Pakistan: Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances has failed in providing justice to victims

The Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances (COIED) has wholly failed to address entrenched impunity, leaving victims and their loved without any redress, the ICJ said in a briefing paper released today.

Pakistan’s Federal Government constituted the COIED in March 2011, with a mandate to, among other things, “trace the whereabouts of allegedly enforced disappeared persons” and “fix responsibility on individuals or organizations responsible.”  While the Commission has “traced” the whereabouts of “missing persons” in a number of cases, there has been no apparent effort made to fix responsibility for this heinous crime.

“This Commission has failed in holding even a single perpetrator of enforced disappearance responsible in its nine years,” said Ian Seiderman, ICJ’s Legal and Policy Director.

“A Commission that does not address impunity, nor facilitate justice for victims and their families, can certainly not be considered effective.”

Hundreds, if not thousands, of people continue to be “missing” in Pakistan following their apparent arrest or abduction by or with complicity of the state. The UN Working Group on Enforced Disappearance has described a “culture of entrenched impunity” regarding the practice.

Despite the COIED’s failure in meeting its given objectives, its mandate was extended multiple times without any consultation with victims’ groups as to whether or under what conditions its operations should be continued. Its present mandate is set to expire on 14 September 2020.

This briefing paper provides an assessment of the performance of the COIED since its formation. It also evaluates the legal framework under which the Commission operates in light of international law and standards.

Some of the concerns about the Commission highlighted in the paper include:

  • Lack of structural and functional independence
  • No transparent criteria or process for the selection of commissioners
  • Questions about the impartiality of the Commission’s Chairperson
  • Flawed definition of enforced disappearance
  • Limited scope of inquiry
  • Inadequate victim and witness protection
  • Failure to hold perpetrators accountable
  • No public report on its work

Enforced disappearances are crimes under international law. All States have an obligation to promptly, thoroughly, impartially and effectively investigate allegations of enforced disappearance to bring those responsible to justice.

“The Government has used the Commission to deflect criticism and claim it is serious about addressing enforced disappearances,” added Seiderman.

“In reality, however, the COIED has led to a compromised inquiry process where investigations do not lead to accountability, nor do they result in proper and adequate reparation for victims.”

In light of the above, the ICJ has called on the Government not to extend the tenure of the existing COIED. Rather, the Government should hold real and meaningful consultations with all concerned stakeholders – including victims’ groups and human rights organizations – on the need for a new statutory commission that meets international standards.

The ICJ has also made a number of recommendations to the Government of Pakistan to provide for accountability for enforced disappearances; prevent them from occurring in the future; and provide reparations for victims and their families.


Ian Seiderman: ICJ’s Legal and Policy Director, e: ian.seiderman(a)

Reema Omer: ICJ’s Senior Legal Advisor, South Asia e: reema.omer(a), +447889565691

Additional information

The WGEID has received 1144 cases of allegations of enforced disappearances from Pakistan between 1980 and 2019, of which some 731 remained unclarified as of May 2019.

The COIED has received 6752 cases since March 2011. Out of the these, 4642 cases have been “disposed of” for various reasons, and 2110 cases are still pending.


Pakistan-Commission of Inquiry-Advocacy-Analysis Brief-2020-ENG (PDF)

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