Saturday September 23, 2023

The missing

By Editorial Board
July 07, 2022

Everything one needs to know about the issue of ‘missing persons’ in Pakistan can be learnt by the fact that a law made regarding the issue itself went ‘missing’ – and has still not been found. While Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif has said that the current government would bring in legislation – which hopefully won’t go missing – on missing persons, the sorry saga continues unabashedly. The cabinet’s sub-committee on missing persons has also reiterated its commitment to resolve the issue of missing persons as soon as possible. The Islamabad High Court has taken up the issue seriously over the past few weeks and has said that formation of committees on missing persons is ‘appreciable but not enough’. The IHC has also hinted at asking the prime minister about actions taken against those involved in enforced disappearances. The IHC has directed the federal government to trace five missing persons by September 9, failing which the prime minister will have to appear before the court in person. The court has been told that out of 8,400 missing persons, 600 are still missing. However, unofficial numbers of missing persons are quite high. Over the last few decades, we have seen the plight of missing persons’ families across the country. The anguish, the pain that the families of missing persons go through is something most people in the country cannot relate to. These families have been out on the roads, sitting outside protesting in extreme weather conditions, walking or travelling hundreds, if not thousands, of miles to ask for justice. They keep knocking on one door or another, run from pillar to post, just to see and hear about their loved ones.

There have been numerous petitions in various courts across Pakistan seeking the recovery of missing persons but the state of Pakistan has failed to fulfill its constitutional obligations. A normal tendency of attorneys and deputy attorneys appearing on behalf of the government is to seek an adjournment of proceedings on different pretexts. Ministers and other top officials try their best to request an exemption from appearing in court. They have also failed to comply with court orders at various times. Ultimately, it is the responsibility of the chosen representatives of the people to look into this matter. In a recent statement, Federal Human Rights Minister Riaz Pirzada tried to absolve his ministry by citing the involvement of neighbouring countries in cases of missing persons. Such statements belie a callous disengagement with missing persons and their families. Unfortunately, when in opposition, we see all political parties raising the issue but as soon as they come to power, we barely even see lip-service over this vital issue. It is pertinent to recall the lacklustre role of the Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances under former NAB chairman Justice (r) Javed Iqbal. The IHC ruling appears to have pushed wheels into some kind of motion. The question is whether the government has the will power and the strength to resolve the issue of missing persons once and for all.

The obvious riposte to most excuses regarding missing persons is that we have a system of laws that lays out a process for dealing with violent criminals. They are meant to be arrested, charged and then put on trial. Allowing these laws to be bypassed is not only illegal, but also means that many innocent people may get caught up in the dragnet. Many of the families do not know why their loved ones have been targeted and feel they are the victims of a systemic vendetta. To ascertain the truth of their claims, it is vital that every person receives a chance to prove their innocence in court, as laid down by our constitution. Everyone, no matter how guilty they are believed to be, deserves a day in court if our constitution is to have any meaning. Our courts have tried to uphold this constitutional principle, but more difficult hurdles remain if justice is to be served.