1,640 persons missing, 142 in Sindh with majority hailing from Karachi; Interior Ministry tells NA
ISLAMABAD: Kidnapping, torture and disappearance of people has become common in Pakistan and a number of human rights organisations are making hue and cry for a long time but the government and security agencies have always denied their claim.
Now, for the first time, the Interior Ministry has acknowledged disappearances and on Friday informed the parliament that there were 1,640 missing persons in the country with 142 missing in Sindh – a majority of them hailing from Karachi.
The human rights agencies have rejected these figures and claimed that the number of affectees are many fold. In February, Head of the Commission on Enforced Disappearance Justice (r) Javed Iqbal had offered to brief the Supreme Court judges in their chamber on missing persons cases, particularly those related to the province of Balochistan.
Deputy Attorney General (DAG) Sajid Ilyas Bhatti had submitted a report on behalf of the commission before the apex court’s three-judge bench, headed by Justice Ejaz Afzal Khan, which had been hearing the missing persons’ case for the last couple of months.
The report said the commission had disposed of 3,000 cases of missing persons while 1,577 cases were still pending. Amnesty International Human rights watchdog Amnesty International has called on Pakistan to resolve hundreds of cases of enforced disappearances for which “no one has ever been held accountable”. “Disappearances are a tool of terror… if committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack, they constitute a crime against humanity, “Amnesty said in a statement issued on Monday, calling on Pakistan to “take concrete steps to end impunity”.
Pakistan has had a history of enforced disappearances over the past decade, mainly confined in the past to conflict zones near the Afghanistan border or to Balochistan, where separatists have been agitating for independence. However, in recent years, a growing number of such abductions have taken place brazenly in major urban centres such as Karachi, Lahore and even Islamabad.
Security agencies routinely deny being involved. Last year, five social media activists who had been critical of the military as well as extremism were also disappeared, with their abductions sparking nationwide protests. Four were released within weeks, but the fate of the fifth remains unknown. Many other people are believed to still be in custody.
According to Amnesty, the United Nations (UN) has more than 700 such cases pending in Pakistan, while a state commission of inquiry into enforced disappearances lists hundreds of additional cases. Victims include bloggers, journalists, students, peace activists and other human rights defenders. Few punishments, Amnesty said, are “as cruel and deliberate… Families are plunged into a state of anguish, trying to keep the flame of hope alive while fearing the worst.
They may be in this limbo for years.” According to the non-governmental organisation, Pakistan has recently accepted UN recommendations that make enforced disappearances a crime but has refused to ratify an international convention protecting anyone from enforced disappearances.
More than 700 reports of disappearances have been received by the United Nations from Pakistan, and hundreds more have been reported to Pakistani authorities, but nobody has ever been held accountable for an enforced disappearance in the country, Amnesty International says. UN Working Group The UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances has more than 700 pending cases from Pakistan, and Pakistan’s State Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances has received reports of hundreds more, from across the country,” Amnesty said in a statement on March 19.
“Victims include bloggers, journalists, students, peace activists, and other human rights defenders whose work promotes the same values as this [UN Human Rights] Council and is crucial to a free and justsociety,” the statement said. “No one has ever been held accountable for an enforced disappearance in Pakistan,” it said. The London-based rights watchdog said that the disappeared risk torture and even death, and called forced disappearances “a tool of terror.”
The Amnesty statement warns Pakistani authorities that forced disappearances are a crime under international law and qualify as a crime against humanity if committed on a systematic and widespread basis. The watchdog notes that disappearances occur in Pakistan amid a larger-scale campaign against civil society. “Freedom of expression is criminalized online. Human rights defenders are smeared and threatened and journalists are attacked. Civil society organizations are subject to greater restrictions, and international NGOs have been expelled,” Amnesty said.
The group welcomed Islamabad’s acceptance of international recommendations to declare enforced disappearance a criminal offense, but voiced disappointment over “Pakistan’s failure to accept several recommendations — including from states with their own traumatic history of disappearances — to ratify the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance.”
Nadra card The Interior Ministry also informed the NA that 114,192,450 computerised CNICs had been issued by the NADRA. Giving the break-up, it added that 634,315 computerised cards were issued in Punjab, 23,755,847 in Sindh, 15,187,870 in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, 671,420 in GilgitBaltistan and 2,921,524 in Kashmir.
Parliamentary Secretary for Interior Dr Muhammad Afzal Khan Dhandla said that CNICs have been issued to 114.19 million people in the country. “The government is facilitating people to get their particulars registered with NADRA after attaining the age of 18 and there is no policy to issue identity cards to aliens.” Replying to another question, Dr Ibadullah said public sector development programme was for the entire country and funds were allocated without any discrimination. He said for the first time in the history of the country, PSDP 2017-2018 was raised to Rs 101 billion.