The meeting on September 25, 2017 of the Senate Functional Committee on Human Rights proved an occasion for the expression of exasperation and serious concerns about the continuing, and rising, incidence of enforced disappearances (EDs). First and foremost, the chairman of the Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances, former Justice Javed Iqbal, ‘disappeared’ on the plea of a prior commitment and did not appear. This left the chairperson of the Functional Committee, MQM’s Senator Nasrin Jalil, less than amused. PPP’s Senator Karim Khawaja proffered some sound advice to the government to address the issue of EDs lest it become an embarrassment and the UN intervenes. He reminded the committee that the UN intervened in a similar issue in Chile in 1972 and thousands of ED victims were released. The same was the case in Bosnia, where the perpetrators were punished. National Commission on Human Rights (NCHR) chairman former Justice Ali Nawaz Chowhan lamented that inquiries about missing persons had to be directed to the security agencies without any result. It is undeniable that these agencies, wrapped in a cocoon of impunity, have consistently stonewalled any attempt to unravel cases of ED. Justice Chowhan argued for the UN convention on EDs to be ratified, and arrested persons produced in court. Senator Dr Jehanzeb Jamaldini wanted the relatives of missing persons to be called to committee meetings, instead of leaving them to rot in protest camps with their children in a futile search and unending wait for their loved ones. He reminded that the National Action Plan had laid down that arrested people should be produced in court within 10 days but this had not been implemented. Senator Farhatullah Babar stressed the need for further legislation, starting with the passage of the December 2016 draft law on EDs endorsed by 104 Senators. He argued for doing away with the impunity enjoyed by the security agencies, in the presence of which they could continue to cock a snook at any and all institutions inquiring into EDs. In a number of cases where missing persons were released after being declared innocent, the perpetrators were never punished despite evidence of their skullduggery. He wanted the 2012 inquiry report on EDs and the UN Working Group on EDs’ reports made public. It turned out during the discussion that the UN convention was objected to on account of its clause 26, which allowed citizens to approach the UN directly, which could then send a team to investigate. What logic! We want, according to a Foreign Office representative, to sign the UN convention, but on our own terms!
The discussion of the issue of missing persons in the committee underlines the misery of thousands of families whose dear ones have been disappeared and they languish in the agony of not knowing their fate despite the passage of years together. One does not know if those who received the tortured dead bodies of their disappeared loved ones were better off or not, but the agony of those who still await news of the fate of their disappeared ones can only be guessed at. What first emerged as a phenomenon in the strife-torn province of Balochistan, later was found common in terrorist-infested areas such as Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and now the practice seems to have spread to Sindh. Needless to say, this is directly attributable to the failure of institutions set up to address the issue such as former Justice Javed Iqbal’s commission and the NCHR. Senator Babar spared no one, parliament, the Supreme Court of Pakistan or any other institution as being guilty of failure in addressing this tragic human rights issue. Whatever lacunae in the law, institutions and procedures have contributed to the ‘smirking’ sense of impunity in which the security agencies have wrapped themselves, the law and humanity demand this unforgivable tragedy must be brought to an end and those responsible punished.