Pakistani court slams govt for mishandling enforced disappearance cases as 197 new registered in 2024 so far

Amid the rise in numbers of missing persons, the Islamabad High Court (IHC) earlier this week lambasted the Pakistani government for its mishandling of enforced disappearances, questioning who would come to a country where people are vanishing. 

Last Monday, Pakistan’s Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances (COIOED) stated that a total of 197 missing persons cases were submitted to the commission in the first six months of the current year.

According to the report by COIOED, which was set up in 2011 to trace the missing persons and fix responsibility on the individuals or organisations responsible, 226 cases of missing persons were disposed of in the first half of 2023.

Pakistan’s leading English daily Dawn reported, citing the COIOED, that the total number of cases submitted to the commission till June 30 was 10,285, while 8,015 cases were disposed of with a total of 6,464 people traced so far and 1,551 cases disposed of.

As per the report, 2,270 cases were left while 4,514 were returned home, 1,002 were present in internment centres, 671 were in prisons and 277 found dead.

Sharing last month’s (June) data, the commission said that it had received 47 cases in June, of which 28 were disposed of with 13 of them unrelated to enforced disappearance, nine returned home, three were confined in internment centres, two were confined in jails and one person’s body was recovered. 

The COIOED said that since its inception in 2011, it had received 7,000 cases of enforced disappearances and the commission had resolved around 5,000 of these cases.

However, independent human rights groups and the families of the victims claim that the actual number is much higher than reported by the COIOED, which has been labeled as an “ineffective body” by victims’ families.  

According to a report by Dawn, Pakistan’s Law Minister Azam Nazeer, in April, said that the issue of missing persons could “not be solved overnight” but the country’s government was committed to finding a solution by first achieving a consensus amongst all stakeholders.

Enforced disappearances, which reportedly originated during the military rule of General Pervez Musharraf between 1999 and 2008, have a long history on Pakistan’s human rights record.

Even after the Musharraf regime ended, the trend continued during the regimes of subsequent governments.

The country’s human rights activists hold the Pakistani law enforcement agencies responsible for the enforced disappearances.

Pakistan’s human rights activist Amina Masood Janjua, who is the chairperson of Defence of Human Rights Pakistan, said there were more than 5,000 reported cases of enforced disappearances in the South Asian nation.

The Norwegian Human Rights Fund reported, quoting woman human rights defender from Pakistan Naghma Iqtidar, that the issue of enforced disappearances, or what is commonly known as missing persons issue, is one of the major human rights concerns in the country and a reasonable solution to the issue is yet to be found. 

The issue of missing persons is also being highlighted at international levels as a group of experts from the United Nations had called on the Pakistani government to end enforced disappearances of human rights defenders years ago.

New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported that the country’s missing persons commission had received 8,463 complaints of enforced disappearances between March 2011 and June 2022, while the human rights activists believed the actual figure of disappearances was higher. 

According to The Hague-headquartered International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP), a large number of cases of enforced disappearances in Pakistan is related to actions by the country’s armed forces and law enforcement agencies, including those associated with government security operations in Balochistan, where the occurrences of enforced disappearances began in 1973 when the then Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto dissolved the provincial assembly of Balochistan.

Investigative journalism platform Lok Sujag reported, quoting Mahvish Ahmad, journalist-turned assistant professor of human rights and politics at London School of Economics (LSE), that enforced disappearances in Balochistan play a role in not just disappearing individual bodies, but in disappearing a series of political ideas.

According to Mahvish Ahmbad, who covered enforced disappearances and violence in Balochistan for over a decade as a journalist and is now researching state violation in the province, forced disappearance is a tactic of oppression throughout the country, and is not unique to the Baloch region. 

Recently, United Kingdom-based human rights organization Amnesty International expressed concern over the “forced disappearances” of three family members of political workers from the country’s opposition party Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI).

“A pattern of enforced disappearance is emerging, seemingly to intimidate those living abroad, who are critical of the Pakistani government and the military,” a statement from Amnesty International read.


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