Thursday, April 12, 2007

The Missing Persons Case - They remain Missing

Well, if the regime thought that by coming down hard on Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, it would pressurize the other Supreme Court judges into submission, it was mistaken.

In the latest Herald magazine Umer Farooq (‘General Justice’, page 76, April issue) informs us:

‘the bar’s relentless campaign in support of the beleaguered judge has had a profound impact on the Supreme Court. The court may have been cowered into virtual silence and inertia in the first few days of the Chief Justice’s unceremonious sacking, but it is now starting to assert itself with vigour.

…At the time of the Chief Justice Chaudhry’s suspension, it was thought that the proceedings in the missing persons’ case would be deferred. However, the Supreme Court decided otherwise and a three-member bench resumed the hearings of what has already become one of the most high-profile cases in the country’s judicial history. Relatives of missing persons have accused the government’s intelligence agencies of illegally detaining the disappeared, a charge that has made the government uncomfortable. No less a figure than Musharraf has gone on record to suggest that ‘jihadis’ and not the intelligence agencies were to be held responsible for the disappearances.

______________________________________


It is time for a bit of recollection: Who exactly are these missing people?

Earlier this year the independent and respected Human Rights Commission of Pakistan published its annual report. This is what Dawn had to say about it:

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has accused the government and its security apparatus of exercising a ‘horrific pattern’ of forced disappearances of its opponents, and described it as a ‘new form of human rights abuse’ in the country.

The commission’s annual report for 2006 launched on Thursday described the forced disappearances ‘a highly disturbing trend’, which was increasing at an alarming rate. Citizens across the country were being picked up by intelligence agencies and taken to be detained in secret locations while some had been handed over to the US, the report said.

Spread over 340 pages, the report details the rights issues in 18 separate categories, ranging from law and administration of justice to law and order situation, rape and other atrocities against women, rights of children, restrictions of political participation, rights of labour, and issues of health and environment.

However, the report’s real emphasis was on the deteriorating situation in Balochistan and Waziristan, the use of military to curb political and religious militancy, and abduction and disappearance of opponents, mainly from the violence-hit areas.

According to the report, the trend of organised disappearances started around 2001 and since then at least 400 persons had gone missing. However, the commission feared the figure was only ‘the tip of the iceberg’.

The report said people suspected of being involved in attacks on the president, the Baloch nationalist struggle and those struggling for the rights of Sindhi people were frequently targeted. The largest number of disappearances, it said, was reported in Balochistan.

Prolonged and illegal detention and torture and humiliation of the detainees were growing problems, the report said.

Condemning the breakdown of law and order, the HRCP chairperson Asma Jahangir said that most of the disappeared were not suspected militants but government opponents. “Torture of the missing persons is the rule rather than exception.”

She said that the HRCP had filed a petition on behalf of the families of the missing persons. “But many are too frightened to come forward and talk about their relatives kidnapped by intelligence agencies.”


So now it’s down to the word of the HRCP against that of Musharraf.

A simple question: Is it possible for hundreds of Baloch (and Sindhi) nationalists to all of a sudden ditch their secular convictions, take up religious fanaticism and vanish completely into the Jihadi fold?

Apparently Musharraf would wish us to think so.

______________________________________

And so on Tuesday the hearing on the Missing Persons case was continued. Sadly two our nation’s senior most judges were presented with a situation bordering on the farcical.

The Supreme Court had sent notices to the Attorney General, Makhdoom Ali Khan, to appear on the date of the hearing and answer all the questions raised by the distraught family members of the missing people.

As the Attorney General was not present in the morning the bench deferred the proceedings of the case till 11:30 am. However, despite repeated instructions from Court to the Attorney General to attend and represent the government’s case, he did not make an appearance in the courtroom. Makhdoom Ali Khan had apparently decided to do a bunk - he sent his equally reluctant deputy Raja Muhammad Irshad to stand in his stead.

As The Nation reported:

The attorney general despite being present in the Supreme Court building who had also presented the case in the same courtroom just a few minutes ago, simply refused to appear before the court and rather nominated deputy attorney general to present the case.

Senior Advocate Iqbal Haider, who had filed a constitutional petition in the same case … said, “Why doesn’t any lawyer want to represent the government. Before this case the AG was present in the courtroom. May be he doesn’t want to be the party in the government’s criminalities.”

At the previous hearing of the case the Supreme Court had directed the Interior Ministry to file a detailed reply on the missing persons by April 10. And now the Deputy Attorney General Raja Muhammad Irshad had to inform the Supreme Court that the Interior Ministry had disobeyed the court’s explicit instructions. According The Nation, all he could do was pathetically tell the court:

“It’s a very sensitive case and I am completely helpless. All I can do is to contact Interior Ministry and that I did. But they didn’t give me any information about the whereabouts of those missing people.”

The Nation also added:

Deputy Attorney General while unwillingly representing the government told the court that the Interior Ministry was supposed to respond on the whereabouts of the missing persons on 8th April, two days before the due date of the hearing. But instead the Director of the National Crisis Management Cell of the Interior Ministry, Lt Col Muhammad Imran Yaqoob sent a letter to the Attorney General just few hours before the hearing, saying, “The list of 148 was received in the Ministry of Interior on March 28, 2007. It was immediately sent to all home secretaries and intelligence agencies for tracing the missing persons. Replies are awaited.”

The Interior Ministry also requested the Supreme Court to grant sufficient time. “A detailed response would be submitted on the next date of hearing,” the letter reads. But the Supreme Court did not accept the letter because it was not filed through “Advocate on Record.”

Despite the provocation the Supreme Court adjourned the hearing until April 20, 2007.

One of the judges, Justice Abdul Hamid Dogar ordered the deputy attorney general to send a notice to the Interior Ministry to disclose the whereabouts of those who are in military detention, as well as locate the rest of those missing.

While Justice Dogar is said to have reassured the family members of the missing that that the attorney general would appear before the court at the next hearing, the reality is not quite as positive.

According to The Nation Attorney General, Makhdoom Ali Khan has privately announced:
“This case is not my responsibility and deputy attorney general will be dealing with this case.”

And to make matters worse the Deputy Attorney General Raja Muhammad Irshad has informed the press:
“If by next hearing the Interior Ministry doesn’t inform us about the whereabouts of those people, I will refuse to present this case.”

In the meantime the missing remain missing...

Link: The Glasshouse: The Missing Persons Case (Part II)



24 comments:

Onlooker said...

The Nation had a leader on this issue today. Here it is in full.

Missing persons’ case

WHAT happened during the hearing of the missing persons case before a Supreme Court division bench on Tuesday raises two serious issues. First, the Court’s attempts to obtain information continues to be successfully stonewalled by powerful quarters, depriving scores of families of the prospect of relief. Second, even the government lawyers are finding it increasingly difficult to defend its position. The Deputy Attorney General expressed utter helplessness in providing the information being sought by the court, citing foot dragging by the Interior Ministry. The proceedings of the Court were subsequently adjourned to April 20 amid protests by the aggrieved families.

The case has been well publicised at home and abroad. According to the HRCP, 168 persons have gone missing during the last three years and only 20 have been recovered so far. Some have reportedly been missing for months, others for years. The harassed families claim they were picked up and are being detained by the intelligence agencies for their political views or for activities not liked by the government. Besides causing mental torture and economic suffering to scores of families, the disappearances have brought a bad name to the country. The way the court’s directives are being flouted is tantamount to denigrating the highest judicial organ of the state.

The tough resistance put up to the court’s demands for information has led to a perception that the agencies’ displeasure was at least one motive in the action against the Chief Justice, who had been pursuing the cases with a vigour that increased with the resistance the Court met. The DAG’s frustration is yet another indication of the widespread dissatisfaction in the legal community over what it perceives as the government’s disregard for the law. This explains the resignations by several judges and a DAG in the aftermath of the action against the Chief Justice, and why such senior lawyers as Syed Sharifuddin Pirzada have declined the government’s brief. The government must reconsider its policy and implement the rule of law.

http://www.nation.com.pk/daily/apr-2007/12/editorials2.php

The Pakistani Spectator said...

Hats off to Glasshouse and onlooker. Very educational and an eye opener discussion.

Anonymous said...

Appreciated your work. However, there is a lack of information as to who these people are and where did they disappear from and that is happening to them. there is an article on wikipedia where it would be very useful to have the names of the people who are missing along with the names of the people and when they have been missing. Once the article develops it would move to a separate article.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iftikhar_Muhammad_Chaudhry#External_links

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