FACT-CHECK: Did the cases of “Missing Persons” triple in the year 2021?

Despite a six-year high figure of new cases, the COIOED also set a record for new cases disposal over previous years.

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According to data from the Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances (COIOED), new missing person cases tripled across the country in 2021. Details state that 1460 new complaints were filed compared to 415 complaints filed the previous year. Out of the 1460 new cases, over a thousand new cases were reported from Balochistan alone.

Despite a six-year high figure of new cases, the COIOED also set a record for new cases disposal over previous years. The commission disposed of 1381 cases in which around 1073 missing persons reportedly returned home to their families. Interestingly, an overwhelming majority of those returning home belonged to Balochistan. Figures given by the COIOED stated that 910 missing persons reunited with their families in Balochistan after various periods of disappearance.

Organizations unhappy with the Govt’s Role

Organizations representing families of missing persons say enforced disappearances are seeing a strong resurgence in the country despite claims to the contrary by government ministers. Nasrullah Baloch, the chairperson of Voice of Balochistan Missing Persons, disputed the COIOED’s figure of 900 missing persons returning home in the province. He said:

Most of them had returned home in the previous four years and not in 2021 as claimed by the COIOED. The number of missing persons recovered was less while enforced disappearances witnessed an increase in Balochistan. Over a thousand missing persons that were recovered had returned home in the previous four years and not in 2021.

Speaking of the several meetings with the federal government officials as well as one with the prime minister in Islamabad, the Chairperson said:

In our meeting with Prime Minister Imran Khan, he assured us that the missing persons would be recovered soon and the issue of enforced disappearances would be resolved in line with the country’s laws. Unfortunately, the prime minister did not fulfill his promises of the recovery of missing persons. In November 2021, the Balochistan High Court ordered the provincial government to constitute a parliamentary committee to look into missing person cases. Despite a lapse of two months, the provincial government has yet to form the parliamentary committee.

Speaking to a media outlet, Amina Masood Janjua, chairperson of Defence of Human Rights, termed the jump in missing persons’ cases shocking and alarming. She said:

These figures belie claims of ending enforced disappearances made by the ruling Pakistan Tehrik Insaf government upon assuming power. I believe the number of cases of enforced disappearances could be higher than the 1460 cases reported by the COIOED. These cases might not include cases heard by high courts and those reported to human rights organizations. This means that the PTI government is either powerless or oblivious of stopping enforced disappearances happening right before their eyes in the country.

Janjua further stated:

The PTI government had failed to enact effective legislation to curb enforced disappearances despite four years of its tenure. The PTI government allowed the insertion bill of an amendment on enforced disappearances passed by the National Assembly that would penalize complainants with imprisonment and a fine if their complaints are judged false. Such legislation, if enacted, would lead to a rise in enforced disappearances by discouraging families and victims from filing complaints.

Missing Person cases linked to Internment Centres?

Reports state that COIOED has traced hundreds of missing individuals detained in internment centers under the Action in Aid of Civil Power regulation imposed in erstwhile Federally Administered Tribal Areas in 2011. Under the regulation, security forces could indefinitely detain individuals suspected of terrorism without being produced before a court. The provincial government reenacted the regulation through an ordinance upon the merger of FATA with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in 2019.

The Peshawar High Court struck down the ordinance and ordered the closure of all detention centers in the province. However, the Supreme Court stayed the PHC judgment on an appeal filed by the provincial government. A five-member bench has not set a hearing date for the appeal in the last two years.

According to COIOED, close to two-thirds of the total of 936 missing persons traced in internment centers belonged to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. In 2021, 79 missing persons were located in internment centers. Here again, 65 of them belonged to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

Human rights activists and campaigners have termed the Action in Aid of Civil Power regulation a draconian law that provided a legal cover to enforced disappearances. Interestingly, the regulation has been used to detain individuals not just in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa but across other provinces and regions in the country. Out of the total 936 individuals detained in internment centers:

  • 91 belonged to Punjab
  • 41 were residents of Sindh
  • 20 were from Islamabad
  • 3 came from Azad Kashmir
  • 2 from Balochistan
  • 1 individual from Gilgit Baltistan

According to Janjua, the internment centers are the Guantanamo Bay camps of Pakistan. Explaining the statement, she said:

The inmates have no legal recourse against their internment. These are often missing persons picked up in tribal areas and declared to be detained in internment centers. Unlike ordinary prisoners, those detained in internment centers have no regular family visits or are allowed food brought by relatives. Family members are allowed 10 to 15 minutes meeting with them, and the visit too comes after several months. There are reports of many deaths of inmates in the internment centers.

No respite from Enforced Disappearances in Sindh

According to COIOED, 40 missing persons returned home in Sindh, while the dead bodies of four other missing residents were traced in 2021. The commission has 170 cases pending in Sindh till the 31st of December 2021. In 2021, the COIOED received 57 new cases in the province.

Sindhi Inaam, president of Sindh Saba, an organization representing families of missing persons linked with Sindhi nationalist groups, said:

A total of 170 persons, including 100 linked with Sindhi nationalists, are missing in Sindh. My organization had reported 70 missing persons in the province in 2021. The figure did not include cases reported to organizations representing Shia and Urdu-speaking missing persons in the province.

In Punjab, 62 new cases were reported, while 43 missing persons returned home in 2021. The COIOED said 266 cases were pending in the province. In Islamabad, 15 new cases were reported, and 12 missing persons returned home. Azad Kashmir reported two new cases, while no cases were reported from Gilgit Baltistan in 2021.

The commission also deleted 113 cases in 2021, bringing the total number of closed cases to 1,115. The commission closes cases if it finds the complaints are not to be of enforced disappearance or the complainants withdraw their cases.

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