LAHORE: A webinar organised by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) to mark the International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances on Sunday discussed the issue of missing persons in Pakistan and how there has been a spike in their number.

The panel included veteran human rights defenders who called for a new and impartial statutory commission that would bring forth results concerning the missing persons’ cases.

Former senator Afrasiab Khattak said that in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the number of “missing persons” went up as the government launched successive military operations to stem Taliban insurgency in Swat and the former tribal areas, peaking in 2006 to 2007.

He said enforced disappearances resulted from the security personnel having no powers to arrest, therefore they did not acknowledge having detained people. Presently, he added, enforced disappearances were hurting the credibility of the state and called for reclaiming control of the constitutional system.

Rights lawyer Hina Jilani was of the view if Pakistan did not stem such cases it could invite sanctions from the UN Security Council. Enforced disappearances were a crime against humanity and part of the charter of the International Court of Justice, she added.

She said all efforts should be made to draft proper legislation and pointed out that enforced disappearances in Sindh were reaching a proportion similar to that in Balochistan.

She said mostly Sindhi nationalists and journalists were being targeted, and further said the government-appointed inquiry commission had proved ineffective in dealing with cases. Enforced disappearances should be made a criminal act and state institutions held accountable, she stressed.

According to Mr I.A. Rehman, the Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances that was set up on the directives of the Supreme Court had about 6,650 cases, which was just the tip of the iceberg.

“The highest number of cases, around 2,562, is from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa followed by 1,616 from Sindh,” he said.

“However, human rights activists and campaigners doubt the government figures as many families often do not approach the commission for fear of reprisal. The number of cases of enforced disappearances is much higher than reported.”

The veteran activist said that the culture of enforced disappearances took root in the country in the 1990s.

“In 1994, the HRCP first investigated reports of missing persons from Balochistan, which at that time was not as restive as KP (then North West Frontier Province),” he maintains.

“The cases of missing persons saw an increase in the country following the Sept 11 attacks in the US. In Balochistan, missing persons increased significantly after the death of Akbar Bugti in 2006.”

Mr Rehman contested the figures being presented by the inquiry commission, saying the cases were under-reported.

He said the authorities knew what to do to mitigate the situation. In 2014, a bill was presented in parliament that defined enforced disappearance as well astermed it a criminal offence.

He called upon the present government to legislate on the issue, adding that Pakistan must ratify UN convention on enforced disappearances.

Habib Tahir said the number of enforced disappearances still happening in Balochistan was quite greater than that quoted by official data.

“The families are not approaching courts or rights bodies because they were often told that their loved ones would return if they waited a few days,” he said, adding the victims must also be compensated for their sufferings.

Published in Dawn, September 1st, 2020

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