With International Day of Victims of Enforced Disappearance coinciding with Eidul Fitr this year, 2011 became twice as sorrowful for the families of missing persons in the country.
“This year carries significance because the United Nations (UN) has officially marked August 30, International Day of Victims of Enforced Disappearance,” said an Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) statement, adding that the UN also demanded that all sorts of brutal and inhumane treatment carried out in jails and detention cells be brought to an immediate halt.
“For some, it is the first Eid without their family members. For others it’s the fifth or the 10th. And we aren’t talking about deceased family members whom one buries with their own hands; instead the people in question are missing loved ones who have been subjected to ‘enforced disappearances’,” says the AHRC statement.
‘Enforced Disappearance’ is a legal term of international law coined by UN’s legal instruments.
“It denotes a disappeared or missing person who has been kidnapped and detained illegally by state-run institutions, placing them outside the protection of law; the very institutions which are created to keep the citizens safe from all atrocities, including kidnapping. It is like being robbed by your own watchman,” the statement adds.
“There is overwhelming evidence which confirms that these missing persons are in custody of local (security) agencies, many of whom have been handed over to foreign agencies. What is even more distressing is that these enforced disappearances have accelerated under the present government,” the AHRC statement said.
Over 1,200 families have registered their cases with the Defence of Human Rights (DHR). However, due to various hurdles and lack of funds, the DHR is representing only 322 cases in the Supreme Court. Punjab stands at number one with 174 cases, whereas Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P), Balochistan, Sindh, Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) and Islamabad Capital Territory follow with 96, 19, 25, seven and 11 cases, respectively.
“Our contention as the voice for the families of missing persons is that in all laws of the world, keeping anyone ‘Missing’ is illegal,” says the DHR, adding: “The United Nations’ convention has declared it a ‘crime against humanity’, and according to the same convention, families of the missing persons have been established ‘equal victims of enforced disappearances’. This reality check makes the total number of victims of enforced disappearances in Pakistan ten times as much as the registered number.
“The need of the hour is to intensify pressure on the government, demanding the immediate release of missing persons and to put an end to enforced disappearances for good and to ratify the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance passed by the UN. Eighty-eight countries with a ‘clean conscience’ have already signed it,” adds the AHRC statement.
Voice for missing persons
Taking a stand against the practice of enforced disappearances in Balochistan, the Voice for Baloch Missing Persons (VFBMP), an organisation striving for the safe recovery of missing persons, staged a protest in Quetta on the eve of Eidul Fitr.
They organised a procession from Quetta Press Club after Eid prayers and staged a demonstration at Mezan Chowk.
“It’s been several years since we last celebrated Eid. The judiciary, government and other humanitarian organisations seem helpless before the powerful forces who illegally detain the Baloch in their torture cells,” said Nasurallah Baloch, chairman VFBMP. “The judicial commission formed by the government over two years ago has been unable to recover a single missing person. However, after the constitution of the commission, several mutilated and bullet-riddled bodies have started surfacing,” he added.
(WITH ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY OUR CORRESPONDENT IN QUETTA)
Published in The Express Tribune, September 3rd, 2011.