Wednesday December 07, 2022

Committee finalising proposals on missing persons issue

September 13, 2022

ISLAMABAD: A ministerial committee, led by Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah and comprising all stakeholders, is now in the process of firming up its proposals to address the issue of missing persons.

Sources said that the committee, which includes ministers from Balochistan and former FATA, has held meetings with relatives of missing persons, representatives of security agencies and relevant government departments to evolve a strategy to address the issue of missing persons without compromising security aspects.

Sources said the committee, which was formed following the Islamabad High Court order of referring the matter to the cabinet for solution, has held six meetings so far. The committee, it is said, also recently visited Quetta to meet relatives of missing persons, who have been holding a sit-in for several weeks. It persuaded them to end their protest and promised to address the issue.

A source, who is privy to discussions taking place between the committee and stakeholders, told this correspondent that the effort aims to find a legal solution which is practiced in the developed world, meets security challenges and solves the issue on a permanent basis.

The security establishment has also been engaged and it also wants some legal way out to address the issue, which besides causing serious issues of human rights has also become an embarrassment, both to successive governments and the agencies.

The committee is expected to come up with a solution focused on how to deal with the situation, so that neither the dangerous suspects of terrorism and anti-state activities get space to operate nor the agencies misuse their power or arrest any innocent person.

The discussions have even been held in the National Security Committee meeting, which has the representation of top civil-military leadership and security agencies. Both civil government and security establishment agree that some legal solution to the problem should be evolved without compromising the security aspect but ensuring that no person goes missing. However, what should be the solution, it will be recommended by the committee.

Different options have been discussed, like making it mandatory for the agencies to produce the person before court within 48 hours and a parliamentary oversight to regularly monitor the reasoning or justification for those taken into custody. It was admitted that some innocent people are also picked up and go missing because of wrong intelligence reports or misuse of authority by the agencies’ personnel but the majority is seriously found dangerous to society and in case they are set free, it could lead to terrorism and subversion.

The committee will recommend changes in the law the government needs to make to end the phenomenon of missing persons. Will the agencies get the power to arrest? How would the parliament or any other government body regulate and monitor such arrests by agencies? These are difficult questions being deliberated by the committee.

Under pressure from courts and civil society, the PTI government had tabled a bill in the parliament to criminalise enforced disappearances with 10-year imprisonment for anyone found guilty of it. A new Section 52-B (enforced disappearance) was proposed to be inserted into PPC after Section 52-A. The proposed section stated, “the term “enforced disappearance” relates to the arrest, detention, abduction or any other form of deprivation of liberty by an agent of the state or by a person or group of persons acting with authorisation, support or acquiescence of the state, followed by a refusal to acknowledge the deprivation of liberty or by concealment of the fate or whereabouts of the disappeared person, which place such a person outside the protection of the law.” However, the bill could not be legislated.