Turning down a Foreign Office request, Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry has declined to meet a UN delegation investigating enforced disappearances, saying the matter is sub judice.
A two-member team of the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances arrived in Pakistan on Monday for a 10-day mission to investigate the issue of missing persons.
The Supreme Court office received two letters from the ministry of foreign affairs, informing them that the UN delegation was visiting Pakistan at the invitation of the Pakistan government and would be in Islamabad on September 18-19, according to a press release.
The delegation expressed its desire to meet with Justice Chaudhry, and the foreign ministry supported the meeting.
“Through a letter dated 10.9.2012 of this court, the ministry of foreign affairs was informed that as the cases of missing persons are pending before this court; therefore, propriety demanded that the chief justice of Pakistan may not discuss the matter which is sub judice,” the press release stated. “Therefore, regrets were conveyed to the ministry expressing the inability of the chief justice of Pakistan to receive the UN delegation.”
During their 10-day mission, the team will tour all provincial headquarters and hold meetings with political leaders, government officials, civil society organisations and rights campaigners to gather information on cases of enforced disappearances. The experts will analyse and review the measures adopted by Pakistan to address the issue.
The UN team’s arrival also sparked a debate during Monday’s session of the National Assembly, during which parliamentarians dubbed the fact-finding exercise a “threat to the country’s sovereignty.”
However, Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar welcomed the delegation, insisting it would improve Pakistan’s image worldwide.
She also briefed the two-member group, led by Chair-Rapporteur Oliver de Frouville, about steps the government had taken to address the issue of missing persons during a meeting at the Foreign Office here on Tuesday.
“The elected government takes the issue of disappearances very seriously and is making all efforts to strengthen domestic mechanisms to address this humanitarian issue and ensure rule of law in the country,” Khar said, adding that an independent judiciary, free media and vibrant civil society were in the vanguard of national efforts to address the issue.
The foreign minister hoped that the UN working group would reflect in its report the commitment of the government and efforts of the independent judiciary, free media and civil society for the protection of human rights in Pakistan.
The members of the working group thanked Khar for receiving them and appreciated the government’s commitment for the promotion and protection of human rights.
The chair-repporteur insisted that the working group’s mandate was to act as a bridge between the families of the missing persons and the concerned governments, adding that the group was neither an investigative nor fact-finding mission.
Oliver de Frouville assured that the working group would clarify any misperceptions during an end-of-visit interaction with the media.
Justice (retd) Javed Iqbal, who is heading a Pakistani commission on enforced disappearances, also briefed the UN delegation on the progress of his commission.
Amina Masood Janjua, the chairperson of the Human Rights Defence, a body struggling for recovery of missing persons, also met with the UN delegation. Amina Janjua is the wife of Masood Janjua who is allegedly in the custody of secret agencies in Pakistan.
(WITH ADDITIONAL REPORTING
by kamran yousuf)
Published in The Express Tribune, September 12th, 2012.