PPP leader says govt had no idea at that time detention centres would become Abu Ghraib prisons of Pakistan
DHRPK Chairperson Amina Masood Janjua says missing persons have become notes, facts, petitions instead of humans
Panellists call for law to hold intelligence agencies accountable
LAHORE: Former senator and Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) leader Farhatullah Babar on Tuesday said there is hope that a law criminalising enforced disappearances will soon be drafted.
“At the last meeting, Human Rights Commission directed the law division to make a draft law. There are talks of the amendment in Section 365 of the Pakistan Penal Code.”
He said this during a discussion on ‘Claiming the Missing’ with legal advisor Reema Omer and Defence of Human Rights Pakistan (DHRPK) Chairperson Amina Masood Janjua, which was convened at the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS).
MISSING PERSONS OR ENFORCED DISAPPEARED?
The panellists were of the view that instead of calling them missing persons, they should be called enforced disappeared to highlight the gravity of the situation.
“I believe that the use of language is very significant when we talk of missing persons. I don’t like the term ‘missing’. It sounds very passive and does not take into account the involvement of state agents in these incidents. The term ‘enforced disappearances’ should be used more often because it conveys the brevity of the issue,” Reema said.
“Enforced disappearance can be defined as when someone within or associated with the state unlawfully abducts or conceals someone, moving them outside the ambit of law,” she added.
THE QUESTION OF CRIMINALITY:
The status of criminality of enforced disappearances in Pakistan is uncertain which poses a threat to the recovery of those who have gone missing.
“Enforced disappearances have become a national phenomenon. If we talk in a legal framework, then all of us deserve to go through a due process of law,” Reema said.
Reema went on to say that in many countries have legally criminalised enforced disappearances, however, in Pakistan abduction and unlawful confinement are considered crimes, but enforced disappearance is not particularly considered one.
She urged for the formulation of a legal framework in this regard so all those actors which are involved in forcefully abducting citizens are held accountable.
FACTS AND FIGURES:
Amina’s human rights organisation works to document cases of missing persons and provide legal aid to their families in these cases.
She claims that 2,500 cases have been registered by the human rights defence organisation. “The maximum cases are from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP). Punjab has the second highest and Sindh has the third highest number of cases. Then, there are cases from Balochistan, Islamabad and Kashmir.”
“We write down accounts and send them to the Supreme Court. 740 petitions have been accepted to date, 900 have been resolved and 300 are confined in internment centres. However, we know that about 60 have been custodially killed.”
“Lawyers are not interested in these cases because there’s no money. I am not a lawyer but I am fighting all of these cases.”
Reema said: “It is very hard to agree on a fixed number of forced disappearances in the last years because it’s essentially an allegation, a very strong one, against the state.”
Reema alleged that people can be detained in internment centres in Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) without any charge indefinitely.
However, Babar claimed that government initially set up these internment centres as a comprise with the security establishment.
“These centres were established so that security establishment could detain people there but under the ambit of law; everyone involved was supposed to be held accountable,” he said but regretted that this did not happen.
“We made a compromise. Under the FATA regulations and the Action in aid of civil power, internment centres were set up in Malakand and other northern areas. Of course, we had no idea at the time that they would become the Abu Ghraib prisons of Pakistan,” said Babar
ROLE OF PARLIAMENT:
Farhatullah Babar calls enforced disappearances “an issue of severe gravity”.
“In the last ten to fifteen years, not even one person from the state has been brought to justice. The parliament has failed, the SC has failed.”
“I find the total impunity of the state and the total apathy of the people towards these cases very disappointing.”
“As many as 51 mutilated bodies were found in Balochistan. When the Senate asked as to how many FIRs had been filed by relatives of the victims, the answer was none. Why? Because the citizens have been totally alienated from the state. They can’t trust the state or law enforcement agencies anymore.”
“When the Parliament asked for a copy of the law under which Inter-Services Intelligence operates, we were told it couldn’t be given because it was ‘secret and sensitive’. We failed to procure a copy of that law,” he remarked.
“However, we succeeded in setting up a commission on the enforced disappearances. Which was a step in the right direction, however ineffective it might have been.”
Amina Janjua’s husband went missing in 2005. In 2007, she visited the LUMS campus. Now, she has returned for the second time after more than a decade.
“I still don’t have my husband even after struggling for so long. So that’s a drawback.”
“I have three children who were young when my husband disappeared. Now, they are grown up. One of them is married.”
“There was somebody who was my husband, who would hug me, be affectionate with the children. Now, I don’t even know where he is. I don’t have any evidence if he’s alive or dead.”
“These were real people. Now they’ve become notes, facts, petitions. They’re anything but human.”
COMPENSATION AND SUSTENANCE:
Having worked closely with families of missing persons over the years, Amina highlighted the common issues they face: economic devastation, psychosocial insecurity and inefficacy of inheritance laws.
She claimed a person cannot be declared legally disappeared in Pakistan so his property cannot be transferred in his children’s name, adding that even if a person is recovered, the lost time cannot be compensated.
“But at least, the material loss can be addressed if they return,” she emphasised.
In 2013, the Supreme Court passed a judgement to provide monthly sustenance to families of those who have disappeared. However, Amina claims, the government has not respected the order.
Babar shared that the Islamabad High Court (IHC) had passed a landmark judgement pertaining to compensation in a missing person case.
“IHC ordered a permanent monthly compensation to the family. However, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government filed an appeal against the judgement which awaits a hearing.”
ROLE OF SUPREME COURT:
Amina commended the Supreme Court for its role in helping the cases of enforced disappeared.
“When former chief justice Iftikhar Chaudhary heard my husband’s case, I was allowed to speak and defend my case before the court.”
Earlier on September 26, Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Mian Saqib Nisar formed a special two-member bench comprising Justice Manzoor Ahmed Malik and Justice Sardar Tariq to study the reports submitted by Missing Persons Commission (MPC).
COMMISSION OF INQUIRY ON ENFORCED DISAPPEARANCES:
Founded in 2010, the Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances operates as a mediator with the intelligence agencies in cases pertaining to enforced disappearances. It is headed by Javed Iqbal, who also heads the National Accountability Bureau (NAB).
However, Amina claims the MPC operates as nothing more than a “courier office”.
“They claim to have resolved cases but they haven’t.”
Babar claims that the commission has not filed a single case against the accused.
“Why should it keep on getting extensions? It is important to bring the accused to justice so that crimes do not keep on repeating themselves.”
“Parliament worked on the law under which it operates. It gave the commission power to investigate and prosecute the agents behind the crimes. This was also conveyed to the chairman but there has been no development.”
WHAT IS THE SOLUTION?
According to Babar, the issue pertaining to enforced disappearances cannot be solved without “consistent, painstaking and long struggle”.
“It is important to make intelligence agencies accountable to law otherwise the struggle will remain fruitless. There is a grave imbalance of power between the civil and the military in Pakistan which needs to be corrected. ”
However, Babar claimed that at the last meeting of the Human Rights Commission, the commission on enforced disappearances admitted that 152 functionaries who are behind these abductions have been identified.
“It was not shared if they belonged to law enforcement or intelligence agencies.”
Amina said she had met Human Rights Minister of Pakistan Shireen Mazari in Islamabad.
“Mazari assured me that the government is drafting an anti-disappearance law,” she said.
Amina said that the issue needs to be tackled in a unified way.
“We need to leave our comfort zones and raise voices in the streets. I can die but I will not give up,” she stressed.