Human Rights Violations In Pakistan Continue Unabated – OpEd


US State Department’s 2023 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices is out and so are the comments of Pakistan’s Foreign Office [FO] on the same. While this report gives Islamabad an embarrassingly poor report-card on the issue of human rights violations, by mentioning that “There were no significant changes in the human rights situation in Pakistan during the year,” Washington has highlighted discernable institutional reluctance in curbing this despicable practice.

As the inferences recorded in this report are supported by verifiable data, it would have obviously touched a raw nerve in both Islamabad and Rawalpindi and so it’s not at all surprising that the FO has hit back with full fury. Stating that “The US State Department’s annual exercises of preparing such unsolicited reports lack objectivity and remain inherently flawed in their methodology” it has opined that “These reports use a domestic social lens to judge human rights in other countries in a politically biased manner.”

There would have been no reason to doubt Islamabad’s contention had similar claims not been made by several other rights groups as well as members of persecuted communities in Pakistan themselves. While human rights violations in Pakistan are rampant and range from arbitrary arrest and confinement, torture, extra judicial killings and religious/sectarian and ethnic persecution to mention a few, the issue of enforced disappearances orchestrated by the security forces as well as law enforcement and intelligence agencies is most loathsome. And what the 2023 US report has stated on enforced disappearances in Pakistan is nothing new-it has already been highlighted by several international rights organisations.

In its World Report 2019 on Pakistan, Human Rights Watch mentions that “During counter-terrorism operations, Pakistani security forces often are responsible for serious human rights violations including torture, enforced disappearances, detention without charge, and extrajudicial killings, according to Pakistan human rights defenders and defense [sic] lawyers. Counterterrorism laws also continue to be misused as an instrument of political coercion. Authorities do not allow independent monitoring of trials in military courts and many defendants are denied the right to a fair trial.”

Islamabad has “categorically” rejected the US report claiming that its contents are unfair, based on inaccurate information and are completely divorced from the ground reality, and if true, justifies outright rejection of the report. However, the information contained in the US report has been sourced from official records of the Pakistan Government and an example is reference to 9,967 missing-person cases since 2011 out of which 7,714 have been settled while 2,253 cases remain unresolved mentioned in the US report is attributed to statistics released by the Pakistan Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances!

How can Islamabad deny that the issue of enforced disappearances has acquired gargantuan proportions when:

1. In November 2023, Islamabad High Court [IHC] judge Justice Mohsin Akhtar was constrained to declare that “If the remaining missing students are not recovered, I will order the registration of the First Information Report [FIR] against the prime minister and the interior minister… I am stating this in very clear words.” [FIR is a written document prepared by the police when they receive information about the commission of a cognizable offence].  

2. Isn’t Chief Justice of Pakistan Qazi Faez Isa’s remark that We aim to conclusively resolve the missing persons’ problem” in January 2024, an unambiguous admission that the issue of enforced disappearances is a grave national issue?

3. Doesn’t Justice Akhtar’s observation that “State institutions take them [Baloch students] into custody and then they go missing and when some of those come back home, they refuse to take any legal steps for their disappearance,” expose the role of Pakistan’s Deep state?

4. Is it not a fact that the missing persons issue is so huge that hundreds of Baloch women whose husbands, brothers, and sons who had gone missing alongwith thousands of sympathisers were forced to undertake an arduous 1,600 Km march from Kech district in Balochistan to Islamabad in December 2023 to protest against the scourge of enforced disappearances unleashed by Pakistani security forces and intelligence agencies?

5. Lastly, doesn’t the failure of the Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances set up in 2011 on orders of Pakistan Supreme Court and a similar body constituted by Balochistan administration the very same year to resolve a whopping 23 percent cases of enforced disappearance cases indicate institutional complicity?

In its 2024 report on Pakistan, Amnesty International [AI] has mentioned that “As in previous years, enforced disappearances of journalists, human rights defenders and critics of the government and military establishment were carried out by authorities with impunity,” and this observation endorses the US report. This problem is so acute that in 2022, Islamabad High Court [IHC] Chief Justice [CJ] Athar Minallah reprimanded the Federal Government by observing that there seemed to be an “undeclared tacit approval of the policy regarding enforced disappearances.” [Emphasis added].

So, even if we for the sake of discussion accept Islamabad’s contention that the US human right report did “use a domestic social lens to judge human rights in other countries in a politically biased manner” and apply this pathetic reasoning to the 2024 AI report, how does Pakistan’s FO explain Chief Justice Minallah’s scathing observation on enforced disappearances? Even if the IHC CJ’s remarks are downplayed by using Islamabad’s famous “being quoted out of context” excuse, what answer does the FO have to say when a two star General of the Pakistan army himself spills the beans?

Readers may recall that during a press interaction in 2019, senior TV anchor and news commentator Hamid Mir of Geo TV had asked the then Director General [DG] of Pakistan army’s media wing Inter Services Public Relations [ISPR] Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor about enforced disappearances in Balochistan. The DGISPR openly mocked Mir by saying “You have a deep attachment with missing persons (but) so have we,” and went on to add, “We don’t wish that anyone should be missing. But when it is war, you have to do a lot of things-as they say, all is fair in love and war; war is very ruthless,” [Emphasis added].

What’s really surprising is that while DGISPR did not retract his damning admission of the Pakistan army being complicit in orchestrating enforced disappearances, Rawalpindi too maintained a stoic silence on this obnoxious utterance. Had it been any other army, its media chief who made such a hideous remark would have either been sent packing, or at least posted on some insignificant appointment till superannuation in his present rank. Instead, Maj Gen Ghafoor was promoted to the rank of a three star General and continues to serve as President of Pakistan’s National Defence University! 

Islamabad may be under the impression that its FO’s loquacious rebuttal sans substance has effectively blown the well documented US State Department’s 2023 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices in Pakistan to smithereens. However, mere rhetoric cannot overwhelm facts and as such its misleading observation that “The contents of the report are unfair, based on inaccurate information and are completely divorced from the ground reality” impresses no one. 

And with Islamabad officially admitting that more than two thousand people are still missing, the FO’s caustic reaction and unsubstantiated allegations to the 2023 US report can at best be described as being “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing”! 

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