‘Enforced Disappearance’ is a state-sponsored repressive tool in Pakistan

Sammi Baloch with the photo of her father Dr Deen Mohammad. Twelve years ago the Pakistani security forces abducted Dr Deen Mohammad from Khudzar, Balochistan. (Photo: News Intervention)
Sammi Baloch with the photo of her father Dr Deen Mohammad. Twelve years ago the Pakistani security forces abducted Dr Deen Mohammad from Khudzar, Balochistan. (Photo: News Intervention)

Pakistan’s Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances was neither ever intended to prevent the crime nor has made any attempts to recover victims, fix responsibility of culprits and bring them to justice.

‘Enforced disappearances’ isn’t a novel tool of repression used by the Pakistan Army against Baloch patriotic political segments and general people. During 1970’s Baloch uprising, there had been a few incidents of the use of forced disappearance and custodial killing by Pakistan Army of those political activists who were thought linked, in one or other way, to Baloch National cause.

Dilip Das and Sher Ali Marri are first reported victims of enforced disappearance during 1970’s. They were arrested by Pakistan Army while traveling to Jacobabad by train from Sibi. They had gone missing after their arrest and have never been seen or traced till today. In such another incident Mir Asadullah Mengal, elder son of Sardar Attaullah Mengal, a prominent Baloch nationalist leader and first elected chief minister of occupied Balochistan, along with Ahmed Shah Kurd, a friend of him, was abducted by Pakistan Army on February 6, 1976 from Karachi and both of them have never been seen again.

However Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, the former Prime Minister of Pakistan, has furnished an account of the incident of enforced disappearance of Mir Asadullah Mengal and his friend Ahmed Shah Kurd in a book written by him in jail when he was imprisoned after a military coup d’etat against his government in 1977. According to that account of the incident Mir Asadullah Mengal and his friend were abducted and killed by the army in an operation and were buried near Thatta.

Story about the kidnapping and killing of Asadullah Mengal in 1976 was written by former Pakistan PM Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto.

Mr Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto wrote in the book that when he objected the abduction and killing of the son of a prominent leader and former Chief Minister in such an illegal manner then he was advised by army to deny the arrest and custodial killing of Mir Asaduullah Mengal and his friend Mir Ahmed Shah Kurd and claim that both of them have gone to Afghanistan for getting guerrilla training. Late General Hamid Gul, a former chief of Pakistan’s military spy agency ISI, in his interview has also given the same account of the incident that was written by former Prime Minister Zulfiqar Bhutto about the abduction and extrajudicially killing of Mir Asadullah Mengal and his friend Ahmed Shah Kurd.

Enforced disappearances of Baloch patriotic political activists on a large scale in occupied Balochistan originated in the beginning of 2000. Since then there is seen an increasing intensity in the use of such an inhuman and illegal practice by Pakistan Army, intelligence agencies and Frontier Corps (a paramilitary force). Initially families and friends of victims rushed to judiciary for relief against enforced disappearances of their loved ones by law enforcement agencies but courts, either due to their bias against Baloch people or pressure from Pakistan Army and spy agencies,were unwilling or unable to help the victims to get justice.

It’s pertinent to mention here that in the beginning LEA (Law Enforcement Agencies) used to hand over some of the victims, after illegal detention and torture, to police showing them arrested in criminal cases. Though everyone in civilian administration and courts knew that cases against the victims were totally bogus showing false date and venue of their arrest but courts still used to maintain such brazenly false cases based on concocted narrative of law enforcement agencies and police. Courts of all level were, and still are, reluctant to take notice of severe physical torture against the victims they had been or are being subjected to during their forced disappearance in military dungeons. The obvious reason behind such reluctance of courts is that the perpetrators belong to military, intelligence agencies and Frontier Corps (FC).

Baloch children protest against Pakistan's gross Human Rights violations in Balochistan
Baloch children protest against Pakistan’s gross Human Rights violations in Balochistan.

Like courts, the police was/ is also reluctant to register FIR (First Information Report) and investigate the cases of enforced and involuntary disappearances because police, a weak and corrupt civilian force, lacks the power, courage and support of so-called civilian governments and judiciary to register FIR and investigate the cases wherein the personnel of unbridled Pakistan Army and Law Enforcement Agencies are nominated.

From 2000 to 2008 there were more than one thousand cases of enforced disappearances in occupied Balochistan including cases of prominent Baloch patriotic leaders and activists Mir Abdul Nabi Bangulzai, Dr Allah Nazar Baloch, Akhtar Nadeem Baloch, Imdad Baloch, Dr Naseem Baloch, Yusuf Murad Baloch, Nawaz Jan aka Gahwar Jan Baloch, Wajah Wahid Kambar Baloch, Wajah Ghulam Muhammad Baloch the then Pesident of BNM, a pro-freedom political party, Mir Kadder Marri, and dozens of the activists affiliated with the Baloch Students Organization-Azad (BSO-Azad) and others. The above-mentioned leaders/activists were kept in military dungeons and subjected to severe physical and mental torture for long periods stretching from six months to two years or more and later were showed arrested in false cases of theft, bomb blast and treason.

Pakistan’s lower as well as apex courts failed to take notice of such afterthought cases and pass appropriate orders to prevent such unlawful arrests, detentions and torturing the victims and bring the perpetrators to justice. Instead the courts always stood by Pakistan Army and LEA (Law Enforcement Agencies) which, for all practical purposes, amounts to an encouragement to culprits continue with the commission of crime. So enjoying such impunity the perpetrators have continued to commit the crime of enforced disappearance till date.

When Justice Iftekhar Muhammad Chaudhry was Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Pakistan, he formed a special bench for entertaining petitions regarding enforced disappearances. Aforesaid Bench tried to make the perpetrators accountable to some extent. His such daring annoyed Pakistan Army who furiously responded by suspending the constitution, arresting the Judges and imposing emergency in the country.

After the 2008 general elections as usual a weak civilian government headed by PPP’s Yusuf Reza Gelani, was formed in Islamabad who obviously lacked authority to have any sway in policy matters pertaining to army’s high handed strategy in occupied Balochistan, Waziristan and foreign affairs. Though Gelani administration, after hesitation, restored the ousted judges of apex judiciary but still both of them– civilian executive and apex judiciary absolutely failed bring the inhuman crime of enforced disappearance to an end and punish the perpetrators.

The ‘so called’ civilian government of Pakistan, after its apparent inability and failure to curb the crime of enforced disappearances and bring the culprits to justice, constituted the Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances (COIED) in March 2011 intending to buy time, mask its incompetence and powerlessness, deflect national and international criticism and pretend it is serious about addressing enforced disappearances. The reluctant Supreme Court of Pakistan also availed the creation of so-called “COIED” as an opportunity for face saving and disassociating itself from its primary duty of protecting the lives, liberty and legal rights and freedom of people including the right of free and fair trial. By transferring pending cases to COIED, the Supreme Court disposed of all petitions pertaining to enforced disappearances without any relief to the victims.

International Law describes “Enforced Disappearance” as a crime against humanity. All states are duty bound to prevent the practice of such a crime and bring the culprits responsible for the crime to justice. But the Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearance (COIED) in Pakistan is performing contrary to the intent of law and justice. The platform of COIED and its procedures are being used and are instrumental to–
1-deny justice to the victims in one or other way,
2-discourage the registration, reporting and pursuing complaints of enforced disappearances by misbehaving and threatening to the helpless complainants.
3-defeat the justice by adopting complex, costly and exhausting procedures and using delaying tactics,
4-deflect the national and international criticism,
5-deceive international Human Rights bodies and thereby avoid any interference and accountability by such international entities,
6-exonerate the perpetrators of the crime by purposely creating an environment of impunity and unaccountability.

The COIED (Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances) has never showed any gesture of seriousness towards the task vested with. During long nine years of its creation the probe body never bothered to establish its branches and hold periodical hearings in the far flung armed-conflict ridden regions of occupied Balochistan. It’s meant to make the probe body inaccessible to poor families of victims who are living in remote mountainous regions lacking the means to afford expenditures of such costly litigation, travel to Islamabad, food and lodging there. Overwhelming majority of victim families aren’t only poor but also uneducated having not enough understanding of alien languages, laws, and legal procedures. That is why thousands cases of enforced disappearances in occupied Balochistan are going unreported and unfollowed.

Apart from above mentioned hurdles, there have always been complaints against the COIED’s Commissioners’ of deliberately misbehaving and harassing the complainants, mostly females, aimed to restrain them from pursuing the cases of their missing loved ones. It’s believed that COIED (Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances) commissioners harass and humiliate the complainants on behest of army and law enforcement agencies responsible for the crime.

Though it’s a primary requisite of the administration of justice to decide every case on merits but contrary to that golden rule of law the COIED has regularly been dismissing cases on procedural and technical grounds and thereby has been denying and defeating the justice. That is why a huge majority of the victim families from occupied Balochistan even don’t think of making a complaint to Pakistan’s COIED (Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances), courts or police. They deem making complaints to such state institutions a futile exercise, waste of time and money.

Another major reason for not reporting the cases of enforced disappearances in occupied Balochistan is that army and intelligence officers usually approach the victim families and threat them if they disclosed or reported the enforced disappearance of their family member then victim would be killed and dumped.

During the so called hearings before COIED (Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances) the complainants are treated like criminals while the representatives of perpetrators-army and intelligence agencies are given protocol and opportunity like members of the commission to question, reprimand, even threat and humiliate the complainants. Such insulting behavior of COIED commissioners and representatives of army and intelligence agencies is another massive hurdle in reporting and pursuing the cases.

COIED was formed and given task to trace whereabouts of missing persons and fix responsibility on individuals or organisations responsible for the enforced disappearances. But a brief glance at performance of the COIED reveals that the probe body neither intended ever to prevent enforced disappearances nor has made any sincere attempts to recover victims, fix responsibility of culprits and bring them to justice. Though on various occasions COIED has been claiming the credit of tracing whereabouts of a number of victims and getting them released but during the long nine years of its so called inquiry and investigations it has even not held a single perpetrator responsible.

The COIED has entirely failed to make a workable mechanism for the protection of victims, complainants, witnesses and their families.

Justice Javed Iqbal, the head of COIED (Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances) has many times publicly alleged that missing persons actually aren’t missing, they have either joined freedom fighters in mountains or are hiding abroad. Such is the false narrative put forth by army and intelligence agencies with mala fide intention of shading doubts about enforced disappearances and hiding their crimes. Toeing to such a false narrative of perpetrators manifests that the COIED isn’t an impartial and reliable probe body. Actually COIED has designedly been collaborating with culprits to suppress the cases of enforced disappearances and voices raising against army and intelligence agencies.

The impunity that army and intelligence agencies are enjoying in occupied Balochistan, encouraged them to expand the enforced disappearances operations in Sindh, Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan regions. The cases of enforced disappearances, notably of journalists, are occasionally reported even in Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan.

Not only Baloch but also Sindhi, Pashtun, Kashmiris and people of occupied Gilgit-Baltistan regions also disbelieve COIED and view it as a tool in the hands of army and intelligence agencies using to suppress the cases of enforced disappearances. On September 12, 2020 Nasrullah Baloch, the Chairman of Voice for Baloch Missing Persons blamed the COIED for further complicating the issue of enforced disappearances. Here is the link of said statement The Enforced Disappearances Commission is further complicating the issue of missing persons – Nasrullah Baloch | The Balochistan Post.

Such explicit collusion of COIED with culprits is the sole reason the probe body is being extended again and again for last nine years, despite the fact it has entirely failed in its task of providing justice to the victims, fixing the responsibility of culprits responsible for the crime and bringing the perpetrators to justice.

The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), in its report issued on September 8, 2020 has also hit out at Pakistan’s Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances (COIED), saying it has failed to hold perpetrators responsible for the crime in the last several years. Here is the link whereof Pakistan: Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances has failed in providing justice to victims | International Commission of Jurists

While enjoying full impunity the Pakistan Army and intelligence agencies are using enforced disappearance as policy to suppress the dissent of any form across the country and regions under its colonial occupation. In occupied Balochistan Pakistan Army and intelligence agencies abduct everyday dozens of civilian people including elderly men, women, children, youths and sometimes whole families and after humiliation and torture some of the victims are released while others go missing in military dungeons for an uncertain period.

It’s crystal clear from the power structure in Pakistan that Army and intelligence agencies dominate all state pillars including legislative, executive, judiciary and media. In view of Pakistan’s such a power structure there is no hope of impartial and effective inquiry in the crime of enforced disappearances, fixing the responsibility of culprits and bringing them to justice by any Commission formed by Pakistan.

Despite its undertaking to UNO’s Human Rights Council and other relevant organizations, Pakistan didn’t enact laws to declare the enforced disappearances a crime. Each of the successive governments of Pakistan have been making such false promises just to by time and spend their tenure.

Therefore it seems highly proper and timely for the UNO and International Criminal Court to commence investigations into the cases of enforced disappearances, a crime against humanity, in occupied Balochistan, trace the whereabouts of victims, fix the responsibility of perpetrators and bring the culprits to justice.

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