“Pakistani authorities must end their outrageous crackdown on peaceful protests by families seeking justice for the enforced disappearance of their loved ones”: Amnesty International, while releasing a new report titled “Braving the Storm: Enforced disappearances and the right to protest in Pakistan”, calls once more for the end of the now common practice in the country.
So common that even Imran Khan, back being in Opposition, finally acknowledged it while tweeting about his spokesperson—Shahbaz Gill— unlawfully detained by police. The fact is, enforced disappereances are becoming a new normal in Pakistan: it was Balochistan at first, then Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and now it is happening everywhere and with a growing sense of impunity.
Amnesty International, while releasing a new report on enforced disappearances in Pakistan, calls once more for the end of the now common practice in the country.
Since March 2011, 8,463 complaints of enforced disappearances have been received by Pakistan’s Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances.
Increasingly, especially in Balochistan, women are the target of both, disappearences and crackdowns.
According to reports, three Baloch women activist have been 'disappeared' within the span of a week.
A series of court directives over the years have so far failed to stop security agencies from carrying out secret detentions and enforced disappearances.
Latest Amnesty International Report on Pakistan's Forced Disappearances
In interviews with family members of the disappeared, Amnesty documented allegations of authorities refusing to file police reports in cases of enforced disappearances allegedly carried out by the government. This report also lists court orders or summons not being acted upon by intelligence or other security services, and numerous other rights violations.
It works like this:
You are an activist, a blogger or a journalist, a politician, or just somebody with a different view. You have issues with the government. You disappear, taken by agencies to an unknown location and without clear allegations. Your family is looking for you. They go to police but don't receive any answer. Possibly, after another couple of days, someone else in the family disappears or is threatened and beaten up. Your friends and the rest of the family start to protest in public, hold a demonstration. Police come, beat the protestors, and threaten them.
“The cruelty of enforced disappearances in Pakistan” says the Amnesty report “has been documented extensively. By being placed outside of the protection of the law, people who have been forcibly disappeared are put at risk of torture, other ill-treatment or even death. Their families are left to search for answers, most often in an environment in which the state denies that the disappearances have even happened. Having exhausted all avenues to find the whereabouts or fate of their loved ones, families of the disappeared and activists are forced to publicly campaign for truth and justice. However, the state and intelligence agencies who are responsible for these disappearances have also carried out violently crackdowns, intimidating and harassing families of the disappeared and activists in their fight for justice”.
State Continues to 'Disappear' People
International law defines an enforced disappearance as the detention of anyone by state forces or their agents who refuse to acknowledge the detention or whereabouts of the person, placing them outside the protection of the law.
Since March 2011, 8,463 complaints of enforced disappearances have been received by Pakistan’s Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances. Activists estimate the real number to be much higher. Most of the families of forcibly disappeared people who spoke to Amnesty International said that not only were they unable to use the legal system to locate their loved ones—despite the constitutional safeguards and the applications of the Penal Code as a protection against enforced disappearances—but that they had considerable difficulties even filing a First Information Report (FIR) with the police.
Despite assurances from multiple governments that Pakistan will accede to International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (CED) since 2005 and as recently as 2019, this has still not happened. The State continues to 'disappear' people and the crackdowns on families of the disappeared who exercise their right to peaceful protest are getting more frequent and violent.
Baloch Women Increasingly Getting Targeted
Increasingly, especially in Balochistan, women are the target of both, disappearences and crackdowns. Harassment often takes the form of arbitrary arrest and/or detention. According to reports, three Baloch women activist have been 'disappeared' within the span of a week.
In a landmark decision, last June, Chief Justice Athar Minallah issued an order saying that “When there is sufficient evidence to conclude that it is, prima facie, a case of ‘enforced disappearance’ then it becomes an obligation of the State and all its organs to trace the disappeared citizen”. However, according to human rights activists, this is the latest in a series of court directives over the years that have so far failed to stop security agencies from carrying out secret detentions and enforced disappearances.
“The Government of Pakistan has a duty to respect, protect and fulfil the right to peaceful assembly, without any type of discrimination under international human rights law, as recognised by Article 21 of the ICCPR. Assemblies include meetings, processions, rallies and sit-ins. Furthermore, Article 16 of the Constitution of Pakistan enshrines the freedom of peaceful assembly as a fundamental right” states the Amnesty report.
Maybe somebody should gift intelligence agencies, police and army members a copy of their country's Constitution.
(Francesca Marino is a journalist and a South Asia expert who has written ‘Apocalypse Pakistan’ with B Natale. Her latest book is ‘Balochistan — Bruised, Battered and Bloodied’. She tweets @francescam63. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed are the author's own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for his reported views.)