ISLAMABAD: A Senate committee on Tuesday approved the idea of criminalising enforced disappearances.

Chairman of the Senate’s Functional Committee on Human Rights Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar gave the Ministry of Human Rights a month to engage all stakeholders to draft a bill for criminalising enforced disappearances and making it a punishable offence.

The directive came after the Chairman of the Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappea­rances, retired Justice Javed Iqbal, urged the committee to go for legal sanctions to recover all missing persons. The meeting was informed that at present all cases of enforced disappearances were registered under Section 365 of the penal code which dealt with kidnapping.

Mr Iqbal was critical of parliament and the provincial governments for failing to criminalise enforced disappearances. “In the last 18 years no serious efforts have been made by the state to address the problem of enforced disappearances. There is no will, dedication or law brought into force by provincial governments either to address the issue,” Mr Iqbal said.

Missing persons commission chief says issue has been politicised and blown out of all proportion

However, Mr Iqbal informed the committee, which met for a briefing by the Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances, that out of the 5,290 cases received by his office, 3,462 cases had been disposed of from March 2011 to July 2018. There were as many as 1,828 cases under investigation out of which several more would be disposed of in the near future.

He argued that the matter of missing persons had been politicised and blown out of all proportion by those elements, including international non-governmental organisations, which wanted to discredit and defame Pakistan.

“In many cases the people still missing are living abroad such as associates of Mangal Bagh, Brahamdagh Bugti and Sufi Muhammad. In other cases, investigations showed that persons declared missing are living in other cities. Their names have not been removed from the fake lists of missing persons with the United Nations,” Mr Iqbal told the committee.

The only effort made by the government was the formulation of two reports by Justice Kamal Mansoor and Justice Noor Muhammad on the sensitive matter. “These reports have never been made public and are sitting in a drawer of a section officer. Sections of the reports... should be made public. The reports would provide guidance and point relevant platforms, including this committee, in the right direction to recover the missing persons,” said Mr Iqbal who is also the chairman of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB).

According to Mr Iqbal, responsibility for enforced disappearances had been fixed on more than 150 individuals from every walk of life. He also defended internment centres where all detained individuals had been accounted for.

However, some members did not agree with the retired judge of the Supreme Court when he defended security agencies for allegedly picking up and detaining individuals.

Senator Muhammad Usman Khan Kakar suggested that certain organisations were as much responsible for enforced disappearances as they were for creating militants like Sufi Muhammad and Mangal Bagh.

“All departments are subservient to parliament but some refuse to acknowledge its supremacy while we watch helplessly,” Mr Kakar said.

MNA Mohsin Dawar, who had specially been invited to the meeting, alleged that security agencies were involved in enforced disappearances more than anyone else.

Senator Sassui Palijo told the committee that she was answerable to the families of missing persons.

“It is imperative that all missing persons are produced in court for the law to take its course. This will bring relief to their family members who do not know if their loved ones are alive or dead,” said Ms Palijo.

Published in Dawn, August 29th, 2018

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