Diciembre 8, 2006

Pakistan: 4,000 people have simply disappeared: HRCP

KARACHI: Expressing grave concern over the enforced disappearances of civilians, including members of nationalist parties from across the country, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) highlighted the issue through a press conference at the Karachi Press Club on Monday.

The conference was a part of the week of protests being held before the observance of International Human Rights Day on December 10 by various Human Rights activists.

Citing Articles 1 to 4 of the Charter of the United Nations, Iqbal Haider, Secretary-General, HRCP said, “Any act of enforced disappearance is an offence to human dignity and is a violation Human Rights and fundamental freedoms as proclaimed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights - the reverse of which is happening in Pakistan.”

He said that the State had failed to take effective legislative, administrative or judicial measures. Although he acknowledged the relief given to some people through Suo Moto notice by the Supreme Court, he said the action was not enough and more efforts needed to be made to prevent these disappearances.

Haider emphasised that the detainees were usually subjected to prolonged isolation and held incommunicado, which in itself is cruel and inhuman treatment, interfering with the psychological and moral well-being of the detained person.

One such detainee, Abid Zaidi, 26, was recently released from illegal captivity by the law enforcement agencies. Narrating his ordeal of prolonged torture and ill-treatment, he said that he was kidnapped on false charges of being involved in the Nishtar Park bomb blast in Karachi.

“I was handcuffed and blindfolded for over three months during which they constantly accused me of the crime I was not involved in and forced me to admit that I was a part of the conspiracy,” he said.

Abid, who is a PhD from the KU, was ‘picked up’ on April 26, 2006, and was released three months later. He continues to receive threatening messages to this day.

Several other family members of the disappeared were also present at the conference who shared their traumatic experiences.

According to the reports received by the HRCP directly and data compiled on the basis of the press reports, about four-hundred citizens have been abducted. Out of them HRCP has verified 241 cases of enforced disappearances.

“The practice often involves an extra-judicial killing followed by the concealment of the body to get rid of any material evidence of the crime and to ensure the impunity of those responsible,” said Haider.

“Disappearances have become so common under Pakistan’s current military government that it does not bother to respect the orders of the judiciary,” added the Asian Human Rights Commission. They called for an immediate constitution of a high-powered commission to be set up by the Parliament to investigate the phenomenon of the growing number of disappeared people in Pakistan, which has approximately reached 4,000 in number since the beginning of the US-led “war on terror” in 2001.

Games of secrecy
By Kamila Hyat

The writer is a freelance columnist and former newspaper editor

The case brought by the families of 41 'disappeared' people before the Supreme Court of Pakistan has directed greater attention than before towards the issue of missing people in the country.

In response to the court order that the missing persons be found by December 1, twenty of the 41 persons have been stealthily set free, with dire warnings not to talk about their ordeal. The others remain missing and the court has given the authorities two more weeks to locate them.

According to the still limited information available on the issue, hundreds of citizens across the country have 'disappeared'. They include Sindhi and Balochi nationalists, those suspected of involvement with militant groups, journalists, Shias and others who seem to fit no definite category but may have, in one way or the other, evoked the ire of influential people.

What is especially alarming is that these agencies appear to operate outside the control of any central authority. This year, officials of the defence and interior ministries told the Sindh High Court in a case involving the disappearance of three political activists that the Military Intelligence and the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) did not fall under their operational control.

This obviously raises the question of whom, if anyone, controls these organisations and suggests the situation is one of near total anarchy.

During the last hearing of the case before the Supreme Court, a senior official of the ministry of interior stated they had been unable to find some of those on the list of the missing, despite, what he described as 'efforts at the highest level'. In the light of this failure, he suggested the case be disposed off, and the families who have for years awaited any news of fathers, husbands or sons, simply told to go home. Fortunately, the apex court chose not to heed this advice.

Intriguingly, according to some in Islamabad, at the interior ministry, and some say even the prime minister's secretariat, there is uncertainty as to where these persons are or which agency is involved in holding them. It also seems no one quite knows how this process of 'picking up' people began, or who authorised it.

The prevailing situation, in which shadowy secret agencies apparently function outside formal channels of command, is of course not unprecedented. In recent times, one of the most persistent controversies surrounding security services has been the so called 'Wilson Plot', in which officers of the British security service, known as the MI5, were accused of having conspired against Labour Prime Minister, Sir Harold Wilson. Wilson, during his second term in office, from 1974-1976, was said to have become so convinced the security services were spying on him, he insisted some visitors to 10 Downing Street conduct conversations only in mime.

The initial allegations persisted for years, and even though, in 1987, the House of Commons was told there was no evidence of any such conspiracy, many remain convinced that there was at least some truth behind Wilson's fears.

Tales of such manoeuvres by security agencies are of course familiar in Pakistan, where many events in recent political history are attributed to 'agencies'. In the past, these agency-orchestrated actions have been blamed for toppling governments and have contributed to an obsession with conspiracy theories, including the many that still surround the 9/11 attacks.

The case of the ongoing 'disappearances', which have gained pace with each passing year, testify as to what dangers intelligence agencies can pose to people and to the unwillingness of the state to protect its citizens from their actions. Reports that in the Punjab, taped conversations obtained from bugged telephones installed at the residences of ministers led to the recent cabinet reshuffle, with outgoing cabinet members punished for lack of 'loyalty' even in private conversations, only goes to show the pattern along which governance today takes place.

But, for these agencies and whosoever exercises influence over them, it would be foolhardy to believe they can get away forever with 'picking up' people, whisking them away to the secret places of detention scattered in cities across the country and subjecting them to torture. It has been proven time and again that the families of the victims, and others moved by their plight, tend not to forget, for after all, they do not have even a grave to grieve over.

The term 'disappearance' was created during the 1960s at the School of Americas, an institute set up by the US military at Fort Guilick in Panama, which ran there till 1984. 45,000 Latin American officers were trained in counter insurgency there. Along with anti-guerrilla tactics, they were taught how to torture, and how to 'manage' prisoners. As soon as the officers left for their home countries, they applied what they had learned with 'disappearances' taking place in a large number of South American nations through the 1960s and 1970s.

Three decades on, the families of the 'disappeared', in Argentina, in Chile, in Venezuela and in other countries are still pursuing the matter and are succeeding in gaining at least some justice. In Chile, former dictator Augusto Pinochet, now aged 91, faces trial for hundreds of 'enforced disappearances', torture and other grotesque violations of rights that took place under his US-backed regime, which ruled Chile for 17 years from 1973. A Truth and Reconciliation Commission, set up in 1990 after Chile returned to democracy, reported that at least 1,000 people had 'disappeared' in the country. All had been killed the bodies dumped into the sea, into rivers, or flung into mass graves by the military and the notorious Directorate of National Intelligence, responsible for the worst abuses. Investigations in Chile continue as does the process of trial and punishment.

In Argentina, the country with one of the highest number of 'disappearances' ever recorded, up to 30,000 people are estimated to have disappeared between 1975 and 1983 under the dictatorship of General Jorge Rafael Videla, who once stated that to guarantee the security of state, "all necessary people will die". His chilling words are not significantly different to those heard in the Pakistan of today.

Over the last two decades, Argentina has led an international effort for a major international campaign against 'enforced disappearances'. There have also been small, personal victories for the families, especially the grandmothers, who have campaigned since 1977 as part of a movement started when four mothers gathered at the Plaza de Mayo in Buenos Aires to draw attention to their plight as they attempted to find their missing children. They were soon joined by 'grandmothers', women who had given up hope of finding their own children alive, but who believed their grandchildren, some born to pregnant mothers in detention, others abducted with parents, may have survived.

In 1987, the Argentinean parliament approved a new DNA test to be carried out on children with suspicious adoption records. By 1997, 58 children, all now adults, taken away from leftist parents and usually handed over to supporters of the regime had been identified. Some have opted to rejoin surviving parents or grandparents. New legislation invalidates all adoptions of kidnapped children. The grandmothers continue their efforts to discover other 'disappeared' children and reunite them with relatives so they at least know the truth about their past.

The quest for justice, then, it seems, never stops. Even years or decades later, families of the 'disappeared' have kept up their search. A similar determination is growing today in the country as people unite to combat disappearances. As such, it would be wise for authorities to remember that people cannot simply be whisked away for there will always be those who refuse to forget, and who can through they own courage persuade others to join their struggle to find them.

Posted by marga at Diciembre 8, 2006 4:41 AM | TrackBack
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