PML-N has reneged on its promise to legislate on forced disappearance


The Promise

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif promised in February 2012 that when in power his party would enact legislation on missing persons.  He had also promised that when in power they would recover all the missing persons.

Background

During the last tenure of PPP government, voices coming from almost all quarters spoke against forced disappearances especially linked to the insurgency in Balochistan.

In one of the sit-ins arranged by the Defense of Human Rights, Nawaz Sharif promised to bring in a resolution followed by law to curb the activities of the security agencies about picking up people on the premise of security threat.  The resolution was tabled in March 2012 in Parliament, which was unanimously adopted by the house.  A committee was also formed with the mandate to submit a report on missing persons within two months from the formation of the committee.

Pakistani security forces have been battling extremist and militant groups since the country joined the U.S.-led war on terror in 2001. Critics allege the anti-terrorism operations have resulted in thousands of Pakistanis being detained by state security institutions, without their whereabouts and health conditions being revealed to family members or attorneys.

Human rights experts believe that disappearances, extrajudicial killings, torture in custody and arbitrary detentions have been given legal and constitutional coverage by the government. Through the Pakistan Protection Ordinance, amendments to the Anti-Terrorist Act 1997, and the formation of military courts for summary trials, law enforcement agencies have been given unbridled powers to make arrests, keep persons in incommunicado, and shoot on sight.

A government-appointed inquiry commission has been investigating the complaints since March 2011.

Of more than 3,500 cases it had received as of July 2016, around 2,100 have been resolved. The remaining nearly 1,400 include 500 cases the Commission has received in the past seven months, according to officials.

According to the Pakistan Muslim League (N) spokesperson in Balochistan, Anwar-ul-Haq, there are fewer than 50 cases of missing persons in Balochistan.

Maryum Aurangzeb, the Federal Information Minister, declined to share the data due to the paucity of time.

Data shared by Defense for Human Rights (DHR), a Pakistani NGO working on forced disappearance under the leadership of Amna Janjua, is as follows:

Total missing persons as registered by DHR: 2,353

Still missing: 1,222

Traced persons: 141

Released: 291 (Released by security forces after interrogation or through courts’ orders)

Dead: 49

Released in last 10 years: 650

While talking to Truth Tracker Janjua deplored the negligence of the government and said that she was shocked when on April 28, 2014, during the sit-in arranged by her organization, the government resorted to baton charge to disperse the crowd.  It was the first and only experience of police brutality against the activists raising their voices against forced disappearance.

“As far as the promise is concerned, PML-N has lost interest, to say nothing of its promise, in the forced disappearance matter.  Chaudhry Nisar, the Interior Minister, had only met me once in all these years, and that for hardly three minutes,” said Janjua.

Talking about the commission, Janjua stated, “The commission is meaningless thing. We have yet to see one report. Practical measures are needed to curb the missing person issue.”

Check

To track the promise made by the government, Truth Tracker talked to Khawaja Asif, the Minister of Defense.  Asif said he did not remember if any such promise was ever made by the government. He said that there was no need to have any new law; the existing laws are enough to handle missing persons’ issue.

However, he suggested that a structure should be made within the legal system to produce the disappeared person before a magistrate or any competent authority as soon as possible.

When Truth Tracker placed the same question to the PML-N spokesperson in Balochistan, Anwar-ul-Haq, he said that when in opposition, parties tend to look at the situation from a populist point of view, however, when the parties come into government they get into governance mode, which means more realism and less rhetoric.  “I do not think the issue of the forced disappearance is as strong as is being shown by the liberal forces in the country,” said Haq.

The former President Balochistan Chapter from Pakistan Tahreek-e-Insaaf, Qasim Suri, told Truth Tracker that the government had done nothing to either recover the missing persons or legislate against this illegal practice.

“Even today, one can see camps of the relatives of the missing persons outside Balochistan press club,” Suri said. “The issue is when security agencies become stronger than the government, there is very little that could be done.”

General hatred exists among the Baloch toward the security establishment, Suri said.  He stressed that the government is not interested in the issue of the forced disappearance and has given up on the security establishment.

Liaquat Baloch, Secretary General of Jamaat-e-Islami, said that the government had forgotten its promise about missing persons.  He regretted that people were still being picked up and there was no one to raise a voice on their behalf in the government.

However, even if the existing laws were implemented properly, the issue of forced disappearance could be mostly resolved.  “When state’s institutions break the rule of law or use rules on whims, it breeds intolerance and extremism among the people,” said Baloch.

Independent Viewpoints

Secretary Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, I.A. Rehman, told Truth Tracker that HRC had asked the government to criminalize enforced disappearance through a statute, but he said nothing has been done so far.

The commission does nothing except put out a monthly report, Rehman said.  The situation is getting worse in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, he said.

“The general impression is that the government does not want to meddle in the affairs of the security establishment. The government is more interested in saving their interest than serving the people,” said Rehman.

Rashid Rehman, renowned journalist and former Editor Daily Times, said to Truth Tracker that no government has ever been interested in resolving this issue.  “The kill and dump policies of the FC in Balochistan is still rampant, and there is no cure to it.”

Security agencies he said are “working with impunity, while the government seems to have no control over the situation,” said Rashid.

Ruling

From the data provided by groups to Truth Tracker, it is clear that the government has taken no interest in this issue – either to make a law to tackle the disappearance issue or to recover the missing persons as it had promised in 2012 therefore the promise is broken.

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