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April 18, 2021

High court laments absence of legislation for dealing with enforced disappearances

Karachi

April 18, 2021

The Sindh High Court (SHC) has recently observed that incidents of missing persons and enforced disappearances greatly undermine the rule of the law and people’s confidence in the state.

Hearing a petition against enforced disappearance of government employee Mohamad Nadeem, who went missing from the Liaquatabad area on February 24, 2015, a division bench of the SHC headed by Justice Mohammad Karim Khan Agha observed that the right to life was the most precious of all the fundamental rights of the citizens protected by the Constitution.

The high court observed that it was duty of the state to ensure that such rights were protected and that the enforced disappearances were put to an end as Pakistan was a democratic country which was governed under a constitution with Islamic provisions, which absolutely prohibited such illegal actions.

The bench observed that the state had the power and ability to prevent such practices of enforced disappearances and to pass appropriate legislation in this regard.

The SHC made it clear that under no circumstances, the country should descend to the position of some countries in Latin America in the 1970s and 1980s where people were regularly forcibly disappeared by the state apparatus. The bench observed that such practices were prohibited under the constitution which protected its citizens from such illegal actions. The high court also observed that the onus rested with the federal government to put an end to the illegal enforced disappearances which caused nothing but heartburn and misery to the citizens.

The SHC expressed serious concern over lack of legislation in respect of criminality for those involved carrying out enforced disappearances in the country. It added that even if appropriate legislation could not be passed, the government had in recent times been legislating liberally through presidential ordinances on lesser matters of importance and hence, an appropriate ordinance could be passed to criminalise enforced disappearances.

The high court took serious exception to the failure of the ministry of interior to file comments with regard to the presence of detainees at the internment centres despite court directions. The SHC observed that the interior secretary had been directed to collect reports from concerned quarters with regard to the whereabouts of the missing person but no report was filed.

The bench issued a show-cause notice to the federal interior secretary as to why he should not be proceeded with contempt of court for violating the court orders. The high court observed that the interior secretary had also been directed to produce the list of internment centres in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa as well as the names of detainees detained in those centres so that the court could identify if any person was held there whose case of disappearance was pending before the court.

The SHC observed that the case of a missing person was pending since February 2015 but no substantial progress had been made as only a stereotypical report was filed by the investigation officer.

The court issued notices to the ministry of human rights secretary to inform the court whether Pakistan was a party to any United Nations (UN) convention concerning enforced disappearances or any other such convention and what reports, if any, it had filed in this regard to the UN’s human rights committee or any other body concerning enforced disappearances. The secretary was also directed to inform the court about whether there were any other bodies under the government’s control dealing with human rights.