The ICJ today called on the Government of Pakistan to take immediate measures against the increasing practice of enforced disappearances in the country.
A significant number of recent victims were said to be human rights defenders and political activists.
The ICJ highlighted the particular case of Raza Mahmood Khan. Raza, a human rights defender and peace activist, has been “missing” since 2 December 2017 after he organized a public event in Lahore to discuss recent political developments, including religious extremism and the role of state institutions.
Raza is known for his work on human rights, building inter-faith harmony, and promoting peace and tolerance between Pakistan and India. His family and friends have appealed to the police and the courts to trace him, but more than a month since his alleged “disappearance”, his whereabouts are still unknown.
“Many of the victims of enforced disappearances in Pakistan have been activists like Raza, which indicates the shrinking space for activism and dissent in the country,” said Frederick Rawski, ICJ’s Asia Director.
Given that circumstances in which Raza went “missing” are very similar to other cases of enforced disappearance reported recently, the ICJ called on Pakistani authorities to conduct a prompt, impartial, and thorough investigation to determine his fate and whereabouts and hold perpetrators criminally responsible.
“It is not enough for the authorities to deny knowledge of the fate or whereabouts of disappeared people. Are they properly questioning eyewitnesses to abductions? Are they looking for forensic evidence or electronic data from mobile phones? There are clear steps that authorities can and should take to investigate such crimes, and they must act immediately to establish the truth about these cases,” added Rawski.
Pakistan’s Supreme Court has, in multiple judgments, acknowledged the role of security and intelligence agencies in enforced disappearances and secret detentions, holding that the practice constitutes a violation of the “fundamental rights” recognized by the Constitution of Pakistan as well as international human rights law.
The State Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances has more than 1500 unresolved cases of enforced disappearances as of January 2018.
In 2017 alone, the Commission received 868 reports of alleged enforced disappearances – one of the highest since the Commission’s establishment in 2011. The UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances also has more than 700 pending cases from Pakistan.
“Despite hundreds, if not thousands, of cases of enforced disappearance reported from across Pakistan, not a single perpetrator of the crime has been brought to justice,” added Rawski. “Not only does this impunity deny truth and justice to victims of the crime, it is also eroding the rule of law and emboldening perpetrators of human rights violations.”
The UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances (WGEID) has on a number of occasions expressed concern about lack of implementation of the recommendations it made following a country visit to Pakistan in 2012, citing among other things continuing impunity arising from failure to diligently investigate allegations.
The UN Human Rights Committee also, in its review of Pakistan’s implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), noted with concern “the high incidence of enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings allegedly perpetrated by the police and military and security forces.”
Pakistan must ensure all persons held in secret or arbitrary detention are immediately released or charged with a recognizable criminal offence and brought promptly before a competent, independent and impartial tribunal for a trial that meets international standards.
The ICJ called on Pakistan to become a party to the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance; recognize enforced disappearance as a distinct, autonomous offence; and hold perpetrators of enforced disappearance, including military and intelligence personnel, to account, through fair trials before civilian courts.
Frederick Rawski, ICJ Asia Pacific Regional Director, t: +66 64 478 1121, e: frederick.rawski(a)icj.org
Reema Omer, ICJ International Legal Adviser for Pakistan (London), t: +447889565691; e: reema.omer(a)icj.orgNewsWeb stories