A meeting of the Senate Standing Committee on Human Rights was informed on Wednesday that the bill pertaining to enforced disappearances was still not found and continued to remain "missing".

The bill, Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill 2021, was passed by the National Assembly (NA) on November 8, 2021, and is aimed at making amendments to the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) and Code of Criminal Procedure. In January, former human rights minister Shireen Mazari had revealed that the bill had gone missing after it was sent to the Senate, having been passed by the relevant standing committee and the NA.

Last month, Mazari claimed that she was asked to appear at the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) headquarters over the bill. She went on to say that after the bill was tabled in the NA, it was referred to the interior committee where "invisible shadows" tried to change the clauses. She had regretted that the bill "disappeared" on the way to the Senate.

The bill's mysterious disappearance came under discussion during a session of the standing committee today.

"Where is the missing persons bill? It should be revealed that who made the bill disappear," said PML-N Senator Mushahid Hussain.

PTI Senator Walid Iqbal, the committee chairman, reiterated what Mazari had said earlier this year, adding that the bill had disappeared when it reached the Senate Secretariat.

"So this means the missing persons bill has [itself] gone missing," remarked another PML-N Senator Irfan Siddiqui.

The new human rights secretary briefed the committee members and said the Ministry of Interior and Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs were asked to take up the issue with the secretariat.

"Both the ministries have been asked to trace the bill on missing persons," the secretary said.

Missing persons bill

The bill was introduced in the National Assembly by the then 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 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.

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