June 29, 2022

By Ahmed Saeed

LAHORE: Federal Minister for Interior Rana Sanaullah has said that Pakistan’s military leadership is strongly concerned about the practice of forced disappearance and has vehemently condemned it. He said that they are of the view that it should not have become a practice in the first place, however adding that there are a few constraints regarding this issue that cannot be publicly discussed.

“If we start talking about this issue publicly, then the sentiments of relatives of missing persons will be hurt”, Sanaullah said while speaking to journalist and anchorperson Munizae Jahangir in Aaj News’ program Spotlight. “There are some challenges in the perpetual resolution of this issue, and all key stakeholders including the government, security forces and human rights defenders must convene to find a solution.”
‘Bills on enforced disappearances will always go missing’
When asked about a ‘missing’ bill criminalising enforced disappearances, which was passed by the National Assembly last year in November, the minister said that all such bills will go missing because they ‘do not provide a solution to the problem.’
The Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill 2021 was sent to the Senate for approval but just two months later in January 2022, then-Federal Minister for Human Rights Dr. Shireen Mazari revealed that the legislation itself went missing. The bill has, till date, yet to be presented before the upper house of parliament for voting.
The proposed legislation asks for the addition of sections 52B, 512, 513 and 514 in the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC), which define an “enforced disappearance” and introduce a penalty of up to ten years in jail. The bill was prepared by the Interior Ministry of the then-ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf.

“Any bill which only says that the missing persons should be recovered and not suggest the mechanism to do so will meet the same fate,” Sanaullah said.

Javed Iqbal must be replaced: Sanaullah


Upon being questioned whether a new piece of legislation on enforced disappearances should be drafted, the Minister replied that the legislation must first address the issue of producing missing persons in the first place.

Sanaullah however admitted that the Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances (COIED), headed by former National Accountability Bureau (NAB) Chair Justice (r) Javed Iqbal, has failed to deliver. He suggested that the COIED be reorganized and with someone new to head the commission.

“In my point of view, if a sitting judge of a high court or the Supreme Court chairs the commission, then it might work more effectively,” he opined.

‘Torture directly damages the dignity of man’

On the issue of criminalising torture, the Interior Minister said that there is no need to legislate on the issue as it is already illegal under Article 14 of the Constitution, which states that the dignity of man is inviolable.

“Torture directly damages the dignity of man. It is a crime and cannot be acceptable in any form. Police stations and jails were notorious for torture but now there is an effective mechanism in place to monitor these insitutions, including through CCTV cameras. And if any incident of torture comes to our notice, we take strict and immediate action against the perpetrators,” Sanaullah stated.

‘Ministers’ comments creating confusion’

Reacting to the Interior Minister’s statement, Amina Masood Janjua, a human rights defender and campaigner against enforced disappearances, said that such statements made by sitting ministers show that they lack empathy about the issue and create confusion.

She said that those involved in the practice are powerful people who can create shortcuts to remain untouched by the law.

“The COIED has a list of 153 officials who have been involved in this heinous practice but no one dares to take action against them,” she claimed.

‘Criminalising enforced disappearances will complicate the issue’

Janjua added that the aim of her struggle is not to get anyone punished for picking up people, rather missing persons to return to their loved ones or at least affected families to gain closure by knowing the whereabouts of their disappeared relatives.

“It is true that criminalising enforced disappearances will further complicate the issue as the perpetrators will rather kill the missing persons to escape any accountability,” she said.
Janjua suggested that a truth and reconciliation commission should be set up to resolve this issue and the proceedings of the commission must be held in-camera. She also said that relatives are ready to give amnesty to those who are responsible for disappearing people. She also criticised the performance of the COEID headed by Justice (r) Javed Iqbal and called for its disbanding.
“When the commission started working in 2011, there were over 150 missing persons in the country and currently there are over 9,000 cases of missing persons. These figures speak volumes about the effectiveness of the commission,” Janjua stated.


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