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How to End the Scourge of Missing persons?

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Islamabad (Imran Y. CHOUDHRY) :- Former Press Secretary to the President, Former Press Minister to the Embassy of Pakistan to France, Former MD, SRBC Mr. Qamar Bashir analysis :
The Islamabad High Court’s response to the disappearance of 12 Baloch students from Islamabad reveals a profound frustration with the violation of their fundamental human rights, as guaranteed by the constitution and the law. The court expressed dismay over the failure to recover the missing individuals even after two years, attributing responsibility to state institutions. In a stern warning, the judge highlighted the paradox of citizens needing protection from their own security agencies, which are mandated to ensure their safety. The court’s summons of high-ranking officials, including the caretaker prime minister, reflects a commitment to accountability, with the judge cautioning that future disappearances could lead to legal action against top government officials. The judge’s assertion that if those in power are unable to control the institutions under their purview, they should resign underscores the gravity of the situation and the need for effective governance and oversight.

The statements made by the High Court judge during the hearing reveal a deep-seated frustration with the issue of enforced disappearances. The judge’s remarks underscore the failure of state institutions, including security agencies, to safeguard citizens as mandated by the constitution and the law. The formation of the committee comprising heads of top spy agencies and summoning the caretaker prime minister, the court aims to ensure a thorough investigation and provide answers regarding the missing persons, regardless of political considerations. The judge’s warning to state officials about potential consequences if such issues persist reflects the urgency and seriousness with which the court views the matter, emphasizing accountability and the judiciary’s role in upholding human rights and the rule of law.

Ironically, the interim prime minister’s inability to enforce authority on the powerful spy agency likely stems from a combination of factors, including institutional resistance, complex power dynamics, and political constraints. The spy agency operates with a degree of autonomy and influence that may make it challenging for the prime minister to compel them to release the missing persons. Additionally, the sensitive nature of intelligence operations and national security concerns may further limit the prime minister’s ability to intervene directly.

The issue of missing persons has drawn condemnation from various quarters, both domestically and internationally which are tarnishing the soft image of the country.. International bodies such as the United Nations, Human Rights Watch, and Amnesty International have extensively documented and criticized the human rights abuses Balochistan, including enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings. Additionally, the European Parliament has passed resolutions urging the Pakistani government to address these issues. Within Pakistan, organizations like the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) and Baloch political leaders have been vocal in condemning the actions of security forces in Balochistan and advocating for justice for the victims.

Despite these condemnations, the situation in Balochistan remains dire, with ongoing human rights abuses continuing to affect the lives of the Baloch people. Pakistani civil society organizations have also joined the chorus of voices calling for an end to these violations and for accountability for those responsible. International leaders and activists have echoed these sentiments, urging the Pakistani government to respect human rights and address the grievances of the Baloch people and restore their fundamental human rights such as the right to liberty, fair trial, and protection from enforced disappearance, as guaranteed by the UN Charter and the Constitution of Pakistan..

Enforced disappearances, a global phenomenon, extend far beyond the borders of Pakistan. Numerous countries grapple with this issue, where individuals vanish without explanation, often with impunity. Mexico contends with tens of thousands of missing persons, primarily linked to organized crime and drug cartels, while Syria’s civil war has led to widespread disappearances attributed to government forces and armed factions. Colombia’s history of enforced disappearances, though improving, remains a concern, particularly regarding paramilitary groups and drug trafficking. Similarly, Sri Lanka’s civil war aftermath includes ongoing cases, often involving state security forces.

Unlike the examples quoted above, established democracies distinguish themselves by their robust systems, where occurrences of missing persons are exceptionally rare. This is attributed to optimized institutions with high levels of accountability, including law enforcement and intelligence agencies. Transparency is a cornerstone, ensuring adherence to constitutional and legal frameworks, thus resolving political intricacies. Non-state actors are brought within legal bounds, eradicating covert operations. Parliament, judiciary, and government operate independently, devoid of coercion or intimidation, and are subject to rigorous accountability measures for any lapses in fulfilling their mandates. This unwavering commitment ensures the effective functioning of democratic processes, fostering public trust and stability.

The unrest and insurgencies, like in Balochistan primarily stem from a combination of historical grievances, political marginalization, economic disparities, and cultural identity issues. Historically, Balochistan has faced marginalization and exploitation of its natural resources by the central government, leading to feelings of neglect and resentment among the Baloch population.

Additionally, the lack of political representation and autonomy, coupled with human rights abuses and military operations in the region, have fueled grievances and resistance. Resultantly, during ensuing struggles individuals vanish into a void of uncertainty and fear. The lack of accountability for those responsible perpetuates a cycle of anguish and injustice, echoing the urgent need for international cooperation and concerted efforts to address this pressing human rights concern.

However, everything’s not lost, there are examples of countries, which were facing the abhorrent phenomenon but they resolved this curse. One such country is Argentina. Following the return to democracy in 1983, the government of Argentina established the National Commission on the Disappearance of Persons (CONADEP) to investigate human rights abuses. The resulting Nunca Más report documented the atrocities committed by the military regime, laying the foundation for accountability.

In parallel, the Argentine parliament repealed amnesty laws that shielded military officials from prosecution for human rights abuses. This legislative action enabled the judiciary to prosecute and convict numerous perpetrators through landmark trials like the Trial of the Juntas in 1985. These legal proceedings underscored the importance of judicial independence and accountability in addressing state-sponsored violence.

Civil society organizations, notably the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, played a pivotal role in advocating for justice for the victims of disappearances. Their tireless activism, alongside broader societal pressure and international scrutiny, contributed to the dismantling of impunity and the pursuit of truth, justice, and accountability. Together, these short-term, medium-term, and long-term measures exemplify a multifaceted approach that can serve as a model for addressing the issue of missing persons and promoting human rights worldwide.

In light of Argentina’s example, there are several actions that parliament, judiciary, government, and civil society in Balochistan could take to resolve the issue of missing persons once and for all.

Firstly, parliament could enact legislation to establish a commission or task force dedicated to investigating cases of enforced disappearances in Balochistan. This body should be granted sufficient powers and resources to conduct thorough and impartial investigations into each case.

Secondly, the judiciary should prioritize cases of missing persons and ensure that perpetrators are held accountable for their actions. This may involve repealing any laws or policies that hinder prosecution or provide immunity to state actors involved in enforced disappearances.

Additionally, the government should actively cooperate with investigative bodies and provide support to families of missing persons. This includes facilitating access to information, legal assistance, and psychological support for affected families.

Lastly, civil society organizations play a crucial role in advocating for justice and raising awareness about the issue of missing persons. They should continue their efforts to pressure the government and hold authorities accountable for their actions. Moreover, international scrutiny and support can also be instrumental in addressing human rights abuses and promoting accountability in Balochistan.

By implementing these measures and adopting a collaborative approach, parliament, judiciary, government, and civil society can work together to bring an end to the scourge of missing persons in Balochistan.

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