• Court order says PM, cabinet are accountable for agencies’ actions
• Minister asked to ensure ‘missing’ journalist’s family meet premier before Dec 13

ISLAMABAD: The Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Wednesday proposed that the prime minister and the federal cabinet compensate the legal heirs of missing persons since they are responsible for the safety and security of citizens and oversee the intelligence and investigation agencies.

IHC Chief Justice Athar Minallah during the hearing of the petition seeking recovery of missing journalist Mudassir Naaru, asked federal Minister for Human Rights Dr Shireen Mazari to suggest to the cabinet to consider the proposal of imposing cost on the respective chief executives in whose tenure the citizen went missing.

“The practice of enforced disappearances has existed in Pakistan over a considerable time. The existence of this phenomenon is intolerable in a society governed under the Constitution,” the court noted.

It further observed that enforced disappearance was “a crime against humanity and one of the most detestable manifestations of violation of fundamental rights”.

In the case of journalist Mudassar Mehmood, it has been asserted in the petition that he was also a social activist and human rights defender; he had been receiving threats, allegedly from officials of the state institutions before he went missing on August 19, 2018.

In October 2018, his father, the petitioner, approached the Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances. The initiation of proceedings by the Commission led to the registration of a criminal case i.e. FIR No.208/2018 followed by the formation of a Joint Investigation Team (JIT).

The petitioner asserted that he was not kept informed regarding JIT’s proceedings nor its report was provided to him. From 2018 till the filing of the petition this year, the Commission has reportedly held several meetings/hearings.

According to the JIT, the person has gone ‘missing’ on his own.

Justice Minallah noted that the ‘missing’ person appeared to have been happily married, as he had taken his wife for a holiday when he went missing. His wife at the time was expecting and she gave birth to a child later. Now the child who is three years old has started attending court proceedings with his grandmother.

It appears from the record that the ‘missing’ person had loving parents who were unaware of the status of their son, whether he was alive or not, were exposed to unimaginable pain and agony, the court noted.

“Perusal of the reports submitted by the respondents show that all the agencies under the control of the federal government i.e. the Military Intelligence, Inter Services Intelligence, Federal Investigation Agency, etc. have taken the stance that they were neither involved nor have they any information regarding the whereabouts of the Missing Person,” IHC Chief Justice observed.

Minister for Human Rights Shireen Mazari explained in detail the measures being taken to combat the menace of ‘enforced disappearances’.

The court noted that in case of the phenomenon of enforced disappearances, the buck stops with the federal government i.e. the worthy prime minister and members of the federal cabinet.

The agencies alleged to be involved or complacent in deprivation of a citizen’s liberty without due process were controlled by the PM or the federal government and they were, therefore, responsible and ought to be held accountable for their actions, it added.

The court directed the minister for human rights to ensure the parents and child of the missing person meet the premier before December 13 and the matter shall thereafter be placed before the federal cabinet and the PM.

The IHC order stated the PM and the federal cabinet “shall direct all the agencies under their control to produce the missing person before this court or trace his whereabouts”.

“In case the missing person is not produced before this court nor his whereabouts are traced, then the federal cabinet shall ascertain the agencies and public functionaries responsible for the failure and inform this court regarding the action taken against them,” the order stated.

It further added that the attorney general would appear and assist the court regarding the “responsibility and liability of the federal government i.e. the worthy prime minister and members of the cabinet” in case the ‘missing’ person remained untraced till the next date of hearing.

Published in Dawn, December 2nd, 2021

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