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EDITORIAL: During Monday’s hearings of petitions seeking the recovery of forcibly disappeared persons, Islamabad High Court Chief Justice Athar Minallah directed the government to trace five missing persons by September 9, failing which “the worthy Prime Minister shall appear in person to justify failure of the state to fulfil its constitutional obligations.”

The PM will also be required to inform the court, he asserted, regarding actions taken against public functionaries involved in enforced disappearances. The PM, though, is unlikely to have satisfactory answers to any of this except that his government had decided to constitute a committee on this grave issue.

The honourable justice has already rejected that proposal, saying it was appreciable but not enough. Such a committee could achieve zilch where successive governments, including former prime minister Imran Khan’s did not, actually could not, do anything about mitigating the suffering of the missing and anguish of their near and dear ones who have been running from pillar to post for their safe rerun home or to face accountably in courts of law for their alleged crimes.

Islamabad High Court’s is the most serious effort to recover or locate the missing citizens. It’s been a little over a decade since on the Supreme Court ordered Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances was constituted to “trace the whereabouts of allegedly forcibly disappeared persons” and “fix responsibility on individuals or organisations responsible.”

It received over 8,279 complaints, and claimed to have disposed of more than 6,000 of them, though all it did was to issue periodic status reports on how many of them were confirmed dead, returned home, detained in some secret internment centre, or simply were cases of voluntary disappearances.

At the last hearing of the case on June 25, Justice Minallah had chided the commission for its dereliction of duties, in sheer violation of the constitutionally granted fundamental rights that include the right to liberty, life, not to be subjected to torture, and to fair trial.

Unfortunately, as the court noted, the executive whose responsibility it is protect these rights has also failed to fulfil its obligation to dispel the presumption that enforced disappearances constitute an undeclared and tacit policy of the state.

The court has now presented all concerned with a situation from which there seems to be no escape. Justice Minallah averred that if the missing persons are not recovered, nor demonstrable actions are taken by the federal government, the current and former ministers of interior shall appear in person to explain why the petitions might not be decided, and exemplary costs imposed upon them for the unimaginable agony and pain suffered by the petitioners.

His observations and directives have had the desired effect where it matters. Speaking at an Aaj TV programme “Spotlight” a few days ago, Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah stated that the military leadership is deeply concerned about the practice of enforced disappearances, and condemns it.

More to the point, he said, there are some problems that cannot be discussed publicly, hence, all key stakeholders, including the government, the Army, and human rights defenders, must get together to find a solution. This offers a legitimate hope of a new beginning, which is rules-based and civilised.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2022

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