12 November 2022
LAHORE: Speaking at the Asma Jahangir Conference 2022, legislators, lawyers and activists have called for expediting legislation on enforced disappearances and arbitrary detentions to resolve the issue of missing persons in the country.
Abid Saqi, a former vice-chairman of the Pakistan Bar Council, moderated the session on “Reluctance to Criminalise Enforced Disappearances and Arbitrary Detentions.” Federal Law Minister Azam Nazeer Tarar delivered the keynote speech in the session. Other speakers included Akhtar Jan Mengal, Chairperson of Balochistan National Party-Mengal, Angkhana Neelapaijit, Member of the United Nations Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, Manzoor Pashteen, head of Pashtun Tuhaffaz Movement, senior lawyers Sher Mohammad and Shabbir Hussain Gigyani and Sammi Deen Baloch, human rights activist and daughter of a missing person.
Akhtar Mengal narrated the ordeal of an elderly woman whose son was missing for eight years. “The woman wanted to participate in a demonstration for missing persons but she did not have money for the fare,” Mengal said.
“The woman begged for alms outside a mosque and used that money to go to the protest for missing persons,” he added.
Mengal said people were expressing astonishment about slogans being raised for freedom but in reality, they all were shackled, slaves. “The only difference is that we cry aloud hearing the clanging of the chains while others sway in enjoyment hearing the same noise,” he added.
He said the State has been acting worse than those committing murder in revenge under the tribal system. “Under Balochistan’s tribal traditions, a man who kills someone to avenge a murder goes to the deceased’s family and informs them that he has placed the dead body under a shade in a field but the State chooses to act even worse in matters of enforced disappearances,” Mengal said.
Federal Law Minister Azam Nazeer Tarar said Pakistan’s constitution and laws guarantee individual freedom and fundamental human rights. He referred to various articles in the Constitution that guaranteed fundamental human rights including the most important the right to life. He questioned why these fundamental rights were limited to books. “We hear thousand of voices being raised from Balochistan, loads of applications from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, complaints from citizens Karachi as well as Southern Punjab and Central Punjab that their loved ones are missing for months and years,” he said.
“Unfortunately, the government which has the responsibility for ensuring the protection of its citizens through laws and other measures has no word about these missing persons,” Tarar said. “The only answer we get is that the phenomenon of missing persons is linked to security risks and security apparatus,” he said.
Angkhana Neelapaijit thanked civil society groups and organisations in Pakistan for documenting and providing support to families of victims of enforced disappearances.
She said the United Nations Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances were committed to working with Pakistan to strengthen the legislative framework in accordance with its mandate, adding that they would continue to support civil society organisations in this regard.
Pashteen said the country was witnessing killings in staged encounters and enforced disappearances daily. “The people in the periphery are enslaved, facing issues of unemployment and lack of access to education and health facilities,” he pointed out.
“The State should have provided them with access to employment, health and education but the mothers and sisters of these people faced mental trauma in the shape of dead bodies and enforced disappearances of their loved ones,” he added.
He said Rao Anwar, a senior police officer accused of committing 400 extra-judicial killings was roaming free while elected legislator Ali Wazir whose 18 family members were killed in terrorist attacks was in prison.
Gigyani said when a state institution imposed the Taliban on the people, cases of enforced abductions began to rise in the country. Similarly, the cases of missing persons jumped at the time of military operations in 2008.
The legislators gave legal sanction to enforced disappearance by issuing the Action in Aid of Civil Powers Regulation in 2011 in FATA. “Unfortunately, the draconian law was extended to the provincial tribal areas on the merger of tribal districts in FATA with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa,” he added.
Gigyani said he challenged the draconian law in the Peshawar High Court which set aside the legislation in the 2019 judgment. However, the government appealed the PHC judgment in the Supreme Court. “The apex court has not heard the appeal for the last three years,” he added.
Prior to 2011, there were reported cases of enforced disappearances in Balochistan but this changed when the Action in Aid Civil Powers regulation was imposed in FATA, said Sher Muhammad.
The late Asma Jahangir challenged the draconian law in the Supreme Court but the case was dismissed when authorities wrongly stated that persons detained under the regulation were in jail and not in detention centres, Sher Muhammad added.
Sammi Deen Baloch said several committees, commissions and laws have not been able to resolve the issue of enforced disappearances because of a lack of implementation. “The people in our areas are still without fundamental rights,” she added.