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The Voice Of The Disappeared In Pakistan – OpEd

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By Mary Aileen Diez-Bacalso*

(UCA News) — One of the beautiful friendships I have forged with family members of the disappeared is that with Amina Masood. Hailing from Islamabad, Pakistan, this beautiful lady, in her hijab and shalwar kameez, came to my country at the invitation of the Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances (AFAD) during its fifth Congress in September 2014. 

Her light disposition shown in her beaming smile and contagious laughter do not reveal her deep wounds rooted in the enforced disappearance of her husband Masood Janjua 16 years ago.

With her story, Amina gave further life to the AFAD Congress. The stories of other participants coming from various countries of Asia, Africa, Latin America and Europe equally enriched her.

She was moved by the best practices in the successful search for disappeared persons shared by human rights defenders and victims’ families from Timor-Leste, Argentina, El Salvador and Guatemala. The disappeared children’s reunification with their biological families warmed her heart and rekindled her hope that one day she will finally see her long-disappeared husband again.

Coincidentally, the second day of the Congress was her husband’s birthday, during which she sang the birthday song dedicated to him. That was one of the many moving moments during those days and nights of solidarity.

During the Congress, Amina officially signified her intention to join AFAD, which was warmly accepted by the highest body of the federation. That was the beginning of years of continuing camaraderie to attain our common goal of a world without desaparecidos.

A year later, I had the opportunity to visit Amina in her country. A visa for Pakistan is almost impossible for NGO workers. But for me, it was the opposite. Its embassy in Manila instantly approved my application when it learned that India had deported me.

Amina welcomed me and my two colleagues at the then Benazir Bhutto International Airport in the wee hours of the night when Muslim women are frowned upon if seen outside the house. She took us to our hotel and again welcomed us early in the morning to start work. We participated in a big regional human rights conference organized by the International Commission of Jurists.

After the conference, it was time to know better the Defense for Human Rights (DHR) that Amina founded. In a humble office, AFAD chairperson Khurram Parvez and I were welcomed with flowers. Family members of the disappeared came one by one, holding pictures and documents of their disappeared loved ones. They told us stories of woes — of having witnessed the actual acts of disappearance and their devastating consequences. Some shared that their loved ones returned but were tortured and in a state of shock, like living dead.

The litany of appalling tales was concluded with an introduction of the work of the DHR, which was already integrated with AFAD. AFAD in turn shared its work, which had already been enriched by DHR. Looking back, I reckon that it was the most meaningful introduction AFAD ever had with a member organization.

Amina’s journey to this path less trodden started with the enforced disappearance of Masood Janjua and his friend Faisal Faraz from Rawalpindi. Both were forcibly taken on July 30, 2005, while traveling on a bus to Peshawar.

Amina was informed that Masood was picked up by the Pakistani intelligence agency. This was further established through the statement of Dr. Imran Munir, who testified that he had seen Masood Janjua in a secret detention center.

In Oct. 2006, Pakistan Supreme Court judges heard Masood Janjua and Faisal Faraz’s case. Other persons who returned after having been disappeared testified to seeing both men in detention. Their case is pending. State officials continue to deny their custody and all knowledge of their whereabouts. Since then, nothing has been heard of the two desaparecidos.

In a Zoom interview with Amina, she recalled: “Two years ago, I dreamed about Masood. I was driving. He went to the resort where we were rowing our boat as seen in our picture … That seemed real, only to wake up that it was but a dream.”

Asked of her accomplishments, Amina proudly shared: “My children are grown up and are excellently educated. My daughter Aisha chose the human rights path.  Despite what happened, I have been able to rear them in a happy family.”

As a leader, Amina recounted that DHR’s key achievement is the return of 1,318 out of 2,858 victims. They surfaced alive in different circumstances. However, they confirmed the killing in custody of 77 persons. This situation, she said, necessitates psychosocial rehabilitation for victims.

Amina’s voice is loudly heard in various regional and international avenues. Most recently, at the opening of the 21st session of the UN Committee on Enforced Disappearances on Sept. 13, she told the world of how her grief had turned into an unfaltering fight to find Masood and many others.

She confessed: “It took me many months before I realized what had happened and that I needed to get up from the bed and start searching for my loved one … As I got up with extraordinary pain and determination, I started an endless, nerve-wracking battle in which I never rested.”

In the same speech, she called on Pakistan to ratify the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance. 

“It is now key that Pakistan ratifies the convention so that the authorities can rely on the committee to get the help they need to better address enforced disappearances, in law and in practice,” she said.

As a corollary to the ratification of the convention, it is imperative to make the envisioned law against enforced disappearance in accordance with international standards.

In Pakistan, which literally means “a land in which the pure abound,” enforced disappearances are occurring on a daily basis. Families of the disappeared are fortunate to have Amina, whose pure heart seeks for the truth and justice for her husband and all desaparecidos. The victims’ pain is, indeed, being turned into concrete victories.

As the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo of Argentina say: “No hay dolor inutil” (There is no useless pain).

*Mary Aileen Diez-Bacalso is a human rights activist and journalist based in Manila and contributes columns to international publications, mostly highlighting right issues in Asia. Currently, she is president of the International Coalition Against Enforced Disappearances (ICAED).

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.

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The Union of Catholic Asian News (UCA News, UCAN) is the leading independent Catholic news source in Asia. A network of journalists and editors that spans East, South and Southeast Asia, UCA News has for four decades aimed to provide the most accurate and up-to-date news, feature, commentary and analysis, and multimedia content on social, political and religious developments that relate or are of interest to the Catholic Church in Asia.

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