A Pakistani court is set to serve notices to former military ruler General Pervez Musharraf and successive leaders including current Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif raising questions about the state policy on enforced disappearance.
Many incidents of missing persons are reported every year from different parts of the country, along with the number of protests against such disappearances, according to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP). The highest number of enforced disappearances reported to the Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances in 2021 was in Balochistan, at 1,108, while the highest number of pending cases, 1,417, were from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
“The Federal Government shall issue and serve notices on General (retd) Pervez Musharraf and all other successors Chief Executives i.e. the former Prime Ministers, including the incumbent holder of the office. They shall submit their respective affidavits explaining why the Court may not order proceedings against them for alleged subversion of the Constitution in the context of the undeclared tacit approval of the policy regarding enforced disappearances and thus putting national security at risk by allowing the involvement of law enforcing agencies, particularly the Armed Forces. The onus is on each Chief Executive to rebut the presumption and to explain why they may not be tried for the offence of high treason”, read an order authored by Islamabad High Court (IHC) Chief Justice Athar Minallah in a matter related to missing persons.
According to the order cited by The Express Tribune newspaper, the court also said that the perception of the involvement of law enforcement agencies in this grave crime against humanity was the most profound violation of public interest and policy.
“In case the missing persons are [neither] recovered nor effective and demonstrable actions/decisions are taken by the Federal Government then the current and former Ministers of Interior shall appear in person to explain why the petitions may not be decided and exemplary costs imposed upon them for the unimaginable agony and pain suffered by the petitioners on account of lack of response and empathy while dealing with their grievances,” the order said.
The court further asked why criminal cases might not be registered against the chief executives of the federation and the provinces concerned in case of alleged disappearances in the future.
Furthermore, IHC directed its registrar to send a copy of this order to the interior secretary for compliance. “The latter [interior secretary] is directed to place a copy of this order before the worthy prime minister and members of the federal cabinet.”
Back in June 2021, the spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights urged Pakistan to ensure the passage of the enforced disappearances bill and ratify the International Convention on the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearances.
Subsequently, in December, UN human rights experts condemned the sentencing of rights activist Idris Khattak to 14 years’ imprisonment by a military court.
The long-awaited bill aimed at criminalising enforced disappearance as a separate, autonomous offence, has still not been passed despite commitments to this effect by the PTI government since 2018.
In February 2021, former Prime Minister Imran Khan said in an address that he wanted ‘not a single missing person’ in the country. Despite this claim, enforced disappearances tripled in 2021 according to data from the Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances (COIED). The commission released an annual performance report stating that they disposed of 6,117 cases until December 31, 2021.