Missing persons bill has gone 'missing', says Shireen Mazari

Published January 3, 2022
A file photo of Human Rights Minister Dr Shireen Mazari. — APP/File
A file photo of Human Rights Minister Dr Shireen Mazari. — APP/File

Human Rights Minister Dr Shireen Mazari revealed on Monday that a bill pertaining to enforced disappearances, which was recently passed by the National Assembly (NA), had gone "missing".

Speaking to media persons at the Ministry of Human Rights, she said: "We had prepared the bill regarding missing persons and it was passed by the [relevant] standing committee and the National Assembly. But it went missing after it was sent to the Senate."

The minister said there were reports, however, that the bill was now at the Senate Secretariat.

The bill, Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill 2021, was passed by the NA on November 8, 2021, and is aimed at making amendments to the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) and Code of Criminal Procedure.

It was introduced in the National Assembly by the interior minister in June 2021. While initially there was no provision related to the filing of a false complaint or false information about subjecting a person to enforced disappearance, subsequently a provision was added to the bill to declare it a penal offence punishable by up to five years imprisonment with a fine up to Rs500,000.

The proposed law provides for the insertion of a new section 52B in the PPC for defining an “enforced disappearance”.

It states: “The term enforced disappearance relates to illegal and without lawful authority arrest, detention, abduction or any other form of deprivation of liberty by an agent of the State or by person or group of persons acting with the authorisation, support or acquiescence of the State, followed by a refusal to acknowledge the deprivation of liberty or by concealment of the fate or whereabouts of the disappeared person, which places such a person outside the protection of the law.”

Enactment of a law for criminalising “enforced disappearance” in Pakistan is a long-standing demand of human rights bodies, especially Amnesty International and the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan.

Enforced disappearances, which began several years ago in the backwaters of Balochistan and erstwhile Fata on the pretext of fighting terrorists and insurgents, have extended to major urban centres, including Islamabad, over the years.

The Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances, established in March 2011, has managed to trace many of those missing, but activists claim it has failed in the second part of its mandate, that is, to identify and prosecute those perpetrating these abductions.

Some rights activists estimate there still remain over 2,000 unresolved cases with the commission.

Prisoners' details sought

Mazari further said her ministry had sought the details from provinces of prisoners who remained in jail as they did not have the means to pay fines imposed on them.

"Some prisoners are in jail in the country because they haven't paid fines and we have sought their details from provinces," she said, adding that the Ministry of Human Rights would pay fines on their behalf."

"[Here], Maryam Nawaz gets bail, but some cases aren't concluded for years," the minister remarked.

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