Mr. Asif Ali Zardari
President of Pakistan
I am writing to you to express my deep concern about the many cases of enforced disappearances in Pakistan.
Despite the restoration of the judiciary and the statements and apologies that the government has issued since the removal from office of Gen. Musharraff, Pakistan still has amongst the highest numbers of cases of enforced disappearances in Asia. Thousands of persons have been disappeared, mostly from Balochistan province and also from the North Western Frontier Province, Sindh and Punjab and the number of cases has especially risen since the beginning of the so-called war on terror.
The ISI and Military Intelligence (MI) agencies are reportedly largely responsible for the arrest and disappearance of more than 4,000 persons since the start of the ‘war on terror’, as reported by various local groups. 1600 persons are reportedly still missing from Balochistan. In the NWFP more than 1000 persons are missing including some officers from Pakistani army. The nationalist forces of Sindh province claim that about 100 persons have been disappeared and the same position from Punjab province where more than 200 persons are disappeared after their arrests.
In the Pakistani part of Kashmir, called Azad Kashmir and the newly affiliated Gilgit Baltistan territory, it is a routine work of state security forces and intelligence agencies to arrest people and keep them incommunicado for a long time.
Among the lists of disappeared persons from Balochistan province are the names of 168 children and 148 women. Many of these women have been allegedly tortured and used as sex slaves by military and intelligence officers whereas the safety and well-being of the children are especially worrying.
Counter-terrorism should not be used as an excuse by the military to abuse its powers when dealing with opponents, human rights defenders or religious activists. The Pakistani military is believed to be running at least 52 torture and detention centers throughout the country, where people are detained incommunicado for several months and tortured severely, leading to deaths and/or disappearances.
Dr Afia Siddiqui was arrested in 2003, along with her three children, by Pakistani intelligence agencies. She and her children remained missing for five years, a time during which it is alleaged that Dr Afia was tortured. She is now in jail in the United States. The case of Mrs. Amina Masood Janjua is very well known she is striving since 2005 for the recovery of her husband, Mr. Masood Janjua who was missing then after the his arrest by intelligence agencies. Her case is pending before Supreme Court of Pakistan but still his whereabouts are unknown.
Cases of disappearances also show how the federal or provincial government can spread false information about the whereabouts of disappeared persons. The government of Balochistan said that Mr. Zakir Majeed, a student leader, had been released on January 22, 2010, but his family members have said that he has not yet returned home. Likewise, the Federal Interior minister previously announced that Mr. Ehsan Arjemandi, a Norwegian citizen had been extradited to Iran on September 6, 2009 where he was wanted on several charges; however, it is now believed that he is still being held in custody in Pakistan. He had been missing for almost a month when the government announced that he had been extradited to Iran.
Enforced disappearances thrive in societies with ill-functioning, dependent judiciaries, which fail to hold state agents accountable for their actions. They are not acceptable in today’s Pakistan and the government must tackle this issue as a first step towards accountability, the end of impunity, and reconciliation.
Therefore I urge the government to:
- ensure the immediate release by the intelligence agencies of all disappeared persons
- ensure that the military immediately allow access to all places of detention and closes the at-least 52 torture cells that it is operating
- establish a strong, independent and accountable body to investigate the disappearances
- ensure an efficient prosecution as well as a fair trial of those found responsible and provide the victims and their families with satisfying reparations
- form a war crime tribunal to investigate the disappearances of the children of Balochistan
- ratify and implement the main international human rights instruments, such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance,
- issue standing invitations to all special procedures and invite the Special Rapporteur on Torture and the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances.