On December 21, 2010 – after noticing the alarming increase in enforced disappearances in various countries in the world – the United Nations General Assembly expressed concern over the issue and passed Resolution 65/209.
Through this resolution, the UNGA not only welcomed the adoption of the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance but also decided to declare August 30 as the International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances.
Since then, all over the world, August 30 is observed for the disappeared. On this day, people across the globe stand in solidarity with the victims of such disappearances as well as the families of the missing. Human rights activists of various countries stage demonstrations and hold rallies in public places in order to remind their governments to fulfil their basic constitutional responsibilities; protect citizens and ensure their security. We too called upon our government in Pakistan to make efforts to locate missing persons and stop this inhuman crime from being practised.
Enforced disappearances is something successive governments have been unsuccessful to resolve. But the people have some hope now because Imran Khan (who is now the prime minister of Pakistan) had a very clear stance on this issue before he became the PM of the country. On many occasions, he had bravely claimed that he was among the first who stood for the ‘rights of missing persons’ and had frequently protested for their rights in front of parliament and at the National Press Club Islamabad. His past interviews also show that he had a very clear position on this critical issue.
Prime Minister Imran Khan’s opinion was absolutely right that in no situation whatsoever can people be made to disappear; this is a violation of their constitutional, legal and fundamental human rights. Khan had argued many times that the Supreme Court of Pakistan must do justice with the victims of enforced disappearances and bring the culprits before the court. We also remember when Khan had courageously stressed that those involved in enforced disappearances should be made accountable and called this practice extreme brutality. Stressing the importance of individuals’ rights to a fair trial, he had rightly said that the perpetrators involved in the enforced disappearances should not decide who is guilty and who is not. He had also claimed that he would resign as PM if this ever happened under his watch.
Now that Imran Khan is the country’s prime minister, people are hoping that he will remember his position and assertions on enforced disappearances and resolve this longstanding issue on a priority basis.
Sadly, there are still 1,828 cases pending before the Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances, including 1004 cases of the people missing from the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, Alone. People want to know that, among the disposed of cases (3462) by the commission, how many perpetrators have been made accountable? How many victims have been interviewed by the commission and in how many cases have the facts been investigated and recorded? Have there been any instances of ill-treatment? If yes, what has the commission done in this regard?
The latest statistics and facts shared by the commission shows that in a number of cases, after the disappeared persons were traced, the commission had found it best to hold that since the missing person had returned home, no further action was required and the case was therefore closed. There have been many cases where the commission recorded that the victims hesitated in sharing any information about their disappearance (for eg who abducted them, where they were kept etc). People are looking forward to the new government answering these and other important questions associated with the brutal practice.
Besides these national promises and responsibilities, we have also some international commitments to fulfil. Even in July 2017, the United Nations Human Rights Committee in its concluding observations on Pakistan’s initial report had shared its concerns with the government of Pakistan on the high ratio of incidents of enforced disappearances and secret detentions. Not only that, it had also urged that – being a state party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights – Pakistan specifically criminalise enforced disappearance in its domestic law; investigate cases of enforced disappearances and threat and intimidation to families of missing persons.
The challenges before Prime Minister Imran Khan are to remember and fulfil the promises he has made to the nation. On the day of the disappeared, we stood with the victims of enforced disappearances and demanded that the government make all efforts to find and release all missing persons and investigate and prosecute all the perpetrators. We also need to ratify the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, while also specifically criminalising enforced disappearances in our domestic law. The existing Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances needs to be further empowered so that it can look for those who are missing and also ensure that justice is served in their cases.
The writer is a Peshawar-based lawyer.