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Tracing the missing

June 21, 2018

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THE monthly progress reports issued by the Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances indicate a welcome initiative to provide information that helps a better understanding of the cases that are disposed of.

During the last three months (March-May 2018) the commission settled 167 cases as against 373 fresh cases received in this period, which means that disposal was 206 cases less than the new ones. The number of cases pending before the commission went up from 1,710 at the end of March to 1,848 at the end of May. There is no room for complacency.

Out of the 167 cases disposed of during March-May, while 87 persons are said to have returned home an equal number has been accounted for otherwise. Thirty-one cases were deleted for various reasons from the list of disappearances; 30 persons were found in jails; and 26 were traced to the internment centres set up under the Actions in Support of Civil Power Regulation. In nearly all cases in the last mentioned category, the commission has noted that the families have been allowed access to the detainees. The sole exception is a recent case and the family will soon be extended this facility.

The latest monthly progress reports also clarify in a number of cases the source of information regarding a missing person’s return to his family. In March this year, such information was received from police or any other state agency in 14 cases and in only one case from a family source. In April, the corresponding figures were seven and six and in May, 10 and seven.

During March-May this year, at least four persons were reported killed; in three cases, the suspected culprits had been arrested while in the fourth case, the victim had been killed in an encounter, but no inquiry was mentioned.

In May, there was a spurt in appearances before the commission of inquiry.

At least two missing persons were being held at internment centres after conviction by a military or another court; Khalil Khan from Mohmand Agency, sentenced to 14 years’ rigorous imprisonment, and Fazal Subhan from Bajaur Agency, sentenced to 21 years’ rigorous imprisonment. Mian Saeed Azam from Swat, missing since 2008, was reported to have been sentenced to death by a military court and was in Peshawar jail. Also notable is the case of Shah Jahan from Hasan Abdal who was said to have gone to Afghanistan after having been handed over to a political tehsildar by Military Intelligence. More information is needed on these cases.

A welcome feature of the commission’s work is that it is now paying a little more attention to ensuring an appearance before it of persons who return home. In March, there were four such cases. One of them, Saeed Karam from Charsadda, who disappeared in May 2017 and appeared before the commission on March 26, 2018, merely confirmed that he had returned home. M. Rafique of Rawalpindi, who disappeared in November 2017, told the commission on March 16, 2018 that he had gone to Karachi without informing his family. Such cases bring comfort to the establishment by supporting their contention that some people have gone missing by their own choice.

The cases of two persons who appeared before the commission are worth noting. About Hafiz Attaullah from Lahore, missing since December 2015 and who appeared before the commission on March 3, the report says: “He could not explain [the] factual position [about his disappearance] for certain obvious reasons.” Likewise, Abdul Samad Salik, from Islamabad, who disappeared on March 3, 2018, did not disclose before the commission 27 days later “the details of the episode for obvious reasons”.

In April this year, four persons appeared before the commission. Three of them merely confirmed their return to their families while the fourth one is said to have left his village on his own. A fifth person who did not appear before the commission told a joint investigation team that he had disappeared of his own choice.

When we come to the month of May this year, we notice a spurt in appearances before the commission of inquiry. Out of the 34 persons who are reported to have returned home, 13 arrived at or were brought to the commission. Three of them denied having been abducted by anyone and said they had gone away of their own accord. The statements of two had been recorded under Section 164 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, and two had merely confirmed their return home. The cases of six persons invite special attention.

About Zafarullah from Risalpur, who disappeared in January 2017 and was examined by the commission on May 3, 2018,the report says: “He did not share details regarding the place of detention, etc.”

Muneer Ahmad Haqqani from Nawabshah, missing since April 4, 2017, appeared before the commission on May 8 but “he could not give further details regarding his detention”. Musaib bin Asad from Gujrat, missing since December 2017, came to the commission and he “could not give details regarding his detention”. Lal Janan from Charsadda, missing since February 2017, appeared before the commission on May 16 and he also “could not give details regarding place of detention etc”.

Muhammad Maaz, from Muzaffargarh district and missing since March 2016, appeared before the commission on May 10. According to the commission’s report, “He could not give details regarding his abduction for obvious reasons.” Similarly, Kamran Khan from Mansehra district, missing since Jan 18, 2018, appeared at the commission on May 16 but “could not give details of the episode for obvious reasons.”

Obviously, the people who are recovered are afraid of speaking about their ordeal. Since it is essential to identify the culprits for determining compensation for victims of enforced disappearance, the commission should put its knowledge about the ‘obvious reasons’ for the victims’ refusal to tell the truth and statements of the persons recovered on its website.

Meanwhile, the plea for strengthening the commission remains as valid as ever.

Published in Dawn, June 21st, 2018

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