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Significant progress made on missing persons issue in 2012

December 30, 2012

Unlike the previous few years the year 2012 brought hopes for Khan Said and hundreds of other family members of “missing persons” as several steps were taken in this regard by the judiciary as well as other organisations, including the UN Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances (WGEID) and Amnesty International.

Khan Said, whose son Noor Said went missing near Peshawar general bus stand on June 20, 2009, stated that his son was taken into custody by the law-enforcement agencies and he had still been missing.

“This year has brought hopes for my family as hundreds of detainees were shifted to internment centres and several others had been set free by the law-enforcement and intelligence agencies,” he said.

Khan Said believed that if the Peshawar High Court continued to deal with these cases with same vigour the whereabouts of his son would also be known soon. Belonging to Abbaskhel area in Hangu district, he said that his son’s wife Ms Shakia had challenged his illegal detention in the high court, which ordered registration of an FIR in the case.

When the year started Chief Justice Dost Mohammad Khan had announced that 2012 would be the year of recovery of missing persons. A two-member bench of the high court, headed by the chief justice, in January had expressed displeasure over increasing cases of missing persons and directed the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa governor and chief minister to convene a joint meeting of Peshawar corps commander, inspector general of Frontier Corps and regional heads of intelligence agencies for resolving this issue in a legal manner.

The bench had stated that the high-ups should evolve a legal solution to the issue of missing persons as the court could not allow continuation of such illegalities.

On the high court orders the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa chief secretary in May directed the civil administration and police to ensure that they should not arrest and detain a person and ingress private dwellings without proper sanction of law.

The chief secretary in his order stated “As sanctity of human rights which includes protection of life, liberty and dignity of citizens is the primary responsibility of the government, any violations in this regard be dealt with strictly under the relevant penal and administrative laws.” The court had directed the chief secretary to ask his subordinate departments not to assist the intelligence agencies in illegal detentions.

On several occasions the court directed the chief secretary and secretary home and tribal affairs department to convene a meeting of law-enforcement and intelligence agencies and shift detainees to internment centre if evidence was available against them, and if not then set them free. Subsequently, the home department in June informed the court that around 1,035 detainees were released by the security forces on the orders of the court whereas 895 were shifted to internment centers in Malakand region.

Later on, in December the court was informed that 260 suspected militants were shifted to internment centres and 86 others would undergo de-radicalisation from next month.

The issue of “missing persons” came into international focus when the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances (WGEID) conducted a 10-day visit to Pakistan, which concluded on Sept 20.

On conclusion of visit the WGEID had released preliminary findings and recommendations. The group had recommended that as a preventive measure against enforced disappearance, any person deprived of liberty shall be held in an officially recognised place of detention and be brought promptly before a judicial authority.

The Amnesty International also launched its report in December, stating that “Millions are locked in perpetual lawlessness in Pakistan’s northwestern tribal areas, where human rights abuses committed by the armed forces and Taliban are beyond the reach of justice.” Investigations into such cases are rare and ineffective even when they do take place.

The AI’s deputy director for Asia Pacific, Polly Truscott,  stated that fundamental human rights protections guaranteed in Pakistan’s constitution are not enforceable in tribal areas, which are still governed under the colonial-era Frontier Crimes Regulation.

The Taliban and other armed groups continue to pose a deadly threat to Pakistani society – thousands have been killed in indiscriminate attacks.

“The Taliban have time and again shown complete disregard for civilian lives by these deliberate attacks,” he stated.

Advocate Arif Jan, who has been appearing in several cases of missing persons, said that the courts had to keep up the momentum set by it for recovery of these people.