Sunday January 23, 2022

Still missing

December 05, 2021

The problem of tracking and releasing ‘missing’ people and holding accountable those who were responsible for their abduction has proven beyond the capabilities of every government. Even years or decades after the problem first began to be discussed in public, and at various forums, at least 7,000 people remain missing in the country. This is the number of complaints received by the UN Working Group on Enforced Disappearances from Pakistan. Human rights groups and others working for the rights of those who have been forcibly picked up or made missing by unknown agents, say the number is much higher. In Balochistan, groups claim that over 10,000 people are missing in that province alone. There is no way of ascertaining what the true figure is. The Commission of Enquiry into Enforced Disappearances set up by the PTI government has claimed it has resolved thousands of these cases, with the number of 6047 out of 8279 cases also being put out. However, others claim there has been no resolution and no effective investigation into what has become a massive problem. Pakistan has joined those countries of the world where an extremely large number of people are missing and removed from their families. The fact that their families do not know the truth, sometimes for decades, makes matters even worse for them.

One can only imagine the anguish of those who have had their loved ones ripped apart from them, not knowing where they are or even if they are still alive. The families of people who have gone missing or been ‘disappeared’ have been campaigning for years to try and locate them but have met with little success. Recently the Islamabad High Court, under Chief Justice Athar Minallah, heard the case of Mudassar Naaru, a journalist and blogger who has been missing since 2018. During this period, his wife has passed away and his son, now four years old, is an orphan. At the hearing, Justice Minallah had called Law Minister Shireen Mazari among others, and suggested that at the very least, compensation be paid to the families of the missing.

Pakistan is not a signatory to the UN Convention on Enforced Disappearances, primarily because the law on such disappearance has yet to be passed in the country. Despite the many promises of the PTI government, it has done nothing more than governments before it. While no one is sure exactly who is responsible for abducting these people, many of the families hold the state responsible for their ultimate fate, with some theories also pointing to non-state militant actors contributing to the number of the missing. There can be no arguing the fact that it is the state’s duty to protect the life and liberty of every Pakistani citizen and that it has failed in this duty. Many of those picked up are from poor and vulnerable communities or are politically active students. Their disappearances have a chilling effect on minority groups, activists and the disenfranchised. This issue needs to be resolved, people found and allowed to join their families if possible, or if this is no longer possible, at the very least, closure offered to these families. Pakistan needs to decide if it is going to be a country that respects rule of law and observes due process. It is not good enough to accuse those who are picked up of being anti-Pakistan. If they are guilty of breaking the law, then they can only be punished in a court of law after having the right to defend themselves. Our legal and moral duty requires that each and every person who is missing be tracked down and either produced in court or allowed to return home safely. Anything less is an abdication of the state’s duty to its citizens.