ISLAMABAD: A delegation of the United Nations Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances has warned of the danger of intelligence agencies acquiring new powers to interrogate, arrest and detain people to the detriment of the law-enforcement agencies.
“This shift can ultimately endanger rule of law as the collection of intelligence and evidence about criminal acts becomes more and more blurred,” the group’s chairman Olivier de Frouville said at a news conference while sharing preliminary recommendations formulated by the team at the end of its 10-day visit to Pakistan.
Furthermore, “agents in charge of intelligence may be tempted to abuse the usually legitimate secrecy of intelligence operations and commit violations of human rights under the cover of this secrecy”, he said.
He said the group had noted that military personnel in Pakistan could not be submitted to trial before civil courts. However, accountability and full oversight of law-enforcement and intelligence agencies was all the more essential in a situation where the state had to face multiple threats like terrorism or political violence, he said.
The team’s chairman pointed out that serious challenges still remained to prevent and eradicate enforced disappearances in the country despite government’s resolve to tackle the issue of ‘missing persons’.
“The state must take effective measures to prevent and terminate acts of enforced disappearance in any territory under its jurisdiction.”
The group will submit its report to the Human Rights Council during its session next year. “There is acknowledgement that enforced disappearances have occurred and still occur in the country and cases continue to be reported to the national authorities,” the head of the team said.
Among other challenges, he stressed, Pakistan needed to overcome the absence of a provision qualifying enforced disappearance as an autonomous crime and the lack of reparation measures and social assistance programmes for relatives of the victims.
He referred to the comment of the High Commissioner on Human Rights who recently visited the country: “Impunity is dangerously corrosive to the rule of law in Pakistan.”
The group felt that impunity was a concern for the whole society, Mr de Frouville said.
He said security challenges faced by Pakistan in various areas could not be accepted as a justification to commit such a heinous crime as enforced disappearance.
About the cases of missing persons, he said there were controversies both on the figures and the nature of the practice of enforced disappearances. “Figures communicated to us range from less than a hundred to thousands.
In Balochistan alone, some sources allege that more than 14,000 persons are still missing, while the provincial government only recognises less than a hundred. To date, the Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances still has more than 500 cases in its docket concerning the whole country,” he said.
He stressed that investigation against and punishment of perpetrators should be in accordance with the law and with all the guarantees of a fair trial. “Perpetrators should be punished with appropriate penalties, with the clear exclusion of the death penalty. Enforced disappearances can also be punished on the basis of other crimes, as defined in the Criminal Code of Pakistan, such as the offence of ‘kidnapping or abducting with intent secretly and wrongfully to confine a person’.”
The delegation recommended the creation of a new and autonomous crime of enforced disappearances in the penal code, following the definition given in the 2006 Convention for the Protection of All Persons Against Enforced Disappearances, and with the legal consequences.
The group called for reinforcing the commission of inquiry and increasing its membership to allow parallel hearings together with courts.
Mr de Frouville, who was accompanied by Osman el Hajje, welcomed the role played by the judiciary to shed light on the phenomenon of enforced disappearances in Pakistan and to trace missing persons.
“The relatives of the disappeared persons have the right to know the truth about the fate and whereabouts of their loved ones.”
The delegation met a host of government officials, members of the civil society, the chief justice and judges of the Islamabad High Court, human rights activists and lawyers.
But, it said, meetings could not take place with the ministers of law and defence, the chief justice of Pakistan, officials of the ISI, the inspectors general of the FC in Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the chief justices of Lahore, Peshawar, Sindh and Balochistan high courts.