sections 512 and 513 in the Pakistan Penal Code. According to Section 512, the perpetrator of an offence of forcible or involuntary disappearances is defined as whoever commits, orders, solicits or induces the commission of attempts to commit, is an accomplice to or participation in the forcible or involuntary disappearances of a person or group of persons.
Under Section 513, the punishment for forcible or involuntary disappearances of any person from Pakistan or within Pakistan has been set at imprisonment up to 10 years along with fine. The offence of forcible or involuntary disappearances, which will be non-bailable and non-compoundable, will be tried in a sessions court.
Outlining the objectives of the bill, Federal Minister for Interior Sheikh Rashid Ahmed stated that the proposed legislation is aimed at providing closure to the families who are in immense pain owing to the fact that the fate and whereabouts of their loved ones are still unknown.
However, human rights activists continue to highlight that the government has not done nothing to hold perpetrators of enforced disappearances accountable and provide reparations to the victims.