By Rehan Piracha
The Senate Secretariat received a bill on criminalization of enforced disappearance on November 10, two days after the bill was passed in the National Assembly, sources in the upper house secretariat told Voicepk.net.
According to a news story in Dawn newspaper, Federal Minister for Human Rights Minister Dr Shireen Mazari had told fellow senators that the bill had gone ‘missing’ while being sent to the upper house after passage from the National Assembly on November 8.
“We had prepared the bill regarding missing persons and it was passed by the [relevant] standing committee and the National Assembly. But it went missing after it was sent to the Senate,” the paper quoted the minister as saying to members of the Senate standing committee on human rights in a meeting on January 3.
The Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill 2021, which criminilises enforced disappearance, aimed at making amendments to the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) and Code of Criminal Procedure. Under the proposed bill, a person committing the offence of enforced disappearance could be sentenced to maximum sentence of 10 years.
Voicepk.net was sent in circles as it tried to resolve the mystery. It contacted three members of the standing committee about the statement on the missing bill reportedly made by Mazari in the meeting but all of them expressed their ignorance saying they were not present for the entire duration.
Senator Walid Iqbal, chairman of the standing committee on human rights, said he had to leave early for a meeting with the prime minister. Senator Gurdeep Singh said he arrived late for the meeting while Senator Prof Dr Mehr Taj Roghani said she left early to attend to her husband in hospital.
“The Senate Secretariat received The Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill 2021, on November 10,” an official of the Secretariat told Voicepk.net on the condition of anonymity. The bill cannot be brought before the Senate until a government minister first sends a notice and consequently the government places it on the orders of the day for the house proceedings, the official said.
For a government bill to be considered by the Upper House, a cabinet minister has to send a notice to the Secretariat to bring the proposed bill into the consideration of the Upper House, the official explained. The next step is to list the proposed bill as passed by the National Assembly on the orders of the day.
According to officials, after the bill is on the house agenda, a treasury member or minister-in-charge requests permission from the Senate chair to table the bill. After tabling the bill, it is sent to the relevant house standing committee for vetting. Once standing committee submits its report on the bill, a government minister or treasury member can move a motion to pass the bill as approved by the standing committee. If the Senate passes a bill with amendments to that passed by the National Assembly, the bill as passed by the Senate is again sent to the lower house for passage.
Mazari had earlier told the Islamabad High Court that the bill on enforced disappearance was in the Senate following its approval by the National Assembly. The phenomenon of missing persons in the country would see an end with the enactment of the legislation against enforced disappearance, she told reporters after attending hearing of missing persons in the IHC.
The minister’s statement on the missing bill reflects that the federal government was apparently disinterested in expediting passage of the NA bill through the upper house.
One member of the standing committee member claimed that the bill on enforced disappearance had been tabled and referred to the standing committee on interior for vetting. Speaking to Voicepk.net, Senator Mohsin Aziz, head of the Senate standing committee on interior, said his committee had not received the National Assembly’s bill on enforced disappearance. Voicepk.net also checked orders of the day between November 8 till January 4, 2022 but found no listing of the Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill 2021 as passed by the National Assembly.
The bill was introduced in the National Assembly by the interior minister in June 2021. While initially there was no provision related to the filing of a false complaint or false information about subjecting a person to enforced disappearance, subsequently a provision was added to the bill to declare it a penal offence punishable by up to five years’ imprisonment with a fine up to Rs500,000.
On December 10, the United Nation’s Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances called on Pakistan to halt the approval of the amendment to the bill that would harshly penalize families and other sources for reporting alleged cases.
“If passed, this law would undoubtedly lead to an increased underreporting of the crime, and foster impunity for the perpetrators,” the UN experts’ statement said. “These provisions would have a chilling effect on relatives of the disappeared persons and their representatives, who might find themselves in a climate of self-censorship, eventually leaving them without any effective remedy.”
The experts said Pakistan should seek the means to encourage affected relatives to come forward rather than creating barriers discouraging them from doing so.