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UN joins outcry against Pakistan’s controversial law on enforced disappearances

The Baloch people hold yet another protest over enforced disappearances (Photo: The Balochistan Post)

Multiple human rights bodies including the UN have said that amendments to the proposed enforced disappearance bill violate international laws and seek to punish relatives for filing cases in favour of missing relatives.

In a tweet this week, the UN Working Group on Enforced Disappearances said: "We are gravely concerned at proposed amendments to the Criminal Laws (Amendment) Bill 2021, including clauses that harshly penalize relatives for reporting alleged cases of #enforceddisappearances. We call for an open discussion of the Bill, with relatives and civil society".

In a series of tweets, the UN working group called for an open discussion with relatives of missing people as well as Pakistani civil society organisations over the bill. 

UN experts also wrote a letter to the Pakistani government over the bill, saying that the proposed amendments and additional clauses to the bill "… appear to run contrary to the spirit and objectives of a law the purpose of which is to criminalize enforced disappearances". 

Apart from the UN, human rights body Amnesty International too has expressed concerns over the amendments, saying that it not only violates international human rights law but also allows “state actors to behave with impunity”.

Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan's government had introduced a bill before the National Assembly in June this year to punish enforced disappearance with a 10-year imprisonment if anyone was found guilty.

However, what caught the eye of the human rights organisations is the fact that the amendments will allow criminal charges to be brought against relatives or people who level ‘false allegations’. The punishment provides for five years imprisonment and a fine of Pakistani Rs 100,000, which is seen as a deterrent to relatives seeking justice.

Minister for Human Rights Dr Shireen Mazari had introduced the bill for amendments which had been pending for the last over two years.

Enforced disappearances is a polite term referred to people who have been kidnapped or abducted illegally, often by the State or the Pakistani intelligence agencies. Many of the victims of enforced disappearances are never found.

The problem of enforced disappearances is acute in Balochistan where the locals have been fighting for independence since the last seven decades. The Baloch people have been protesting against enforced disappearances across the world, including in front of UN human rights agencies in Europe.

Recently Amnesty International said: "Enforced disappearances have been routinely used as a tool by Pakistan’s intelligence services since the inception of the so-called “War on Terror” in 2001, to target human rights defenders, political activists, students, and journalists, with the fate of hundreds of victims still unknown, according to victim groups and families".  

As an opposition leader Imran Khan had promised to end the menace of enforced disappearances. Thousands have been kidnapped, tortured and murdered for nearly two decades in Balochistan. The Guardian reported that secret detention centres flourish where the Pakistani agencies humiliate and torture people for weeks or even years.

Pakistani newspaper Dawn reported earlier this year that families from Balochistan held a protest in Islamabad asking for an end to enforced disappearances. Families have been fighting court battles and searching for their loved ones for years to no avail.

The amendment on enforced disappearances was supposed to bring relief to thousands of grieving families, but currently it looks as if the proposed amendment might end up shutting down even that feeble ray of hope that the legal system provides.