The United Nations Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances has completed its first visit to Pakistan, meeting members of government, politicians, civil society organisations and relatives of the disappeared during its ten-day visit. Just the fact that the UN Working Group felt compelled to examine the issue in our country is disturbing. Till we first began to hear of them nearly a decade ago, ‘forced’ disappearances were generally associated with past dictatorships in Latin America, South East Asia and nations in Africa. In Pakistan, this is a new form of abuse – adding to the many others that exist. At a press conference on Thursday, the Chairman of the Working Group, Olivier de Frouville noted that cases of enforced disappearances continue to be reported to national authorities, but there are controversies both on figures and on the practices used. He also said some 500 disappearances were on the group’s radar. Based on their findings, Frouville and group member Osman El-Hajj, will submit a detailed report to the UN Human Rights Council in 2013. While recognising Pakistan’s security challenges, the Working Group emphasised that, according to the 1992 Declaration for Protection of All Persons against Enforced Disappearances, in no circumstances could enforced disappearances be justified.
Efforts by the government and the courts to tackle the problem were also appreciated by the UN mission. Last Thursday, the Supreme Court, while hearing the case, had rejected a report handed in by the Balochistan provincial government on the matter and stated that a weekly report would now be required. The UN experts also expressed agreement with human rights groups and the apex court that the powers of intelligence agencies needed to be contained. The UN visit has raised some controversy, with the government initially seeming nervous and some political parties fiercely opposing it. But given that the problem has continued now for so many years with no solution in sight, the intervention by the UN must be welcomed by all those who seek an end to forced disappearances. This is especially so in light of the problems that have risen in Balochistan as a result of this. It is true that abuses and atrocities also take place elsewhere in the world, but we must concentrate on ending them in our own country and mustering all the force we can to achieve this.