Islamabad June 24, 2021: Senator Farhatullah Babar secretary general of the Pakistan People’s Party Parliamentarians has issued the following statement on the Bill recently introduced in the National Assembly ostensibly to curb the practice of enforced disappearances.
“On June 7 about twenty legislative items were listed on the Orders of the National Assembly. In the din of noise over the legislation for electronic voting machines (EVMs) an amendment Bill introduced by the interior minister escaped public attention and scrutiny.
“The amendment Bill sought to amend some provisions of the Pakistan Penal code and the Code of Criminal Procedure. No speeches were made as it was quickly referred to the relevant committee. As a result it escaped media and public attention as it lay buried in the pile of legislative agenda.
“The amendment Bill acknowledges the crime of enforced disappearance and defines it as “an unlawful or illegal deprivation of liberty by an agent of the state”. However the absence of clarification about the mandate of intelligence agencies, allegedly behind the crime has made it gravely problematic.
“This clarification is critical as during hearings in cases of enforced disappearances before superior courts the ISI claimed to have ‘lawful’ authority to arrest persons engaged in anti state activities even though there is no legislation about it. It therefore remains a grey area that allows state agencies to cover up enforced disappearances.
“Enforced Disappearances must be treated as a separate autonomous crime. A separate legal mechanism needs to be provided for taking up complaints, holding perpetrators accountable and providing for compensation to the aggrieved families. The amendment Bill does not meet these requirements.
“A holistic approach is needed. Legislation needs to be made to determine the mandate of the ISI, provide guarantees that anyone deprived of liberty is kept at a fully authorized place of detention, provide protection to victims, their families and witnesses and also compensation to them.
“Ratification of the international convention for the protection of all persons against enforced disappearances should also form part of the new legal architecture to address the issue.
“In mid 1960’s a military dictator made an amendment 2 (1) (d) in the Army Act to give powers to the army to investigate and try in military courts even civilians in some cases. Such a law does not exist even in India and Israel.
“It was under this provision in the army Act that human rights defender Idris Khattak remained disappeared for over 8 months until, as a result of national and international outcry, his custody was acknowledged by security agencies.
“The legislative mechanism must therefore also include undoing this amendment made in the Army Act
“The Bill is crucial to protecting human rights. Any legislation must be piloted by the human rights ministry instead of law enforcing ministry because of fundamental differences in their outlooks and approaches to the issue.
“The amendment bill in its present form will not end the menace.
“The Party cautions against rushing through the bill. It also demands that all stakeholders be invited to discussions in the relevant committee or to public hearings if they are held as provided in the rules of the Parliament”.