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Wednesday December 08, 2021

PPP calls for open debate on enforced disappearances amendment bill

June 25, 2021

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan People’s Party called for wider debate involving stakeholders on the he amendment bill introduced in the National Assembly ostensibly to curb the practice of enforced disappearances, saying that amendment bill will not end menace of enforced disappearances.

“The PPP cautions against rushing through the bill and it also demands that all stakeholders be invited to discussions in the relevant committee or to public hearings if they are held as provided in the rules of the parliament,” said Secretary General PPP Parliamentarians Farhatullah Babar in a statement on Thursday.

Babar said on June 7 about twenty legislative items were listed on the orders of the National Assembly and in the din of noise over the legislation for electronic voting machines (EVMs), an amendment bill introduced by the interior minister escaped public attention and scrutiny.

He said the bill sought to amend some provisions of the Pakistan Penal Code and the Code of Criminal Procedure but no speeches were made as it was quickly referred to the relevant committee. “As a result it escaped media and public attention as it lay buried in the pile of legislative agenda,” he said.

Farhatullah Babar said the amendment bill acknowledges the crime of enforced disappearance and defines it as “an unlawful or illegal deprivation of liberty by an agent of the state”. However, he said the absence of clarification about the mandate of intelligence agencies, allegedly behind the crime, has made it gravely problematic. “This clarification is critical as during hearings in cases of enforced disappearances before superior courts, the ISI claims to have ‘lawful’ authority to arrest persons engaged in anti-state activities even though there is no legislation about it,” he said, adding that it, therefore, remains a grey area that allows state agencies to cover up enforced disappearances.

He said enforced disappearances must be treated as a separate autonomous crime and a separate legal mechanism needs to be provided for taking up complaints, holding perpetrators accountable and providing for compensation to the aggrieved families. “The amendment bill does not meet these requirements,” he said.

The Secretary General PPP Parliamentarians said a holistic approach is needed. “Legislation needs to be made to determine the mandate of the ISI, provide guarantees that anyone deprived of liberty is kept at a fully authorized place of detention, provide protection to victims, their families and witnesses and also compensation to them,” he said.

Babar said ratification of the international convention for the protection of all persons against enforced disappearances should also form part of the new legal architecture to address the issue. “In mid 1960’s a military dictator made an amendment 2 (1) (d) in the Army Act to give powers to the army to investigate and try in military courts, even civilians, in some cases. Such a law does not exist even in India and Israel,” he said.

He said, “It was under this provision in the Army Act that human rights defender Idris Khattak remained disappeared for over 8 months until, as a result of national and international outcry, his custody was acknowledged by security agencies.”