In a seminar organised by Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) and Institute of Peace and Secular Studies (IPSS) last week in Lahore, activists and artists condemned the increasing number of enforced disappearance cases in Pakistan. The seminar ‘Human Rights in the Era of Enforced Disappearances’ held at SAFMA auditorium noted that the state is creating an environment of fear in the country.
Salima Hashmi, a noted Pakistani artist and daughter of revolutionary poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz recited the tale of a communist activist and poet Hassan Nasir blending it with Faiz’s poem. Nasir, who was secretary of the banned Communist Party of Pakistan (CPP) and a popular leader among students, peasants and workers, was arrested and killed in 1960.
Irfan Mufti, a Pakistani activist and member of civil society said that the cases of enforced disappearances are casting doubts over the legitimacy of the state. Recently Senator Farhatullah Babar had noted that ‘whoever is picking up these people is stronger than state institutions.’
A protest demonstration was also held outside the auditorium demanding the state to find Raza Khan, an activist who went missing last month. According to reports, Raza was last seen attending a debate meeting at Low-key Lokai, a progressive discussion space which he used to manage. The open meeting was called to discuss the recent Labaik sit-in and the rising religious extremist violence in Pakistan.
There are 1,498 cases of enforced disappearances cases pending with the inquiry commission as of November 2017. Many of the ‘missing persons’ are allegedly picked up by the country’s notorious intelligence services and tortured. Recent, the United Front, alliance of various left and progressive parties in Pakistan in a meeting called upon the state to recover all the missing persons, and noted that enforced disappearance cases are a blot to democracy.
“We vow to continue the struggle against enforced disappearances”, said Saeeda Diep chairperson of of IPSS in the seminar in which families of missing persons also attended.
In a UN General Assembly resolution 47/133 adopted on December 18, 1992, noted that “enforced disappearance undermines the deepest values of any society committed to respect for the rule of law, human rights and fundamental freedoms, and that the systematic practice of such acts is of the nature of a crime against humanity.”
In October, Supreme Court Justice Ejaz Afzal Khan, demanding a detailed report on enforced disappearance cases said , “the highest judicial office of the country has no answer to give to the loved ones of the missing persons who have been doing the rounds of the courts.”
Pakistan in its Universal Periodic Review at UN claimed that the commission on enforced disappearances examined 2,416 disappearances that happened between March 2011 to November 2016. Even thought the commission was able to the trace 1,798 of the people to either being at home or detained on criminal or terrorism charges, the government failed to hold anyone responsible for disappearances accountable.
Amnesty International notes that scarcely does a week go by without the organization receiving reports of people going missing in Pakistan. “Many of them may have been subjected to enforced disappearances, which is a crime under international law”, said Dinushika Dissanayake, Deputy South Asia Director.
In the seminar, committing to fight for the families of missing persons, the participants demanded that the Government of Pakistan make public the three member commission of judges’ report of 2010 & implement its recommendations. Also, they demanded to criminalize enforced disappearances and empower the Commission of Inquiry and turn it into a judicial commission.
The seminar called upon the country’s leadership to immediately ratify the international convention on enforced disappearances.