Law on enforced disappearances demanded

December 11, 2019

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Relatives of ‘missing’ persons demonstrate outside the KPC while (right) Zulfiqar Shah, along with other activists, speaks at a press conference in the press club.—White Star
Relatives of ‘missing’ persons demonstrate outside the KPC while (right) Zulfiqar Shah, along with other activists, speaks at a press conference in the press club.—White Star

KARACHI: The government must bring a law on enforced disappearances, declare it a crime and punish those involved in the offence. The right to a fair trial is guaranteed in the Constitution and the government must ensure it.

This was among the list of demands put forward by civil society activists on International Human Rights Day marked at the Karachi Press Club on Tuesday.

Before sharing their concerns on human rights, the activists appreciated the fact that Pakistan was signatory to almost all the UN conventions on human rights and labour rights and said this ratification made it obligatory upon the federal and provincial governments to bring in mechanisms for compliance which would help improve the country’s image at the international level.

Enforced disappearances

Speaking on enforced disappearances, Zulfiqar Shah, joint director at the Pakistan Institute of Labour, Education and Research (Piler), said: “Out of the total 6,474 complaints officially received by the Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances till Nov this year, 3,434 people have been freed whereas 2,206 cases are still pending. We would like to know what legal action has been taken against the perpetrator/s of these cases. There is no law to punish the persons involved in such crimes.”

He also criticised the government for its failure in legislating on the matter despite being in power for more than a year.

Government asked to respect political, civil and economic rights of the youth

“We don’t support any person involved in criminal activity or terrorism and want the government to respect fundamental human rights enshrined in the Constitution. ‘Missing persons’ should be produced in courts and punished under the law, if found guilty,” he said.

He also urged the government to ensure freedom of expression, access to information and the right to association which, they said, was under threat in Pakistan.

“There is a growing attention on the compliance to human rights and labour rights and one such example is the Generalised Scheme of Preferences of the European Union under which Pakistan is getting trade incentives.

“It is important that the human and labour rights’ situation is significantly improved so this scheme creating employment opportunities, especially in the textile sector, can continue,” he said.

Mr Shah also raised concern over the deteriorating human rights situation in India-held Kashmir and demanded that the UN pay special attention to restoring fundamental freedoms in the valley.

Relatives of ‘missing’ persons demonstrate outside the KPC while (right) Zulfiqar Shah, along with other activists, speaks at a press conference in the press club.—White Star
Relatives of ‘missing’ persons demonstrate outside the KPC while (right) Zulfiqar Shah, along with other activists, speaks at a press conference in the press club.—White Star

Special laws for activists

Saeed Baloch, representing the Sindh Human Rights Defenders Network, said the government should create enabling environment for rights activists to help them work without any fear and threat.

“There is a need for special laws to protect human rights activists,” he said.

Activist Naghma Shaikh called for the restoration of student unions which had been banned for the last 35 years.

“Pakistan’s population in 2017 was declared 207 million, showing an increase of 58 per cent since the last census. Of them, 64pc are under 30 years of age. Hence, it’s important that the government respect the political, civil and economic rights of the youth,” she said.

Answering a question, Zulfiqar Shah said the media crisis had undermined the freedom of expression as journalists faced grave economic hardships due to layoffs and salary cuts.

Published in Dawn, December 11th, 2019