IHC summons PM Shehbaz over issue of missing persons

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The Islamabad High Court summoned the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Shehbaz Sharif, on Friday over the issue of the missing persons. The court said that making people disappear is the “biggest form of torture” and that the chief executive of Pakistan will be held responsible in case of enforced disappearance.

PM Shehbaz told the court that: “I cannot say that all of the missing persons will be recovered, but we will leave no stone unturned. I will not give any lame excuse.”

The Pakistani premier made these remarks before the IHC Chief Justice Athar Minallah during Friday’s hearing of petitions seeking the recovery of six missing persons.

At the last hearing, the chief justice had directed PM Shehbaz to ensure the missing persons whose cases were being heard in the IHC were produced before the court before September 9 (Friday). The court warned that the failure to do so would require the premier to appear in person in court and give an explanation.

As ordered, the premier appeared before the IHC on Friday. Justice Minallah said that he had been summoned as this case was a big one.

Addressing the PM, the chief justice said the court had ordered the federal cabinet multiple times on the issue, but its “response had not been what it should be.” In an apparent reference to Military Dictator Parvez Musharraf, Justice Minallah said: “A chief executive ruled in this country for nine years. He proudly wrote in his book that we sold our people to foreign countries.”

The chief justice noted that the federal government had also constituted a committee – a body that was set up in May this year following the IHC’s orders to “deliberate a policy on enforced disappearances.” The chief justice also mentioned the missing persons’ commission, saying: “The families of missing persons are sitting here. They revealed a lot of things about the commission,” he said, adding that Defence of Human Rights in Pakistan Chairperson Amina Masood Janjua had “also told much about the commission to the court”.

Instead of addressing the problems of the families of missing persons, Justice Minallah said, the commission continued “torturing” them. He said the court had also been told about the reservations of the Baloch students.

Justice Minallah said the state should fulfil its responsibility toward its citizens. “The political leadership has to solve this issue,” he said. “The court has no other way but to only ask the executive [about the issue].”

He questioned who the court should hold accountable for enforced disappearances. To this, the premier replied it was his duty.

The IHC CJ asked PM Shehbaz what the court should tell a small child approaching it for justice. “He (the child) also met the erstwhile prime minister,” Justice Minallah said, apparently making a reference to Naru’s son meeting former prime minister Imran Khan in December last year.

PM Shehbaz said that he was answerable to the courts and the people of the country. “I am not here to play blame games. I will not give any lame excuses”, he said.

The premier informed the court that the government had constituted a cabinet committee on enforced disappearances and so far, its six meetings were held.
The PM assured the court that he would monitor every meeting of the committee and submit a report.
“That report will not be based on tales but facts.”
He expressed the resolve to present “undeniable evidence” to the court, saying that “facts speak for themselves”.

“… committees were set up; assurances were given but no work was done” the court reminded the PM. Justice Minallah said that making people disappear is the biggest form of torture and akin to violating the constitution.

“No citizen should have any doubts about who picks them up. Prime minister sahib, this is an issue of national security. It is not a state within a state and neither does this court believe so. The Constitution is supreme and it will be followed”, the IHC chief justice.

Premier Shehbaz told the court that he was scheduled to meet the United Nations General Secretary Antonio Guterres and the court allowed him to leave the hearing midway. Justice Minallah warned the premier that he should not give the excuse that he was “helpless” referring to the PM’s speech in Quetta where he said he would raise the issue of enforced disappearances with higher authorities.

“If you cannot take the responsibility, step down from your post”, the chief justice said.

“Your message is loud and clear,” PM Shehbaz replied before leaving.


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