‘Will not make any lame excuse’: PM Shehbaz assures IHC of all-out efforts for recovery of missing persons

Published September 9, 2022
Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif outside the Islamabad High Court on Friday. — DawnNewsTV
Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif outside the Islamabad High Court on Friday. — DawnNewsTV

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif assured the Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Friday of making all-out efforts for the recovery of missing persons, saying that he will not give any “lame excuse”.

“I cannot say that all of the missing persons will be recovered, but we will leave no stone unturned,” he said. “I will not give any lame excuse.”

The premier made these remarks before IHC Chief Justice (CJ) Athar Minallah during the hearing of identical petitions seeking the recovery of six missing persons, including journalist Mudassar Naaru.

Read: Imran seeks report on ‘missing’ journalist’s whereabouts

At the last hearing, Justice Minallah had directed PM Shehbaz to ensure that the missing persons — whose cases were being heard in the IHC — were produced before the court on September 9 (today) and warned that the failure to do so would require the premier to appear in person on the said date and give an explanation.

When PM Shehbaz appeared before the court today, Justice Minallah said he had been summoned as the issue at hand was a big one.

He recalled that the court had referred the matter of missing persons to the federal cabinet multiple times but the cabinet’s response “had not been what it should be”.

Making an apparent reference to former president Pervez Musharraf, he continued, “A chief executive ruled in this country for nine years. He proudly wrote in his book that we sold our people to foreign countries.”

“This court is not an investigation agency,” he further remarked.

The IHC CJ then noted that the government had also constituted a committee — a body that was set up in May on the IHC’s directives to deliberate a policy on enforced disappearances.

But the matter was not limited to a committee, he continued. “A commission was also formed for missing persons.

“The families of missing persons are sitting here. They revealed a lot of things about the commission,” he said, adding that Defence of Human Rights in Pakistan Chairperson Amina Masood Janjua had “also told much about the commission to the court”.

Instead of tending to the problems of the families of missing persons, commissions continued to “torture” them, he observed.

The court had also been told about the reservations of Baloch students, the IHC CJ said.

‘Political leadership has to solve this issue’

Justice Minallah stressed that the state’s responsibility should be fulfilled,“ regretting that in cases where missing persons were recovered, no further action was taken.

“The political leadership has to solve this issue,” he said. “The court has no other way but to only ask the executive [about the issue].”

The IHC CJ further emphasised that there should not be an impression that law enforcement agencies were picking up citizens.

“This impression affects our national security,” he added. Addressing PM Shehbaz, he continued, “You are the prime minister and the national security of this country is in your hands. This court trusts you. Give [us] a solution for this [issue].”

He questioned who the court should hold responsible for enforced disappearances.

For his part, PM Shehbaz said solving the issue was his duty.

At that, Justice Minallah observed that there were several issues of governance that could only be resolved once the “Constitution is restored”.

He observed that most law enforcement agencies came under the interior ministry.

‘Making people go missing biggest form of torture’

Justice Minallah then termed the practice of “making people go missing the biggest form of torture” and a “deviation from the Constitution”.

“This court is a constitutional court … This court will look at the Constitution. There is no bigger issue than this,” he further remarked.

The IHC CJ asked PM Shehbaz what the court should tell a small child approaching it for justice. “He (the child) also met the erstwhile prime minister,” Justice Minallah said, apparently making a reference to Naru’s son meeting former prime minister Imran Khan in December last year.

PM Shehbaz told the court that a child of a missing person had asked him to reunite him with his father. “This sentence is very disturbing for me,” he said.

He said he was answerable to the courts and the people of the country, adding that “I am not here to play blame games.”

“I will not give any lame excuses.”

The premier informed the court that the government had constituted a cabinet committee on enforced disappearances and so far, its six meetings were held.

The PM assured the court that he would monitor every meeting of the committee and submit a report.

“That report will not be based on tales but facts.”

He expressed the resolve to present “undeniable evidence” to the court, saying that “facts speak for themselves”.

Following that, Justice Minallah asked Attorney General for Pakistan (AGP) Ashtar Ausaf Ali to read out Article 7 of the Constitution, which defines the state

After the AGP read out the contents of the Article, the IHC CJ again questioned who was responsible for missing persons.

PM Shehbaz said, “You can see our conduct in the cases of missing persons.”

At that, the IHC CJ observed that “committees were set up, assurances were given but no work was done”.

The premier replied that while he could not guarantee the recovery of all missing persons, he would leave no stone unturned in this matter.

At this point, Justice Minallah remarked a “former chief executive had accepted that making people go missing was a state policy.

“According to the Constitution, if a citizen goes missing, the state is responsible.”

The IHC CJ said that “making people go missing is akin to violating the Constitution”.

He further observed that in case of a person going missing, the chief executive of the province from where he disappeared was also responsible.

Justice Minallah said before the court’s decision in the case, the executive would have to make sure that no more persons would go missing.

“Action should be taken against those who have violated the Constitution,” he said, adding that “take the matters to parliament and legislate on them”. India and other countries did the same, he said.

‘No chief executive can say he is helpless’

The IHC CJ said making “people go missing is intolerable” and in case of enforced disappearances, the “court will hold the chief executive responsible”.

He said no entity was above the Constitution in this country, adding that this court would ensure civil supremacy, as well as the supremacy of the Constitution.

Justice Minallah asked PM Shehbaz whether the court should hold every member of the security council responsible for enforced disappearances.

“It is the state’s responsibility to satisfy the families in previous cases of missing persons,” he said.

The IHC CJ further stated that no one should go missing in the future, and the recovery of missing persons was the state’s job.

“The state has agencies and other resources; go and find them,” he said.

At that, Law Minister Azam Nazeer Tarar contended that it would not be right to ask authorities to conclude a 21-year-old case within two days.

“The government’s control on institutions and civil supremacy should be according to the Constitution,” remarked Justice Minallah. “How can this court believe the state is so weak that it cannot investigate?”

During the hearing, the law minister informed the court that the PM was scheduled to meet United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres at 10.30am today.

The court allowed PM Shehbaz to leave the hearing midway, stating that “it is your job to end enforced disappearances.

“No citizen should have any doubts about who picks them up. Prime minister sahib, this is an issue of national security. It is not a state within a state and neither does this court believe so. The Constitution is supreme and it will be followed.”

Justice Minallah said no chief executive could give the excuse of being helpless in the matter. “If you are giving this excuse, this means there’s a state within a state.”

“If anyone continues the policies of Gen Pervez Musharraf, they cannot say that they are helpless … [and] if the chief executive says intelligence agencies don’t come under him, he is deviating from the Constitution.”

The IHC CJ said any chief executive who believed so should resign.

“Your message is loud and clear,” PM Shehbaz replied before leaving.

Following that, the IHC CJ remarked that if the law continued to be violated, every chief executive would be responsible.

He continued: “Our tragedy is that whosoever is responsible says what can he do. Excuses are given that they don’t have the authority and others have it.

“If you cannot take the responsibility, step down from your post.”

“This court will consider the Constitution and then give a verdict,” he said and asked the AGP to present his arguments. “If you are prepared, give your arguments so that this court issues a judgement.”

Govt allowed more time

The AGP told the court he had consulted the law and interior ministers on the matter, besides speaking to the members of the committee formed on missing persons. “I even called Asad Umar and will meet the Senate chairman in person.”

“You have made the prime minister responsible; we will do our job,” he assured the court.

The AGP asked the court for some more time.

And “if we are unable to fulfil the responsibility, I would come and say that I have failed,” the he added.

For his part, the law minister maintained that a committee was constituted on missing persons so that “we can go to the bottom of the issue”.

He said he was hopeful about reaching a “logical conclusion” in the matter, but contended that the job at hand could not be completed within two days.

Requesting more time of two months, he said with the court monitoring the matter, there was a possibility of reaching a solution.

“But there are landmines in the way and we have to consider them as well,” he said.

Following that, PPP Senator Farhatullah Babar said parliament had legislated on enforced disappearances and sent the legislation to the executive in 2015.

“It was the executive’s job to either implement it or debate on why it should not be implemented,” he contended.

At that, Justice Minallah observed that the chief executive was also answerable to parliament.

“Are you saying that parliament could not get it implemented?” he questioned, adding that parliament could even remove a prime minister. “The court will not allow such a statement and let parliament be dishonoured.”

Law Minister Tarar, however, maintained that facts were different from these observations and again asked the court for eight to ten more weeks to introduce reforms in the criminal justice system.

After the petitioners agreed, the court granted the government more time and adjourned the hearing till November 14.

Justice Minallah also asked the law minister to inform the families of missing persons of a forum that they could approach at all times.

During the hearing, the Defence of Human Rights in Pakistan chairperson demanded that the government withdrew its pleas challenging verdicts in missing persons cases.

She also requested the interior minister to remove the chairperson of the commission on missing persons, Javed Iqbal.

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