Human Rights activists in Sindh concerned over increase in enforced disappearances

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KARACHI: `Enforced disappearances in Sindh have seen religious people, social activists, nationalists, political party workers and others being picked up. And this goes beyond the province. It is a national-level phenomenon,` said PPP lawmaker Sharmila Faroogi on Tuesday.

She was speaking at a consultation on missing persons and their right to due process of law and fair trials, which was organised by the Sindh Human Rights Commission (SHRC) ata local hotel.

`The laws such as Sections 362 to 374 of the Pakistan Penal Code regarding abductions are already there but they lack implementation,` she said.

`The missing persons` issue is very old but nothing about it has changed over the years. There has been no solution as yet. It is good that we have all gathered to raise voice about it. We also need to get our voices heard, lobby and expose the faces behind it. It will make a difference.

Retired Justice Majida Rizvi, chairperson of the SHRC, said that enforced disappearances were an extreme violation of human rights. `The victim`s family hasn`t a clue to what happened to their loved one and they are left wondering,` she said. `But these missing persons are not criminals,` she pointed out. `If they have done something wrong, there is a proper procedure in law to put them on trial.Abducting them is no way to deal with them.

Advocate Ali A. Palh said that there had been an increase in enforced disappearances over the past three to four months which had peaked in August. `The police, too, now ignore complaints about such disappearances. They say it is no big deal, and that it happens,` he said.

Social activist Jibran Nasir lamented that enforced disappearances were not seen as a crime such as kidnapping here. `It is a big problem when these people with weapons, who are supposed to protect the citizens turn on them. Intelligence agencies now even pick up people for ransom, he said, also highlighting the financial burdens on the families of missing persons. `Then those who are freed don`t talk as they have been told to either leave their cause or leave their land, he said.Tanveer Jahan, a human rights expert from Punjab, said the contradictions about the disappearances needed to be addressed. `The state is expected to facilitate people in human rights violations but when it comes to missing persons, there are many contradictions,` she said.

`And then even if someone raises his or her voice about the issue, they are seen as enemies of the state, who are trying to present a bleak image of Pakistan abroad. But with the situation being what it is, how can they give a rosy picture?` she said.

Mahnaz Rahman of Aurat Foundation said that first people were punished on suspicions of disrespecting Islam and now they were being accused of disloyalty to the land. `But the rights of the citizens of Pakistan are protected as per the Constitution of this country. There are other ways of dealing with people if they are thoughtto be enemies of the state. There are law enforcement agencies and the courts to deal with such persons,` she said.

Nuzhat Shireen, also a women`s rights activist, suggested more human interest stories about the families of missing persons be highlighted in the media to make more people aware of the issue as well as put pressure on the agencies involved in such violations of human rights.

Shujauddin Qureshi of Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research suggested the formation of a lawyers` group to address the disappearancesassoonastheyhappen.

Kulsoom Chandio, a member of the Sindh Assembly, asked if the state itself was involved in such a grave violation of human rights, who would make a law to protect the rights of these people.

Anis Haroon, a member of theNational Commission of Human Rights, said Pakistan was not a signatory to the International Convention on Enforced Disappearances. But even in the conventions where Pakistan was a signatory there were clauses which guaranteed the right to fair trial, she added. `Then the Pakistan government also sets up various commissions to look into such violations, but when it comes to supporting these commissions, they don`t do it. They also hold on to their funding to keep the commissions under their thumb,` she said.

`But it must be understood that the commissions are made up of independent people and not government officials. They are there to highlight the real problems and not sweep them under the rug. If the government can`t tolerate the realities highlighted by these commissions, it should not form such bodies in the first place,` she said.