ISLAMABAD: An event held to mark the International Day of Enforced Disappearances on Tuesday rang out with calls to introduce legislation to ensure that limits were imposed on state institutions, and former lawmakers and activists demanded that laws that lay down boundaries for the functioning of intelligence agencies should be introduced.

A large number of human rights activists, politicians and lawyers gathered outside the office of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) to demand that the state must act against those involved in enforced disappearances.

Former PPP senator Farhatullah Babar said a new legal architecture was needed to tackle the problem of enforced disappearances, and bringing the intelligence apparatus under the ambit of the law should be its central pillar.

He said that security agencies should provide guarantees that those deprived of liberty are kept at an authorised place of detention; and that victims, their families and witnesses should be provided protection and compensation.

Farhatullah Babar terms formation of Ministerial Subcommittee ‘step in right direct

He lamented that while laws prohibiting illegal abduction and detention exist, under which thousands of FIRs have already been registered, there is no progress on them since the actors involved seem to be ‘above the law’.

He recalled how, in Dec 2015, the Senate Committee of the Whole made nearly half a dozen proposals for legislation on the role of security and intelligence agencies, adding that rules the government should have either implemented the recommendations or reverted back to the Senate with reasons of why it could not implement them.

“The Commission on Enforced Disappearances has also failed miserably. In not one case has it been able to prosecute a perpetrator of the crime. The commission should be disbanded and a new one set up.

Mr Babar said that an inadequate Bill was moved in the National Assembly in June 2021 to address the issue, but even that bill seems to have disappeared.

“The setting up of a Ministerial Subcommittee by the present government on the issue is a step in the right direction,” Mr Babar said, adding that he expected the subcommittee to propose comprehensive legislation in consultation with all stakeholders. “Enforced disappearances must be treated as a separate, autonomous crime,” he suggested.

Speaking on the occasion, HRCP Coordinator for Islamabad region Nasreen Azhar said there was credible evidence to suggest that state institutions were involved in the practice of enforced disappearances. She recalled that such crimes began to surface in the 1990s, but became widespread after 9/11.

Defence of Human Rights’ Amina Masood Janjua said that enforced disappearances were a grave crime, which must be taken very seriously.

“The involvement of certain powerful state institutions in this practice has been established, but unfortunately, the state has failed to hold them accountable for their unlawful actions. The Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances has also miserably failed to achieve its objective,” she said.

Human Rights Advocate Imaan Mazari Hazir briefed the participants about the incidents of enforced disappearances of Baloch students and ongoing efforts for their safe recovery.

Published in Dawn, August 31st, 2022

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