Pakistan asked to end enforced disappearances; ‘flawed’ legal justice system highlighted in damning Amnesty report

Amnesty International has called on Pakistan to end the practice of enforced disappearances and to disclose, “immediate and “unconditionally” the fate and/or whereabouts of forcibly disappeared people

Nov 23, 2021
Pakistan asked to end enforced disappearances (Photo: Amnesty)

Amnesty International has called on Pakistan to end the practice of enforced disappearances and to disclose, “immediate and “unconditionally” the fate and/or whereabouts of forcibly disappeared people. It also highlights the country’s “flawed legal system” and the tendencies of targeting protesting families, subjecting them to years of “physical and psychological” scars. 

The global human watchdog, in its recent report, titled “Living Ghosts: The devastating impact of the enforced disappearances” highlighted the sufferings, affecting families’ mental and physical health, financial status, and security, and stigma and social isolation. Since 2011, the government has officially registered over 8000 cases of people who have been disappeared forcibly/ or reported missing.

The report highlighted that eight out of ten victim families struggled to even register the First Information Report (FIR). Twenty percent of them have to approach the court just to get the FIR registered with the police. 

Sammi Baloch, whose father Deen Mohammad disappeared on 28 June 2009, told Amnesty International that how he had to remove reference to officials from security forces and intelligence officials to file a missing report. In almost all cases, FIRs are registered with references to “unnamed people”.

In its damning report released on Monday, Amnesty International interviewed members of ten people, who are family members of the victims of enforced disappearances. 

“Disappearances violate the family’s economic and social rights, including the right to protection and assistance to the family,” the report noted, pointing out that in most cases victims happen to be men and the sole breadwinner of their families. 

Furthermore, people who take part in protests and activism are also targeted by the state in the form of threats and intimidation, the report says. Families often face social exclusion and other shared benefits as neighbors, relatives, and friends fear being targeted by the state. 

The government commission, established in 2012 following a ruling by the Supreme Court, to investigate missing people is criticized by right activists “for not using the powers” vested in it to investigate these cases or bring those suspected of criminal responsibility to justice. 

Calling the existing judicial mechanism "flawed", and insufficient to address these challenges, the report noted that enforced disappearances are still not criminalized in Pakistan, allowing the state to avoid finding the culprits.

Pakistan has recently introduced some amendments in its penal code. However, Amnesty said, “These amendments provide loopholes for authorities to continue forcibly disappearing people and would discourage families of victims from reporting cases of disappearance.”  

“The proposed amendment, although a positive step, is deeply flawed and does not meet the standards of international human rights law,” the report said. 

In 2012, the government had formed a commission to investigate the cases of missing people after a ruling by the Supreme Court. However, in 2020, the International Commission of Jurists stated that in nine years of operation the commission had not held a single perpetrator of an enforced disappearance accountable for the crime. 

The UN’s Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances had also communicated to the government of Pakistan, “(proposed amendments) would discourage relatives and others from reporting disappearances and that any attempt to shift the burden of proof to the victims or next of kin contravenes international law standards.”