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With the rise in militancy in Pakistan over a decade ago, a phenomenon which surfaced and burdened different judicial forums was that of the “missing persons” or “enforced disappearances”. The issue continues to persist and has still been far from over. With several of the relatives still moving from pillar to post to get a clue regarding whereabouts of their missing family members, the superior courts as well as the Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances (CIED) have regularly been conducting proceedings in these cases.

Looking at the history of such cases, it is an uphill task for the judiciary as well as the CIED to trace scores of “missing persons” whose exact number is even not known. In most of the cases the security agencies are not coming up with the required information in cases of “enforced disappearances. As such, the cases continue to linger on for months and years without any progress.

Recently, Peshawar High Court Chief Justice Yahya Afridi has issued several directives in cases related to “missing persons” in a bid to expedite disposal of habeas corpus petitions pending before the high court. After becoming chief justice of the high court in Dec 2016, Justice Yahya Afridi had ordered the federal ministries of defence and interior and the provincial home department to provide information in missing persons’ cases expeditiously.

In the light of the directives, the federal and provincial governments recently informed the court that the KP home secretary would act as focal person in these cases and in the high court he would be represented by a director (legal) of the department.

The high court has in clear terms issued directives that in cases where the missing person was interned in an internment centre the relevant authorities should submit the report within five days. It was ordered that in old cases in which whereabouts of detainees were not known the report should be submitted within 30 days to explain whether the detainee was in custody of any of the security agencies or not. It was added that in case a detainee was traced in custody of any of the agencies proper information should be given about status of the case.

The CIED, headed by retired Justice Javed Iqbal, states that around 1,240 cases of “enforced disappearances” have been pending before the commission by the end of Feb 2017.

According to the commission, which has been dealing with cases from across the country since its establishment in 2010, total number of cases received by it so far were 3,856 of which it had disposed of 2,616 cases.

According to data prepared by the commission, the total number of persons traced till Feb 2017 were 1,953. There were total 1,461 cases related to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa of which 684 have still been pending before the commission.

Around two years ago, the KP police had compiled a report on the cases of “enforced disappearances” and were pending before the CIED. According to the report, the police had received a total of 1,066 cases of “enforced disappearances” related to different districts of the province.

Of the 1,066 cases the police department had claimed that 651 persons had been missing whereas 415 were traced.

Most of the traced persons had either been interned in notified internment centres or they were set free by their captors and had returned home.

One of the interesting cases was that of Haider Ali, a resident of Swat who was sentenced to death by a military court in 2015. His name was mentioned in the said report. An FIR No 137 was registered against his alleged illegal detention on July 28, 2013 at Kanju police station as his case was pending before the commission. While the government agencies continued to deny his detention, he was subsequently found in their custody.

Few years ago then chief justice of the high court Justice Dost Mohammad Khan (now a judge of the Supreme Court) had issued several orders and on several occasion declared detention of persons by the security agencies without production before a court of law as unconstitutional and illegal.

It was because of some strict orders issued by the high court when for the first time the federal and provincial governments came up with a list of 1,035 detainees in June 2012. Several of them had been set free whereas others were traced in internment centres.

Subsequently, from time to time the concerned quarters provided lists of internees kept in different internment centres. During that period, the concerned authorities had agreed that only those accused/detainees, against whom sufficient proof or evidence was available and had been placed in the categories “Black” or “Gray” would be sent to notified internment centres while the rest would be freed without any delay.

It was also decided that the oversight boards, constituted for internment centres, would be expanded and commissioners would be included therein so that the physical verification of the detainees, their well- being and to see whether they had been detained under the law, were checked and reported to the court.

Legal experts dealing with habeas corpus petitions believe that tracing “missing persons” was a difficult task because of non-cooperation of their captors with the courts. They said that after setting up of internment centres over five years ago it was believed that this issue would be resolved and the “missing persons” would be shifted to these centres, but that did not happen.

They believe that it would be appropriate that fresh lists of internees in the internment centres should be made public and these should also be uploaded on the websites of the federal and provincial governments, which would help in tracing several of these people.

Published in Dawn, March 20th, 2017