More Issues

Review/132/06: Appeasing the Mullahs: Protection of Women (Criminal Laws Amendment) Bill 2006 of Pakistan, 13 September 2006

Review/130/ 06: WAT effects: London Plot and Bugti's killing, 30 August 2006

Review/122/06: From Asia with Caution: An unconfident democracy, a suave dictatorship and a proxy candidate, 26 April 2006

Review/114/06: Pakistan : Rape victims at the mercy of the rapists! 1 March 2006

Pakistan: A land of systematic disappearances


On 26 March 2007, Supreme Court of Pakistan asked the government to provide information about tens of people who have been missing after being taken into custody allegedly by the Pakistan security agencies within two weeks. Judge Javed Iqbal, heading a three-member Supreme Court bench, asserted that “If they (security agencies) are not answerable to any ministry, they are certainly and surely answerable to this court”. According to Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), at least 400 persons have disappeared since Pakistan joined the United State-led war on terrorism in 2001. Though the government officials repeatedly denied government's hand in disappearances, many “disappeared” persons have been released from the State's custody.


1. Patterns of disappearances


The enforced disappearance in Pakistan has been systematic. The victims have been arbitrarily arrested, held incommunicado without any charge, denied legal representation or access to family members and tortured. Many are being held in secret places of detention. The government has been misusing the national security laws and “incommunicado detention” has become a tool for silencing dissent under the garb of fighting war against terror. The victims of disappearances include political opponents, Baloch nationalists who were arrested on the charges of being members of the Baloch Liberation Army, Pashtun tribesmen for allegedly helping the Taliban, the Sindhi nationalists, and the journalists who report on the sensitive issues.


Majority of the victims come from Balochistan and Sindh. According to HRCP, out of 242 persons who were still missing as of 12 December 2006, 170 were from Balochistan and 70 were from Sindh.


Amidst pressure, the judiciary has been playing a proactive role in an effort to hold the government accountable. Many habeas corpus petitions were filed before the courts for interventions into the cases of disappearances.


On 10 November 2006, the Supreme Court ordered the Ministry of Interior to make public whereabouts of 41 disappeared persons by 1 December 2006. On 1 December 2006, the government told the Supreme Court that only 20 of the 41 persons were found out and 10 of them have been sent home. The Supreme Court ordered the authorities to trace all the other missing persons.


On 9 December 2006, the Sindh High Court expressed dissatisfaction over a report submitted by Deputy Inspector General (DIG) of Criminal Investigation Department, Syed Zubair Mehmood about the whereabouts of Jeay Sindh Qaumi Mahaz (JSQM) activist, Sikandar alias Akash Mallah, who had allegedly been picked up with another JSQM activist identified as Manjhi Chandio by the police on 16 May 2006. Although Manjhi Chandio was later released, Mr Mallah went missing. But the DIG's report stated that he had not been arrested. On 21 December 2006, the Sindh High Court again ordered the police to disclose the whereabouts of Mr Mallah.

On 18 December 2006, Peshawar High Court served notices to the Director General of Inter Services Intelligence, the Station House Officer of Matta police station and the Deputy Superintendent of Police of Swat to submit their comments on the whereabouts of four missing persons identified as Mian Syed Laiq, Ziauddin, Syed Muhammad who were arrested on 11 November 2006, and Muhammad Yousaf who was arrested on 24 November 2006.


On 8 March 2007, Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) submitted a list of 148 missing persons in the Supreme Court and alleged that the Pakistani intelligence agencies were responsible for their disappearance. A full bench of the Supreme Court headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry took up the petition and issued notices to the federal and provincial governments. Amina Masood Janjua, an activist whose husband also disappeared, presented another list of 59 missing persons to the Supreme Court. The lists of the disappeared persons included Ali Bugti and Fahad Bugti, nephews of the late Nawab Akbar Bugti. The HRCP's petition claims that some of the released victims testified before the HRCP that they had been severely tortured in security detention, coerced to spy for the intelligence agencies, and that the security agencies maintained secret private prisons or safe houses where detainees are tortured.


II. Role of the US


In an interview to The Herald magazine in October 2005, Pakistan Interior Minister Aftab Sherpao stated that Pakistan security agencies had arrested over 600 foreign nationals since September 2001. Both Pakistani and non-Pakistani detainees were reportedly handed over by Pakistan to the United States and were held in secret prisons maintained by Central Intelligence Agency.


On 27 February 2007, Human Rights Watch released a list of 39 persons including a woman who were being held or had been held in secret prisons maintained by Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Many of those prisoners were allegedly handed over by Pakistan to the US. Examples include Khalid Zawahiri, an Egyptian, who was arrested in the South Waziristan of Pakistan in February 2004, Marwan Jabour, a Palestinian, who was arrested by authorities in Lahore, Pakistan, in May 2004 and handed over to the US prior to being released by the US in the Gaza Strip in 2006, and Mustafa Setmariam Nasar, a suspected Al Qaeda operative, who was arrested in Pakistan in 2005. The prisoners were subjected to torture in custody.


III. Reject “We do not know” reply


It is clear that the US has a strong hand in several cases of disappearances taking place in Pakistan. But the US State Department's “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices 2006” failed to document the role of the US in the rising number of disappearances in Pakistan.


In a reaction to Supreme Court's order of 26 March 2007, President Musharraf on 27 March 2007 denied his government's involvement in the disappearances and instead claimed that those disappeared had probably been “brainwashed” into joining jihadi groups. “These people may have gone on their own ... to Kashmir, Afghanistan or Iraq. I don't know,” he was quoted as saying while addressing a gathering in Liaqat Bagh in Rawalpindi.


It is not usual denial which will satisfy national and international community. President Parvez Musharaff must ensure full and unconditional compliance with the orders of the courts, if the judiciary is to be seen as an independent entity. At the same time, Pakistan must also ratify International Convention for the Protection of all Persons from Enforced Disappearances.

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