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Missing Pakistanis

Shakoor Rahim / Shamil ShamsSeptember 11, 2012

Pakistan Supreme Court's Chief Justice has refused to meet a UN delegation which is in Pakistan on a 10-day mission to investigate cases of missing people, allegedly picked up by country's intelligence agencies.

UN flag (Photo: Oliver Berg dpa/ lnw)
Image: picture-alliance/dpa

The United Nations Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances arrived in Pakistan on Sunday at the invitation of the Pakistani government. During the visit, the delegation will meet Pakistani government officials, security personnel, jurists, civil society activists and family members of missing people to prepare its report.

"The UN experts will gather information on cases of enforced disappearances," the UN said in an earlier statement. The delegation will study "measures adopted by the (Pakistani) state to prevent and eradicate enforced disappearances, including issues related to truth, justice and reparation for the victims of enforced disappearances."

On Tuesday, the delegation, led by Olivier de Frouvill, met Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar. However, the Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry has reportedly turned down the delegation's request for a meeting. The Supreme Court said in a statement that the cases of missing persons were pending in the apex court, and for that reason it would not be appropriate for the chief justice to meet the UN officials.

Role of intelligence agencies

It is the first time that Pakistani courts are questioning military agencies and their constitutional jurisdiction; however, observers say that the country's military and its spy agencies remain beyond the reach of Pakistan's criminal justice system.

Pakistan's Supreme Court building in Islamabad (Photo: Tim Johnson/ MCT/ Landov)
Pakistani Supreme Court is currently hearing cases of missing personsImage: picture-alliance/dpa

Human rights organizations have long criticized Pakistan's spy agencies - the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) in particular - for acting as "a state within a state," even kidnapping political and social activists with impunity. The Pakistani government and the ISI deny these allegations.

The government acknowledges some 400 cases of missing people, allegedly picked up by intelligence operatives on suspicion of “anti-state" activities. Pakistani activists, however, put the number of missing persons at over 1,000. Many of those picked up illegally are thought to be members of Baluch insurgent groups operating in the western province of Baluchistan that borders Iran.

Amina Masood Janjua, chairperson of Defense of Human Rights organization, whose own husband was allegedly picked up by security agencies, told DW that she had a meeting with the UN delegation and shared her findings with the UN experts.

"The government does not pay heed to our demands and concerns. We hope that the Pakistani authorities will at least listen to the UN delegation," Janjua said.

Impartial investigations

Opposition parties criticized President Asif Ali Zardari's PPP government for allowing the UN to probe a "domestic issue."

Amina Junjua, chairperson Defense of Human Rights, at a press conference in Pakistan (Photo: Abdul Sabooh)
Rights groups say security agencies pick up people to 'fight terror'Image: Abdul Sabooh

"The visit of the UN group is a proof that the PPP government has failed to provide justice to Pakistani people," Riaz Hussain Pirzada, opposition leader and member of the lower house of Pakistani parliament, told DW. Opposition groups also say that the UN delegation is bypassing the jurisdiction of the Pakistani Supreme Court.

But the Pakistani government says the visit of the UN delegation will not have any influence on the ongoing Supreme Court investigations.

"The visit of the group will provide an opportunity to highlight the efforts being undertaken by the government to address this important issue and to further improve the relevant procedures," Pakistan's foreign ministry said in a statement.

Foreign interference?

Many pro-military and right-wing groups in Pakistan accuse international human rights organizations of interfering in Pakistan's “internal affairs.”

Pakistani para-military forces patrol in the troubled area of Dera Bugti in Baluchistan (AP Photo/ Arshad Butt)
Baluch insurgent groups demand independence from PakistanImage: AP

Karamat Ali of the Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research (PILER) rejects such criticism.

"It is the responsibility of every citizen of the world to raise their voice against human rights violations that are perpetrated anywhere in the world," Ali told DW.

Rights activist and retired Justice Tariq told DW that the UN delegation's findings will have serious implications for Pakistan and the Pakistani government.

"Missing people's cases are the responsibility of the Pakistani executive. If the UN delegation gives out a negative report on these cases, it will damage the reputation of Pakistan," said Tariq.

Some political observers also say that the Pakistani judiciary is more interested in opening graft cases against President Zardari and his ministers than bringing the powerful military generals and intelligence agencies' heads to justice. Therefore, they say, it becomes crucial that the case of missing persons is investigated by independent international organizations.