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May 29, 2020

Civil society terms plane crash inquiry body a violation of international convention

Civil society activists and trade unionists at a candlelit vigil on Thursday said the inquiry commission on the Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) plane crash was a flagrant violation of the Chicago Convention on Air Accidents, and its findings would not be accepted.

The vigil was held outside the Karachi Press Club in the afternoon in memory of the passengers and crew members killed in the plane crash on May 22.

The participants offered condolences to the families of the 97 passengers and crew members killed in the tragic accident and demanded the establishment of an independent and impartial commission to inquire into the incident.

Nasir Mansoor, the secretary general of the National Trade Union Federation of Pakistan (NTUF), said that the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), PIA and the aviation ministry were rubbing salt into the wound with their inhumane and biased attitude and constantly hampering the investigation process.

“The PIA CEO had cast doubt on his impartiality by declaring that there was no technical glitch in the crashed plane well before any investigation,” Mansoor said. “Moreover, by nominating his parent institution's officials who were also juniors to him as members in the inquiry committee, it has made the transparency of the investigation completely unacceptable and even more dubious.”

Mansoor said that like previous several accidents, efforts had begun to save those responsible for the tragedy. He added that the investigation team had been formed in complete disregard of the Annex 13 of the Chicago convention on the investigation of air accidents. The inquiry team members were in no way qualified to ascertain the facts, he remarked.

According to the Chicago Convention, Appendix 13, 11th Edition, 2016, "A State shall establish an accident investigation authority that is independent of State aviation authorities and other entities that could interfere with the conduct or objectivity of an investigation.”

Mansoor stated that the organisational structure of the investigation committee was in direct violation of the convention. “Therefore, it has become necessary to set up an independent and impartial commission that can help bring justice to the bereaved in the light of the international conventions.”

Dr Sher Shah Syed, former secretary general of the Pakistan Medical Association, said those who lost their lives in the PIA plane crash should not be called martyrs because they were neither jihadists nor returning from pilgrimages.

“Plane crash victims were ordinary innocent and normal citizens who were returning from Lahore to Karachi by the plane,” he said. “Among them was a medical student, a very senior paediatrician, some soldiers and their families who were returning to celebrate Eid with their families, an anchor of a private TV channel, a young embryologist. These were all ordinary people.”

Addressing the PIA CEO, Syed said the aircraft was not able to land in the first try. “It is an act of shame that the CEO of PIA called a press conference and declared that everything is fine in PIA,” he stated, adding that “what kind of professionals are there who have failed to accept responsibility for this catastrophe and are blaming the dead?.”

Zulfiqar Shah, co-director of the Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research (Piler), said an impartial inquiry into the accident was impossible in the presence of the current head of the PIA. “As under the guise of the corona epidemic, they have suspended the basic rights of PIA employees by enforcing the Essential Services Act of the last century in clear violation of international labour laws and the country's constitution.”

Habibuddin Junaidi, president of the People's Labour Bureau, said it had become a habit of the PIA management to term any effort to identify technical glitches in planes a blackmailing bid.

Calling it criminal negligence, Khaliq Zardan, convener of the Lyari Awami Mahaz, expressed concern over failure to provide timely information to the families of the victims. “Unnecessary delays in the delivery of the dead bodies caused further distress to the bereaved families.”

Participants of the vigil unanimously demanded that an independent inquiry commission be constituted in accordance with the Chicago convention that should include workers and pilots' representatives. They further demanded that the PIA CEO and CAA head resign as no impartial inquiry was possible in their presence.

They also called for holding the Airbus, the plane manufacturer, accountable, alleging that the company neglected their legal responsibilities.

Human Rights Commission of Pakistan’s Asad Iqbal Butt, Szabist’s Dr Riaz Sheikh, PIA trade unionist Sheikh Majeed, Saeed Baloch of the Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum, Saira Khoro of the Home-Based Women Workers Federation, Mazdoor Kisan Party General Secretary Aslam Khokhar and rights activists Qazi Khizer were prominent among the participants.