ISLAMABAD: A petition was moved in the Supreme Court on Wednesday against the illegal and unlawful practice of enforced disappearances in Pakistan, asking the apex court to direct provincial governments to submit a list of ‘missing persons’ in the custody of the state authorities as well as seek a report identifying law enforcement agencies involved in the heinous practice.
Filed by Advocate Sardar Latif Khosa on behalf of Barrister Aitzaz Ahsan, the plea regretted the recent surge in enforced disappearances and “reappearances” of citizens, particularly those part of the PTI led by former prime minister Imran Khan.
According to the petition, victims of enforced disappearances include journalists, politicians, bureaucrats and other dissenting voices. The petition also highlighted the months-long disappearance of Imran Riaz Khan, who went missing in May and was “recovered” in September.
In similar instances, former lawmakers Sheikh Rashid, Farrukh Habib, Sadaqat Ali Abbasi, and Usman Dar went missing for weeks, only to “re-appear” in talk shows/press conferences delivering statements from a predictable script, the petition said, adding the same fate befell bureaucrats Azam Khan and Muhammad Ahmad Bhatti. “These are a handful of known victims,” the petition said, adding the number of total victims was unknown.
Aitzaz’s plea seeks production of missing PTI men and others within a month; wants law enforcers involved in practice to be unmasked
It said the purpose of these practices was to intimidate and create an atmosphere dominated by fear; therefore, the court should fix the hearing of the case as early as possible, preferably in the week commencing from Oct 30.
It also sought a writ of habeas corpus for the release of all disappeared persons in the custody of the state and order that all such disappeared persons be produced within a month before respective high courts, vested with the constitutional mandate to determine the fate of such persons.
The petition argued that the Supreme Court has been tasked with upholding, protecting, and defending fundamental rights. Enforced disappearances violate various provisions of the Constitution, including articles 4, 9, 10, 14, 19 and 25, it added.
“Surely as the guardian of fundamental rights guaranteed under the Constitution, the apex court will not look the other way, while the state acts with total impunity,” the petition said.
According to the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, an enforced disappearance is the “arrest, detention, abduction or any other form of deprivation of liberty by agents of the state or by persons or groups 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 place such a person outside the protection of the law”.
The plea also referred to a statement made by caretaker Prime Minister Anwaarul Haq Kakar, in which he had claimed that as per a “sub-committee of the United Nations, about 50 people have been forcibly disappeared in Balochistan”.
“This claim is not backed by the official figures. Even otherwise, since the caretaker prime minister had accepted — it raises the question where were these people, which detention facilities have they been kept in, under what law have they been detained, and why were they not being produced before a court of law?” questioned the plea.
According to the petition, the UN Working Group on Enforced Disappearances in its 2023 report had stated that it “continues to be concerned at the recurrent and numerous allegations of enforced disappearances” in the country.
Between Sept 29, 2022, and Feb 10, 2023, the UN Working Group transmitted 481 cases of enforced disappearances under its urgent procedure to Pakistan, the petition said, adding that actions of the state “trampled on the fundamental rights of citizens”.
In an ostensible reference to the crackdown on the PTI, the petition said each passing day, citizens “disappear” only to “re-appear” after they publicly express support for the state narrative.
The petition stated that the Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances “does not adequately comply with legal and international standards” besides the authority should ensure legal and international standards in formation of the commission, so that the amount spent out of the national exchequer for its expenses should be accounted for.
Published in Dawn, October 26th, 2023