IHC wants PM briefed on enforced disappearances

Updated 08 Sep 2020

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If the state and the courts cannot protect the right to life of a citizen, then there is no reason for them to continue, remarked IHC Chief Justice Athar Minallah. — IHC website/File
If the state and the courts cannot protect the right to life of a citizen, then there is no reason for them to continue, remarked IHC Chief Justice Athar Minallah. — IHC website/File

ISLAMABAD: Chief Justice of the Islamabad High Court (IHC) Justice Athar Minallah on Monday expressed serious concern over rising number of enforced disappearances in the federal capital and directed the interior secretary to take up the issue with the prime minister in order to devise a policy for protection of the fundamental rights of the citizens.

Separately, another IHC bench comprising Justice Mohsin Akhtar Kayani summoned Interior Minister retired Brig Ijaz Shah in the case of missing person Abdul Quddus who has remained untraceable since Jan 1, 2020.

If the state and the courts cannot protect the right to life of a citizen, then there is no reason for them to continue, remarked IHC Chief Justice Athar Minallah while hearing a habeas corpus petition seeking the recovery of Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP) official Sajid Gondal after Interior Secretary Yousaf Naseem Khokhar told the court that the two police teams constituted to trace his whereabouts were clueless.

The habeas corpus petition was filed by Mr Gondal’s mother, who is also a grandmother of four siblings, the eldest being 13 years old. The SECP official is stated to be the family’s sole bread-earner who supports his elderly parents, a wife and four children.

Observes missing SECP official case is ‘only the tip of the iceberg’

The IHC on Sept 5 issued a direction to the respondents including interior secretary, chief commissioner and Inspector General of Police, Islamabad Capital Territory to appear in person in case of failure to trace the SECP official.

On Monday, the court noted that the respondents appeared but failed to give satisfactory explanation for the failure of the state and its agents (i.e. public functionaries) to protect the fundamental rights of citizens by demonstrating a response that would visibly commensurate with the gravity of the alleged offence. “The officials, who have appeared today, prima facie, do not seem to appreciate the gravity of the alleged offence and its consequences, not only for the loved ones of the citizen who went missing three days ago, but the general public as well,” the court observed.

The court observed there were some fundamental rights which were definitely not negotiable, nor could the violation thereof be ignored by a constitutional court. “Why is the alleged offence in the matter in hand so grave and shocking? It has happened in the Capital of Pakistan, spread over an area of 1,400 square miles only. The highest constitutional court of the country, this court, the seat of the Federal Government, the offices of the President, Prime Minister, Federal Ministers and headquarters of the intelligence agencies are situated in the capital. The police force is headed by the Inspector General who is assisted by several senior officers and their responsibilities are confined to 1,400 sq miles,” the court order stated.

Justice Minallah pointed out that the administration of, and maintenance of law and order in the Islamabad Capital Territory was directly controlled and managed by the federal government.

The IHC chief justice observed that the court in the recent past had been inundated with petitions filed by loved ones alleging the abduction of their close relatives… it was obvious from the connected petitions that the ministries/agencies and other state organs were, directly or indirectly, involved in illegal real estate business.

“Their involvement in such illegal actions has seriously undermined the rule of law and the effective enforcement of fundamental rights. The abysmal state of governance, the lack of rule of law and impunity against crime is evident from the exponential increase of complaints/grievances and failure of the state and public functionaries to demonstrably and effectively discharge constitutional obligations and duties.

“The alleged abduction of citizens and failure on part of law enforcing agencies to trace their whereabouts and prosecute and punish the perpetrators of this most heinous crime appears to have become a norm. There is no accountability. It appears though the protectors of fundamental rights have become silent spectators to this most abhorrent violation of fundamental rights,” the court stated.

It observed this had serious consequences not only for the victims, their loved ones but for every citizen because it eroded the rule of law and undermined confidence in the state’s ability to protect their constitutionally guaranteed right to life and security. “The case in hand is only the tip of the iceberg,” the order sated.

“This court has no hesitation in observing that there is no rule of law within the 1,400 square miles of the Islamabad Capital Territory for ordinary citizens and that there is an obvious impunity against serious crimes,” the court observed.

Challenge for federal govt

The chief justice remarked that the case related to enforced abduction of Mr Gondal was a challenge and an opportunity for the federal government to restore the confidence of the people by ensuring that rule of law prevails and to demonstrably show its political will to put an end to impunity against crime, particularly against alleged abductions of citizens.

“Let this case be a challenge for the federal government to establish rule of law and demonstrate the will of the state not to tolerate violations of fundamental rights and to assure every citizen that protection of life and security of every citizen is their paramount duty,” the IHC chief justice said, adding that this court expected that the federal government, led by the worthy Prime Minister, would ensure that rule of law was demonstrably restored in the Pakistan’s capital by putting an end to impunity against crime.

Justice Minallah directed the interior secretary to brief the worthy PM and members of his cabinet regarding the abysmal state of law and order and the obvious impunity against crime within the 1,400 square miles area. The secretary is supposed to submit a report regarding decisions taken by the federal government and measures taken in the instant case. It is expected that copies of this order would also be placed before the PM and cabinet members in the next meeting of the federal cabinet.

If there is no visible progress in the instant case and the petitioner’s son is not recovered, nor are his whereabouts traced before Sept 17, then the learned Attorney General for Pakistan shall appear before the IHC to assist the court in identifying the responsible functionaries and their accountability, the court ordered.

Interior minister summoned

Meanwhile, Justice Mohsin Akhtar Kayani of the IHC summoned minister for interior Ijaz Shah and attorney general for Sept 16 in another missing person case.

The Islamabad capital police have failed to recover missing person Abdul Quddus so far, as the law enforcement agency told the court that efforts were being made to find his whereabouts.

An FIR of the enforced disappearance of Mr Quddus was registered at the Karachi company police station on Jan 1, 2020.

Published in Dawn, September 8th, 2020