August 30, 2022
By Rehan Piracha & Xari Jalil
The Day for the Victims of Enforced Disappearances was marked on Tuesday, August 30, across Pakistan, by Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), and other civil society representatives.
On Tuesday, Amnesty International released a statement saying that enforced disappearances were continuing with impunity in Pakistan, and this trend was putting people beyond the protection of the law and at the risk of torture or death.
Victim families who had exhausted all legal avenues were being forced to publicly campaign for the fate and whereabouts of their loved ones.
Earlier in August, Amnesty also documented how the protests by the families of the disappeared are cracked down upon, along with the devastating impact that these incidents have had on the families of those missing.
“The practice of enforced disappearances must immediately end, and the fate and whereabouts of the disappeared must be disclosed,” said the statement.
Meanwhile the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) also called on the federal government to ensure that civil society stakeholders—especially from Balochistan, Sindh, South Punjab, and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa—were consulted while the Senate deliberates on the Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill 2022. Any ambiguities that might make victims’ families reluctant to report cases must be removed, including the provision that people found guilty of filing ‘fake’ petitions will be imprisoned for up to five years.
In a statement by HRCP, Chairperson Hina Jillani said that there is a strong case to be made for introducing civilian oversight of the state agencies that are regularly implicated in cases of enforced disappearance.
“The Islamabad High Court has already stated in June 2022 that the state is obligated to trace missing persons once there is sufficient evidence, prima facie, to establish a case of enforced disappearance. The court has also held that the public functionaries responsible for protecting and tracing missing persons must be held accountable if they have failed in this duty,” she stated. “This should underscore the gravity of the situation and the painfully slow progress Pakistan has made in redressing what is internationally considered a crime against humanity. Pakistan must thus affirm its commitment to ending enforced disappearances by ratifying the Convention for the Protection of all Persons from Enforced Disappearance.”
In the most recent case, a Karachi-based publisher and writer, Faheem Baloch, was allegedly detained by uniformed police who were accompanied by ‘unidentified’ persons. Faheem Baloch’s family claimed that his whereabouts remain unknown. HRCP has demanded that Faheem be released immediately with his right to due process protected.
HRCP held a demonstration outside the Lahore Press Club where civil society demanded an end to enforced disappearances. Activists carried placards of people who had been picked up without any reason and chanted slogans for their release.
Students who were present also called the government to release Ali Wazir, who had been in incarceration for two years despite being an elected lawmaker.
Muhammad Tahseen, Executive Director of South Asia Partnership Pakistan (SAP-PK), condemned that there was absolutely no law that criminalized enforced disappearances and that there was a culture of impunity. The latest sitting by the Senate over the Enforced Disappearances Bill was further deferred to three months.
A lawyer and activist Rabia complained that citizens’ must be given the right to fair trial and brought under the ambit of law.
Protests and demos were also carried out in other cities including Karachi, Hyderabad, Islamabad, Quetta and Multan.
in Quetta, families of the missing persons held a demonstration and blocked Serena Chowk causing a massive traffic jam. It has been over a month since women and children have been sitting outside the Governor House Quetta yet there has been no response from the government.
Meanwhile, in Islamabad, Defence of Human Rights Chairperson Amina Masood Janjua, held a protest at D-Chowk, demanding the release of her husband who had been missing since 2002 as well as other missing persons. However, despite the seriousness of the protest, not one politician participated in the demonstration.
Amina Masood said that this year was dedicated to the women relatives of those forcibly disappeared.
“Enforced disappearances continue unabated in Pakistan,” said Amina Masood. “The Government of Pakistan in a recent development made a federal committee with seven ministers to discuss with the stakeholders and come up with a solution to end the practice of enforced disappearances in the country. However, the committee is still in its initial stages.”
She said that her organization had several demands as follows:
- The immediate release of all missing persons across Pakistan
- The release of the detainees in internment centres & DRC. These detainees are never presented to any court.
- To present all such persons in courts if there are any allegations against them.
- The ongoing cases of missing persons in various high courts of Pakistan should be provided with speedy redressal.
- To trace all the cases of missing persons in which the Commission of Inquiry (CoIED) has issued the production order (final order).
- Put an end to military courts & laws that legalize enforced disappearances in Pakistan (such as the Action in Aid to Civil Power and Protection of Pakistan Act)
- To provide reparation & rehabilitation for the victims’ families.
- To abolish the Commission of Inquiry on Enforced disappearances (CoIED), which is a failed and useless forum.
- The perpetrators of enforced disappearances should be punished and this practice should be criminalized under Pakistani domestic law.
- To pass & ratify the UN convention for the protection of all persons against involuntary and enforced disappearances (ICPPED)