What is enforced disappearance? Under which category of crimes does it fall? Is enforced disappearance justifiable in any special circumstance? What is the history and current situation of enforced disappearances in the occupied Balochistan? To what extent the “Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances” has been successful in addressing the issue? I will try to briefly discuss all these questions in this article.
First, let’s try to find a definition of “enforced disappearance”. Article 2 of International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance” defines it as under:
“Enforced disappearance is” considered to be the arrest, detention, abduction or any other form of deprivation of liberty by agents of the state or by persons or groups of persons acting with the authorization, support or acquiescence of the state, followed by a refusal to acknowledge the deprivation of liberty or by concealment of the fate or whereabouts of the disappeared person, which place such a person outside the protection of the law.
This is a comprehensive definition of the crime.
The fourth paragraph of the preamble of the above Convention reads:
“Aware of the extreme seriousness of enforced disappearance which constitutes a crime and, in certain circumstances defined in international law, a crime against humanity.”
It is clear that enforce disappearance falls under the category of “crimes against humanity”.
Article 1 of the said Convention maintains as under:
“1. No one shall be subjected to enforced disappearance.
2. No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification for enforced disappearance.”
It is also clear from the above cited article that enforced disappearance cannot be justified in any circumstances, or under any pretext.
Now, let’s have a look at the history and current situation of enforced disappearances in the occupied Balochistan and on the performance of the Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances established by the government of Pakistan to address the issue.
Enforced disappearances at the hands of the Pakistan army and its intelligence agencies is not a new tool of repression for Baloch political activists and general population. In 1970s, many Baloch, including ex-Chief Minister Sardar Attaullah Mengal’s elder son Mir Asadullah Mengal, his colleague Ahmed Shah Kurd and Dillip Das aka Dali, were arrested by Pakistani secret agencies and were extrajudicially killed in undisclosed torture cells. Their bodies were not even handed over to their families.
The current wave of enforced disappearances of Baloch people started in January 2000 when famous Baloch leader and chieftain of Marri tribe Khair Bakhsh Marri was arrested in the murder case of Justice Muhammad Nawaz Marri on the basis of false and concocted charges.
Following his arrest, about 200 of his colleagues and tribesmen went missing. Since then, thousands of Baloch from all walks of life have gone missing. Initially, political parties, organizations and the general public vehemently protested and condemned the enforced disappearances. Media and human rights organizations also used to report cases of enforce disappearances. Victim families also used to contest enforced disappearances through protest in public and litigation before courts. All segments of the society offered a brave resistance to this unlawful policy of security agencies. Despite enormous condemnation, Pakistan army and spy agencies continued to widen the net of systematic use of enforced disappearances by targeting Baloch nationalist political leaders, their cadres, workers, sympathizers, journalists, students, human rights campaigners, activists, intellectuals ,professors, poets, singers etc with a view to terrorize the people and silence their voices.
Baloch National Movement (BNM), Baloch Students Organization-Azad (BSO-Azad), Baloch National Front (BNF) and Baloch Republication Party (BRP) were the prime target of security forces because these organizations showed the potential to mobilize people against state atrocities. Thousands of Baloch from all walks of life went missing, including hundreds of members of the BSO-Azad, BNM and BRP.
Army and intelligence agencies also formed state-sponsored armed mercenary bands and used them for target killing of political activists, journalists and human rights campaigners. Families of missing persons not only challenged enforced disappearances through litigation in courts but they also formed an organization, styled as Voice for Baloch Missing persons (VBMP), with a view to contest widespread and systematic use of inhuman enforce disappearances by invoking peaceful means of protest. They organized processions, rallies, demonstrations, token hunger strike camps in front of Quetta and Karachi press clubs for many long years.
They also started documenting cases of enforced disappearances. In the last months of 2013, despite serious threats from security agencies and army-sponsored mercenary bands, VBMP led a historic long march from Quetta to Islamabad via Karachi (about 2500 km).
Due to these mass awareness campaigns, Pakistan-based parties were compelled to raise their voice against widespread systematic practice and policy of enforced appearances. PPP’s Slain leader Benazir Bhutto and Mia Nawaz Sharif, though halfheartedly, condemned enforced disappearances of Baloch people but their weak and opportunistic parties compromised on human rights issues when they came in power.
On one hand, army and spy agencies unabatedly continued to widen the net of enforced disappearances all around the occupied Balochistan, on the other hand Baloch people too continued their resistance in the form of campaigns, protests and litigation. By their bravely struggle, they succeeded to draw the attention of international human rights organizations which compelled Pakistan to take steps for addressing the issue of enforced disappearances. A bench of the Supreme Court of Pakistan headed by then Chief Justice Iftekhar Muhammad Chouhdry, while entertaining a petition, exerted pressure on army, paramilitary FC, spy agencies and the government to trace missing Baloch victims but with no results.
As it is known, Pakistan’s establishment and their tamed puppet politicians are accustomed with devising deceitful methods to dump any important issue. So PPP’s powerless and unwilling government, as a claptrap effort, devised the spineless Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances (which will be referred to as commission hereafter) on March 1, 2011. Justice (R) Javed Iqbal was appointed as President, Justice (R) Dr Ghous Muhammad and IGP (R) Muhammad Sharif as its members.
The creation of the commission was never aimed at to trace the victims and bring the culprits to justice, rather than it was a dishonest and deceitful measure of Pakistan security establishment aimed at to divert the attention of UNA and other human rights bodies from the issue of enforced disappearances and thereby reduce the pressure on Pakistan and its army.
The commission is neither independent nor impartial, and it does not have the will, enough resources and power to effectively inquire into cases of enforced disappearances and bring the culprits to justice. The commission is working in collaboration with the Pakistan army, ISI, MI and other spy agencies trying to dispute the happenings of enforced disappearances and their numbers, discourage the victims from reporting cases, harass the victim families through complex procedural and legal technicalities, prolonged, costly, futile and exhaustive inquiries and hearings, render the reporting impossible by making the commission inaccessible to poor families from far-flung areas of occupied Balochistan.
The seven years long zero performance shows the commission’s connivance with the army and spy agencies and its unwillingness to do the job which law vests in it. It is known to everyone that since 2004 Pakistan army and spy agencies are engaged in intensified operations in the occupied Balochistan to curb the Baloch freedom struggle. Entire regions of Makkuran, Dera Bugti, Awaran, Mashkay, Marri areas, Bolan and most parts of Jahlawan, Sarawan, Kharan, Rakhshan, Quetta, Noshki, Chaghai, Kachi, Sibi and Lasbela have severely been affected by the armed conflict between army and Baloch freedom fighters.
The Baloch resistance to the exploitive scheme of China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) resulted in further ruthless military operations during whereof Pakistan army is committing the worst kind of human rights violations. Apart from blazing the dwellings, bombardment on civilian populations, plundering households, seizure and killing of herds, forcible displacements of populations from their ancestral lands and pastures at a large scale, the widespread systematic enforced disappearances of civilians as suspects shows the level of army’s repression in the above-mentioned regions of the occupied Balochistan. Now there are increasing reports that the army is employing the policy of collective punishment. They abduct the whole families, including women and children, with a view to put pressure on dissidents.
Even in Karachi and other areas the displaced Baloch are being chased and disappeared by Pakistan security forces. Army is abducting dozens of civilians on a daily basis from all around Balochistan, but these serious human rights violations mostly go unnoticed to the world.
A few victims return home in paralyzed or mentally disabled condition due to severe torture they are exposed to during detention. Some of them succumb to the pain while others remain untraced in illegal internments of spy agencies and army. There are also horrible reports that security forces take ransom from most of those to whom they release.
Due to 70 years long colonial rule of Pakistan, far-flung regions of Balochistan are mostly backward in terms of infrastructure, education and economic development. Poor villagers neither have enough resources nor proper guidance and knowledge to approach the so-called commission in Islamabad and register their complaints. Media has blacked out any coverage on Balochistan, its pro-freedom political parties. Human rights NGOs are not allowed to register their peaceful protest. A large number of veteran human rights activists, including Naeem Sabir Jamaldini, Siddique Eido and Yusuf Nazar, have lost their lives at the hands of security forces and army-sponsored mercenary militias just for raising voice against enforced disappearances. Yet, during these long seven years, Justice Javed Iqbal and other members of the commission have neither made a single visit to far-flung war affected regions of Balochistan, nor the commission bothered to open sub-offices to receive complaints and hold hearings on enforced disappearances at the far-flung regions.
There are also reports that some female complainants from Balochistan and Sawat were made subject to harassment during the hearings of the so-called commission. On April 16, 2018, media reported that in a briefing to a standing committee of National Assembly, Javed Iqbal, Chairman of the Commission claimed that foreign spy agencies illegally apprehend people and pin the blame on Pakistani spy agencies ISI and MI. He further claimed that 70 percent of the missing persons are found to be pro-military. He disclosed that often the kidnapped persons after their release refrain from sharing details of the incident out of fear. He alleged that statistics shared for the missing persons in Balochistan are contradictory to reality and many of missing persons have gone with militant groups fighting for freedom of Balochistan. However, he didn't cite a single evidence to substantiate his false claims. He, apparently with mala fide intentions, tried to shade doubts on widespread and systematic occurrences of enforced disappearances in Balochistan.
When Pakistan army and spy agencies claim to be the most efficient in the world, then how is it possible for foreign spy agencies to apprehend and shift thousands people from regions where army and spy agencies are stationed? However, it is right to some extent that missing persons, after their release, usually refrain from sharing details of whatsoever they face in illegal internments. It is also true that they opt to do so out of fear because there is not a single powerful institution in Pakistan to protect such persons from going missing again at the hands of army and spy agencies as a punishment for sharing details of their enforced disappearance. But there are many victims of enforced disappearances, including Baloch activists Dr Naseem Baloch, Dr Hanif Sharif, Dr Yousuf Baloch and prominent social media activists and bloggers Professor Salman Haider and Ahmed Waqass Goraya who shared details of their illegal detentions. Yet, no institution or authority, including Javed Iqbal and his commission, attempted to record their statements and bring culprits to justice, rather than all of them are compelled to live in exile.
As long as the number of missing persons from Balochistan is concerned it must be kept in mind they are not mere numbers but humans. Inaccessibility of the war affected regions, illiteracy, poverty, media blackout hinder the documentation of missing persons. But Pakistan army and security forces is the main source of hindrance. They don't tolerate any organization or NGO to work on enforced disappearances and collect details of victims. The VBMP’s camp has more than twice been set on fire by secret agents and Mama Qadir Baloch is constantly receiving threats from spy agencies for his campaign on the issue of enforced disappearances.
Hamid Mir, a prominent journalist and anchor person of Geo TV, ignored threats from the ISI and held talk shows on the issue of enforced disappearance in Balochistan. In retaliation, the ISI attacked and injured him. He and Geo TV were implicated in a number of blasphemy cases to ignite religious hatred against them. Religious proxies of the army held countrywide demonstrations against Hamid and Geo. ISI also illegally compelled cable operators to ban or change the frequency of Geo TV.
Similarly, another famous human rights champion, Sabeen Mehmud, hosted a seminar on enforced disappearances of Baloch people on April 24,2015, in Karachi. She was killed on the same day as a punishment for her defiance.
Recently, the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement has come forward with claims that thousands of people have gone missing in the Pakhtun areas at the hands of the Pakistan army. The PTM has held crowded demonstrations, rallies and public gatherings in Quetta, Peshawar, Lahore and Swat demanding the release or otherwise production of missing persons before courts.
Army, in turn, started a campaign against the PTM through the army-controlled media. Even the Army chief, Bajwa, in a Corps Commanders conference, termed the PTM campaign a foreign conspiracy against Pakistan.
A former prominent senator and member of senate standing committee on human rights, Farhatullah Babar has time and again pointed out that there are Guantanamo Bay-like illegal internments run by army and spy agencies in Balochistan and Pakhtun areas but none of the state stakeholders, including the so-called Commission, paid heed to his claim. Instead of conducting proper inquiries and devising ways to make it easy for every complainant to have access to the Commission, Javed Iqbal, at the behest of security establishment, is trying his best to dispute, deny, dismiss and discourage the reporting of enforced disappearances entirely on technical grounds, with a clear aim of exonerating culprits rather than bringing them to justice.
Therefore, the Baloch people have lost faith in Javed Iqbal’s so-called biased and dishonest commission, courts and other institutions. Despite routine army operations all around Balochistan, widespread use of enforced disappearances as a tool of repression, Baloch victims don’t usually register complaints before the commission or Kangaroo Courts. They prefer to register complaints with Balochistan-based human rights organizations such as Human Rights Council of Balochistan (HRCB), Baloch Human Rights Organization (BHRO) and Voice for Baloch Missing Persons (VBMP) and share reports of any human rights abuse in the social media.
Under these circumstances, Pakistan army, spy agencies and their sponsored private armed mercenary militias are busy, with full impunity, in gross human rights violations in the occupied Balochistan including enforced disappearances and extrajudicial executions at an alarming scale.
In the view of the above-mentioned circumstances, the Secretary General of the Security Council of the United Nations is duty-bound to take notice, with due actions, of the worsening human rights situation in the occupied Balochistan with a view to save the oppressed Baloch people from the ongoing genocide at the hands of Pakistan, as they did in case of Bosnia, East Timor and South Sudan.
Written by: Rahim Baloch Advocate, former Secretary General of BNM
The writer tweets at @RahimBalochh