Islamabad, International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances (August 30) holds particular relevance to Pakistan because the phenomenon euphemistically called the “missing persons issue” is entrenched in the country, said a statement issued by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) on Wednesday.
The HRCP and the joint action committee of civil society and human rights activists also rallied at the Karachi Press Club to protest against enforced disappearances. A large number of rights advocates, political workers and the victims’ families participated in the demonstration, expressing their concerns over the apparent increase in citizens, mainly members of Sindhi political parties, going missing.
Carrying placards and banners, the protesters chanted slogans against enforced disappearances and demanded that the families of the “missing persons” be informed about their whereabouts.
They said a number of peaceful political workers, writers, philosophers, journalists and students had gone missing across the province, adding that no one from the provincial government or the police department took responsibility of “illegal detentions” or had a clue of their whereabouts.
HRCP Sindh Vice-Chairperson Asad Iqbal Butt said the province’s civil society was gravely concerned about frequent reports of “citizens being whisked away by law enforcers”. “Most of them are not presented in court, and the law enforcement agencies are not disclosing their whereabouts. It is a worrisome trend.”
Other prominent participants of the rally included Shireen Ijaz of the HRCP, Ellahi Baksh Baloch of the Strengthening Participatory Organisation, Saeed Baloch of the Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum, and rights activists Abubakkar Yousafzai, Abdul Wahab Baloch and Abida Ali.
Meanwhile, the HRCP statement stressed it was high time that Pakistan took robust measures to end the illegal practice of enforced disappearances and bring the perpetrators to book.
The rights body said International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances “serves to remind us that despite a large number of disappearances coming to light, not a single person has been held to account for perpetrating such heinous actions”.
“It is a matter of equally grave concern that disappearances continue in Pakistan today, as is apparent from the information released by the officially constituted Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances (CIED).
“There is a wide range in estimates of the overall number of cases. But even taking the most conservative estimates, a significant number of disappearances remain unresolved in the country.
“The cases reported to the CIED also demonstrate that the incidence is truly nationwide, having spread to areas where it had not been reported from earlier, including Sindh, where political activists have largely been targeted.
“In Sindh, those campaigning against disappearances are now themselves becoming victims. In Punjab too, ZeenatShahzadi, who raised her voice for victims of disappearances became one herself. She remains missing two years after being picked up from near her house in Lahore in August 2015.
“The HRCP regrets that the Pakistani government has not implemented the recommendations made by the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances (WGEID) after its visit to Pakistan in 2012 and subsequently as well.
“In its second Universal Periodic Review (UPR), the Pakistani government had accepted a recommendation to specifically criminalise enforced disappearances. However, no concrete steps have been taken so far to make disappearances a distinct and autonomous crime.
“Criminal complaints in cases of disappearances, where registered by the police, continue to be filed under general criminal law provisions related to abductions or wrongful confinement. Other recommendations accepted by Pakistan, but not implemented, include strengthening of the CIED and bringing the perpetrators to justice.
“The HRCP calls upon the prime minister to take all necessary steps to implement all of the WGEID recommendations and the relevant recommendations accepted by Pakistan in its UPR.”
The rights body particularly urged the premier to “make enforced disappearances a distinct and autonomous crime under the criminal law, order all state agencies to cooperate in the recovery of all missing persons and desist from abducting citizens, keeping them in secret detention or killing them and dumping their dead bodies, and end the widespread impunity for enforced disappearances”.
The statement said the earliest possible start of proceedings against any state functionaries involved would contribute to giving the people some hope of getting justice.
The body also urged the government to ratify the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, arrange compensating missing persons’ families suffering for years, and ensure desisting from making laws impacting legalising forms of secret, unacknowledged and incommunicado detention.The News