Pakistan’s Human Rights Minister Shireen Mazari said on Monday that the bill pertaining to the missing persons has gone missing after it was sent to the Senate. The bill criminalizing enforced disappearances was recently approved by Pakistan’s National Assembly and was awaiting approval from the Senate when it went ‘missing’ along the way.
Speaking to journalists at the Ministry of Human Rights, Mazari said: “We had prepared the bill regarding missing persons and it was passed by the [relevant] standing committee and the National Assembly. But it went missing after it was sent to the Senate.”
She said that there are some reports that the bill is in the Senate Secretariat.
The bill, known as the Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill 2021, was passed by Pakistan’s National Assembly in November last year. It aims at criminalizing enforced disappearances and making amendments to the Pakistan Penal Code and Code of Criminal Procedure.
The bill was introduced in the National Assembly by Pakistan’s interior ministry in June 2021. Initially, there was no provision regarding the fate of the people who file “false complaints” regarding the enforced disappearance of a loved one. Subsequently, the bill was rectified to declare it a penal offence punishable by five-year imprisonment and a Rs500,000 fine.
The bill states that: “The term enforced disappearance relates to illegal and without lawful authority arrest, detention, abduction or any other form of deprivation of liberty by an agent of the State or by person or group of persons acting with the authorisation, 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 places such a person outside the protection of the law.”
Enforced disappearances have been a major human rights issue throughout Pakistan over the years. The practise began in the erstwhile FATA and Balochistan regions to corner potential “terrorists and militants” and thwart their activities. But the practice took a grim shape – activists, political workers, student leaders and dissenters have become its prime target.
In Balochistan, the situation is particularly grim. According to various estimates by human rights groups, thousands have been forcefully abducted from Balochistan in the past two decades, allegedly by the Pakistani forces. Only a handful of these unfortunate souls have returned, the rest have vanished.
Families of the Baloch missing persons have been protesting for the past thirteen years for an end to enforced disappearances and safe return of their loved ones, but to no avail. These families also carried out a historical 3000km long march from Quetta to Islamabad in 2013. But their pleas were unheard – their loved ones are yet to see the light of the day.
The ‘missing’ bill was a long-standing demand of human rights groups like Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and Pakistan Human Rights Commission.