August 30, 2022
Former Senator of the Pakistan Peoples’ Party Farhatullah Babar once again reiterated that
‘internment centres are like Guantanamo Bay in Pakistan’. He first made this statement during a Voicepk exclusive webinar on Custodial Torture held on June 26, 2022.
During an interview with Voicepk Editor in Chief Munizae Jahangir, while attending a protest in Islamabad to mark the International Day for the Victims of Enforced Disappearances, Babar expressed his outrage at his ongoing issue. He said that the issue of internment centres was first revealed when a petition came before the Peshawar High Court in 2019.
“It transpired that a number of missing persons were detained in internment centres in the province (Khyber Pukhtunkhwa),” he said. “They are operating opaquely, and nobody has access to them. They (internment centres) are the Guantanamo prisons of Pakistan!” he exclaimed.
The mentioned petition stated that internment centres were being established in the erstwhile federally administered tribal areas (FATA) – now the merged districts – the former senator said explaining the context of the court case against internment centres.
“The petition pleaded that the tribal areas were now part of settled areas and the internment centres there reflected discrimination against the rest of the country,” he informed. “In response to the contention, the provincial government told the court that it would now extend the law for the establishment of internment centres to the entire province. (As a result, the whole of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa was made into a vast prison,” he said.
Surprisingly, the legislation in KP coincided with the Indian abrogation of the special status of Jammu and Kashmir in August 2019.
“Pakistan condemned the Indian action at global forums terming it as an act of converting Jammu and Kashmir into a giant prison, yet unfortunately we committed the same act with the people in KP,” he pointed out.
The former senator lamented that thousands of people detained in internment centres were left without the constitutional right of defence against their incarceration. The Peshawar High Court had struck down the internment centres but the provincial government appealed against the judgment in Supreme Court which stayed the PHC verdict. He said they had filed an appeal in the Supreme Court against the internment centres.
“Unfortunately, the apex court has not held a hearing in the case in the last two years,” he added. “In the case of enforced disappearances, neither is justice being done with victims nor seen to having been done with them.”
Asked whether the Parliament would pass bills against custodial torture and criminalisation of enforced disappearances, Babar said that the establishment was reluctant in allowing the parliament to pass these important laws.
“The security apparatus is against the passage of the internationally endorsed legislation on custodial torture and enforced disappearances,” he said.
Pakistan had signed the international convention against custodial torture in 2008 but not much has happened in the way of legislation ever since, he added.
“The bill on enforced disappearances if passed would likely be flouted by state security institutions,” he said. “Kidnapping is a crime but agencies that commit such acts are beyond the ambit of the law.”
The former senator hoped that the law on enforced disappearance would be a positive development but it will not be enough to stem the practice unless agencies are held accountable.
Pakistan has not signed the International Convention for the Protection of all Persons from Enforced Disappearance, either. In August, a senate committee deferred consideration of the Bill on enforced disappearance for a month after objections were raised on the punishment clause for fake complaints.