Commission on missing persons has become a liability: IHC

Published June 24, 2022
Islamabad High Court Chief Justice Athar Minallah — Photo via IHC website/File
Islamabad High Court Chief Justice Athar Minallah — Photo via IHC website/File

ISLAMABAD: The Islamabad High Court (IHC) has observed that the missing persons commission headed by retired Justice Javed Iqbal has become a liability and failed to justify its existence.

The Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances was established in 2011 and Justice Iqbal has been heading it since then.

It was formed to trace the missing persons and fix responsibility on the individuals or organisations responsible for it. As per a recent report of the commission, only one third of the missing persons have returned homes since 2011.

IHC Chief Justice Athar Minallah issued an order in the missing persons case that stated: “When there is sufficient evidence to conclude that it is, prima facie, a case of ‘enforced disappearance’ then it becomes an obligation of the State and all its organs to trace the disappeared citizen. This obligation will remain effective and perpetual till the victim has been traced or credible information gathered through effective investigation regarding his/her fate.”

Headed by retired Justice Javed Iqbal since its formation over a decade ago, commission ought to justify its continued existence, says court order

The court order added: “It becomes a constitutional obligation of each organ of the State to hold those public functionaries accountable who are responsible and who have failed in their duty to protect and trace the citizen who has gone missing” adding: “Nothing has been placed on record to show that the Commission has even remotely made an attempt to hold public officeholders accountable for failing to comply with the production orders.

“The Court, after perusal of the report, is, prima facie, of the opinion that the Commission has failed in its duty nor can it justify its existence in the circumstances.”

Justice Minallah observed that the commission was constituted almost a decade ago and its main responsibility was to recommend to the federal government proposals to bring an end to the impunity against ‘enforced disappearances.’

“It has become obvious by now that it has not been able to effectively achieve its object. The commission is a burden on the exchequer and it ought to justify its continued existence.”

The court directed the commission to explain “why no action has been taken nor recommendations made to the federal government so as to hold those public functionaries accountable who have failed to comply with its production orders.”

It has been consistently noted that the proceedings before the commission are not of adversarial nature. The commission has to demonstrably show utmost empathy towards the petitioners and all other loved ones of missing citizens. It is the duty of the commission to reach out to them and through its conduct assure them that the proceedings are not a mere formality nor an eyewash.

The IHC chief justice expressed the hope that the commission may inform the court why meaningful and effective actions had not been taken nor recommendations made to the federal government to proceed against the public functionaries who failed to comply with the production orders.

Inter-ministerial committee

The Inter-Ministerial Committee on Missing Persons headed by Federal Minister for Law and Justice Senator Azam Nazeer Tarar convened a meeting on cabinet’s subcommittee on missing persons.

The meeting was attended by Minister for Poverty Alleviation Shazia Marri, Minister for Science and Technology Agha Hassan Baloch and Minister for Defence Production Mohammad Israr Tarin.

Keeping the gravity of the issue of enforced disappearances, the participants decided to hold weekly meetings.

Senator Tarar said the committee will show tangible results. He said the committee will invite people from various schools of thought besides seeking recommendations from provinces.

The committee invited former Senator Farhatullah Babar and Amna Masood Janjua to the next meeting.

Published in Dawn, June 24th, 2022

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