LAHORE: The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) on Tuesday expressed reservations concerning the recently-passed Criminal Laws (Amend­ment) Bill 2022.

The commission says that while the amendment acknowledges the crime of enforced disappearance and defines this as “unlawful or illegal deprivation of liberty by an agent of the state,” it does not address the need for a new legal architecture extending civilian oversight of these very agents.

It says such a provision is central to any effective legislation to curb enforced disappearances, given the thousands of allegations and testimonies that hold state agencies responsible for this practice.

The HRCP says legislation to determine the mandate of state agencies is also necessary, given that an agency has claimed in front of superior courts to have had ‘lawful’ authority to arrest persons accused of “anti-state activities.” Additionally, the bill does not address the question of reparations to victims and their families, nor does it address the accountability of perpetrators, it adds.

The commission demands that enforced disappearances must be treated as a separate, autonomous crime. Any legislation to curb this practice, it says, must provide guarantees that anyone deprived of their liberty is kept in a fully-authorised place of detention and the victims, their families and witnesses provided protection in case of reprisals. Pakistan must also sign and ratify the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, it demands.

HRCP also believes that laws allowing the military to investigate and try civilians should be amended. It is no mere coincidence that human rights defender Idris Khattak — who ‘disappeared’ for eight months and then acknowledged by security agencies to be in their custody — was convicted under the Army Act 1952, it says.

Published in Dawn, October 26th, 2022

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