Enforced disappearances has been a persisting problem in Pakistan
and has attracted both domestic and international ire.
Enforced disappearance under international law is defined as arrest, detention, abduction or any other form of deprivation of liberty by agents of the state or by persons or groups of persons acting with the authorization, support or acquiescence of the state, followed by a refusal to acknowledge the deprivation of liberty or by concealment of the fate or whereabouts of the disappeared person. This places such a person outside the protection of the law.
Since the 1970s, there are reports that the practice of enforced disappearance has existed in Pakistan. Such cases were recorded in significant numbers in the early 2000s, after USA’s invasion of Afghanistan and Pakistan’s involvement in the US-led “war on terror” in late 2001. At that time, General Pervez Musharraf ruled the country. The practice of enforced disappearances continued during subsequent governments and the term ‘missing persons’ was sometimes used as a euphemism for enforced disappearances.
Since 2001, hundreds of people accused of terrorism-related offences, particularly in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, have reportedly disappeared after being abducted by security agencies and detained in secret facilities. Many of them were then handed over to the United States authorities to be incarcerated there. From 2001 till to date, thousands of cases of enforced disappearances have been reported from all parts of Pakistan, A significant proportion of such cases is still unreported. A large number of such cases were also reported from Balochistan and Sindh, where the practice of forced disappearances was used against political activists and supporters of nationalist movements. In recent years, there have also been a number of ‘short-term enforced disappearances’, in which the victims include bloggers, activists and others who were seen to be critical of the state. After interrogation and torture in secret detention for weeks or months, they are released without being charged with any offence.
The International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (ICPPED) is an international human rights instrument of the United Nations. It came into force on 23 December 2010. The Convention provides a definition of the offence of enforced disappearance and outlines necessary state actions for its prevention and to allow states for the investigation and prosecution of those who perpetrate it. The convention also recognizes the right of families to know the truth regarding the circumstances and fate of the disappeared person, as well as the right of victims to reparation. To date, Pakistan has neither signed nor ratified this convention and no exclusive domestic legislation has been enacted in this regard. Pakistan’s criminal laws also do not currently recognize enforced disappearance as a distinct offence. However, the Supreme Court of Pakistan in a human rights case has upheld that principles of the ICPPED as applicable in Pakistan as the Convention was inextricably linked with the ‘right to life’, guaranteed under Article 9 of the Constitution of Pakistan.