Pakistan Declared A World Leader In Number Of Enforced Disappearance Cases

Following a report by Islam Khabar, Pakistan has been named as a global leader in cases of enforced disappearances, as hundreds continue to disappear every month. Since 2001, over 8,000 people have gone missing and as of July 2022, 2,219 cases remain unsolved. U.N. working group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances is holding its 128th session from 19th to 28th September to examine 696 cases from 21 countries. So far, it has published its findings regarding the Czech Republic, Uruguay, and Mali with the rest of its findings due within the next few days.

According to the 1992 U.N. Declaration on the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, enforced disappearances occur when “persons are arrested, detained or abducted against their will… by officials of the government… followed by a refusal to disclose the fate or whereabouts of the persons concerned or a refusal to acknowledge the deprivation of their liberty.” Pakistan Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah has admitted to people going “missing” and said that this has tarnished the country’s image in the world and attracted serious questions from global organisations on Pakistan’s affairs. 

Forceful disappearances are a longstanding issue in Pakistan, beginning during the military dictatorship of General Pervez Musharraf. Those most at risk of enforced disappearances include people from Sindhi, Baloch, and Pashtun ethnicities, Shia Muslims, political activists, human rights defenders, members of various religious and nationalist groups, suspected members of armed groups, and proscribed religious and political organisations in Pakistan.

According to Amnesty International, some victims are openly taken into custody by the police or intelligence agencies, whilst their families are denied information about their whereabouts by the authorities. Occasionally, victims are eventually released or their whereabouts are disclosed to their families, but they continue to be held in arbitrary detention including in internment camps and face a high risk of torture and death. Earlier this year, former senator and ex-chairperson of the H.R.C.P., Afrasiab Khattak, formed a special committee which found the country’s intelligence agencies, notably the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), were involved in these enforced disappearances. 

Despite pledges of successive governments to criminalise the practice, progress has been slow. In 2011, the Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances was established, and a bill was passed in 2021 that criminalised the act. However, Pakistan Assembly also passed a law that the U.N. says discourages families from reporting cases. The law established penalties of up to five years in prison and one hundred thousand Pakistani rupees in fines for anyone found guilty of filing a complaint with false information.

Although Shireen Mazari, Pakistan’s Human Rights Minister, has requested the Prime Minister to sign the International Convention against Enforced Disappearance, Pakistan is still yet to sign or ratify the International Convention. The Pakistani government must do more, starting by holding itself accountable and signing and ratifying the convention. The state must investigate cases through the Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances, disclose the whereabouts and fate of missing persons and ensure all victims, including family members, are provided with reparation to address the harm that they have suffered.