Missing persons commission

The Supreme Court (SC) has resumed hearing of the missing persons’ case. The three-member commission for the recovery of missing persons has submitted its report of inquiry to the SC after hearing individual cases and meeting the families of the missing persons. Little is known about the findings of the report except that it has recommended legislation to fix responsibility in missing persons’ cases through proper monitoring, for which the SC has sought an answer from the federal government. The report is a classified document, but the additional attorney general AAG explained that all aspects of enforced disappearances had been discussed in detail, including the role of the intelligence agencies. The AAG admitted that since 9/11, certain steps were taken outside the law, something that human rights organisations have been claiming since the beginning of the war on terror. The SC observed that a tribunal should be constituted to provide a permanent forum to the cases of missing persons.While it is encouraging that after a hiatus of several months, some progress has been made on the cases of missing persons, comment is not yet possible on the efficacy of various recommendations that the inquiry report has made to the government, and which the SC has directed the government to implement, till the report is declassified, but the only recommendation that has come to light seems inadequate.

The role of intelligence agencies, the key culprit, has come under discussion several times during hearings on these cases, but neither the government nor the apex court has been able to hold them accountable. It looks like a difficult proposition to ‘monitor’ state outfits that consider themselves above the law, the statement of their lawyer in the SC negating this impression notwithstanding. They simply pick up suspects of terrorism or any other thing considered a ‘crime’, and never produce them in court. Following in the footsteps of their senior partner in the war on terror, Pakistan’s security establishment took advantage of the loosening of the legal process and rounded up many ‘suspects’, even those that did not have even the remotest connection with the war on terror. Thousands of Baloch activists have disappeared in this manner over the years. These violations are now being noticed in Washington and elsewhere. However, the wall of impunity around the intelligence agencies has not been breached. They continue with their old tactics. In a blatant violation of a Lahore High Court order last month, intelligence officials whisked away 11 prisoners from Adyala Jail in Rawalpindi who had been acquitted by the court.

Although Justice Javed Iqbal, head of the three-member bench hearing the case, expressed confidence that 2011 will be the year of recovery of missing persons, the ground reality suggests that it will be long in coming. There are legal loopholes that do not allow for airtight prosecution of such cases, which precisely is the reason that the agencies are reluctant to produce suspects in court. They also use this excuse as a cover to do whatever they want with citizens they detain. Facing pressure from the SC, the ISI and MI informed the court through their counsel that the 11 prisoners abducted from Adyala jail, charged with attacking high profile military targets, will now be tried under the Army Act 1953. Therefore, not only specific laws need to be enacted that allow for thorough investigation and proper prosecution of terrorist accused, there should be safeguards to ensure that innocent people are not falsely implicated. Intelligence agencies cannot be allowed to be the judge, jury and executioner all at the same time – Dalytimes