Activism, Side Feature, South Asia

Dawn News Article: “Total impunity”

Editorial 20 Dec 2020

A LOVED one forcibly disappeared and the family running from pillar to post to glean information of their whereabouts — it has sadly become an all-too-familiar story, differing only in the particulars. If the family is fortunate, the missing individual is returned soon, within a few hours or days. But for some, the ordeal lasts for years, with no signs of hope. Such was the account that came to light at the Islamabad High Court earlier this week. According to a petition filed by a lawyer, her husband, a Hizb-ut-Tahrir spokesperson, went missing almost a decade ago. As per the FIR, Naveed Butt was abducted by intelligence personnel on May 11, 2012, from outside his residence in Lahore. The chairman of the Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances, retired Justice Javed Iqbal, said in 2018 that he may have been picked up by “personnel of the secret establishment and is being held in their illegal confinement”. The petition was filed almost three years later, during which the commission was unable to force compliance with its order that the missing man be produced before it without delay. On Monday, the court was informed that Mr Butt was not in the custody of either the ISI or MI.

One wonders what recourse is left to the family of the missing man whose rights to security of person and due process were violated so brazenly. No civilised country should inflict such suffering on its people. And impunity of the kind that the alleged perpetrators of such a crime enjoy is the hallmark of some of the most despotic regimes in history. It speaks to the utter failure of the commission in one critical aspect of its mandate — to hold to account those who have forcibly disappeared people — even though it has managed to trace the whereabouts of many of the missing individuals. When that is done, the case is considered ‘clarified’. While this has brought immense relief and, in some cases, closure to the families, no one has been brought to book for these abductions — thereby virtually ensuring that such depredations will continue to take place. A few months ago, the International Commission of Jurists issued a scathing review of the commission’s working and recommended that its tenure not be extended any longer. However, its tenure was extended, and the lip service to tackling enforced disappearances continues.

Published in Dawn, December 20th, 2020