Amnesty urges Pakistan to end enforced disappearances

Wednesday 24th November 2021 05:30 EST

Islamabad: Human rights group Amnesty International has called on Pakistani authorities to end the use of enforced disappearances as a tool of state policy, as it releases a new briefing documenting the effect of such illegal abductions on the families of those who go missing. The briefing, titled “Living Ghosts”, was released by the United Kingdom-based rights group, and is based on interviews with 10 family members of people “whose fate remains unknown after they were abducted by Pakistan’s security services”.

“Enforced disappearance is a cruel practice that has caused indelible pain to hundreds of families in Pakistan over the past two decades,” said Rehab Mahamoor, Amnesty International’s acting South Asia researcher. “On top of the untold anguish of losing a loved one and having no idea of their whereabouts or safety, families endure other long-term effects, including ill health and financial problems.”

Enforced disappearances have long been documented by local and international rights groups in Pakistan, and in 2011 the Pakistani government formed a commission of inquiry to document and investigate cases of the disappeared, known in Pakistan as “missing persons”. Since 2011, the commission has received complaints in at least 8,154 cases, of which 2,274 remain unresolved, according to the commission’s monthly report for September 2021.

In 2020, the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), a legal rights group based in Switzerland, said the commission “has wholly failed to address entrenched impunity” and had not held any perpetrators of the crime to justice, even in cases where the whereabouts of the disappeared had been traced or the person had been released. Earlier this month, Pakistan’s lower house of parliament passed a bill that, for the first time in the country’s history, defined and criminalised the practice of enforced disappearances.

It defined the act as the “illegal and without lawful authority arrest, detention, abduction or any other form of deprivation of liberty by an agent of the State or by person or group of persons acting with the authorisation, support or acquiescence of the State”, followed by a refusal to acknowledge the fate of the disappeared person.

Rights groups, however, have criticised the proposed law – which is still pending passage in parliament’s upper house before it can become law – as not doing enough to hold perpetrators to justice. A controversial section of the law also criminalises “false allegations” of enforced disappearance, subject to five-year imprisonment and a 100,000 Pakistani rupees ($570) fine.

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