Amnesty International also demanded that Pakistan’s new government leaders reinstate deposed judges who had previously been investigating disappearance cases. When President Pervez Musharraf imposed a state of emergency in November 2007, he deposed key judges who had demanded answers from the state on enforced disappearances.
In its new report ‘Denying the undeniable, enforced disappearances in Pakistan’, Amnesty International uses official court records and affidavits of victims and witnesses of enforced disappearances to confront the Pakistan authorities with evidence of how government officials, especially from the security and intelligence agencies, obstructed attempts to trace those who had disappeared.
Hundreds of people who have “disappeared” were detained under counter terrorism measures justified by Pakistan as part of the US-led ‘war on terror’.
The report also calls on other governments -- most notably the US -- to ensure that they are not complicit in, contributing to, or tolerating the practice of enforced disappearances. Many people who have been secretly held in detention centres in Pakistan say they were interrogated by Pakistani intelligence agencies but also by foreign intelligence agents.
“Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani has emphasized the coalition government’s commitment to upholding human rights. We urge him to act immediately to resolve all cases of enforced disappearance”, said Sam Zarifi, Amnesty International’s Asia Pacific director.
“As a first immediate measure, the new government should ease the suffering of the relatives of the ‘disappeared’ by either releasing the detainees or transferring them to official places of detention.”
Enforced disappearances, by their nature, are shrouded in secrecy, making it impossible to provide accurate numbers of victims. Pakistani organizations working on behalf of families of those who have disappeared claim there are at least 563 cases.
From affidavits and testimonies the report reveals a pattern of security or other forces arbitrarily detaining people (some of them children, in one case a nine-year-old boy), blindfolding them, and moving them around various detention centres so they become difficult to trace.
“We don’t know if those subjected to enforced disappearances are guilty or innocent, but it is their fundamental right to be charged and tried properly in a court of law,” said Sam Zarifi.
“By holding people in secret detention the government of Pakistan has not only violated their rights, but also failed in its duty to charge and try those suspected of involvement in attacks on civilians.”
This report (ASA 33/018/2008) is the latest in an ongoing campaign by Amnesty International to end the practice of enforced disappearances worldwide.
In 2006, Amnesty International documented dozens of cases of enforced disappearances in Pakistan, focusing on people who were picked up in the counter terrorism measures adopted by Pakistan in the context of the US-led ‘war on terror’.
At the time, President Musharraf dismissed Amnesty International’s allegations by stating: “I don’t even want to reply to that, it is nonsense, I don’t believe it, I don’t trust it.” He added that his government had detained 700 people but that all were accounted for. In March 2007, President Musharraf again asserted that the claim that hundreds of persons had disappeared in the custody of Pakistani intelligence agencies had “absolutely no basis” but that in fact these individuals had been recruited or lured by “jihadi groups” to fight. “I am deadly sure that the missing persons are in the control of militant organizations,” he said.
Case studies from the report