A multipronged and panoramic issue devastating the nation is of the vulnerable victims of enforced disappearances. August 30 was the International Day of the victims of enforced disappearances and its observation began in 2011. It was set up on December 21 in 2010, by resolution 65/209 made by UN General Assembly.

This is a global problem and is not restricted to specific region of the world. Once largely the product of military dictatorships, enforced disappearances can nowadays be perpetrated in complex and multipronged dimensions of internal conflict. Particular concerns that may lead to these disappearances can be the ongoing harassment of Human Rights, defenders, relatives of victims, witnesses and even legal disappearance.

Causes of enforced disappearances are many and it is a strategy to spread terror within the society. The feeling of insecurity generated by this is not limited to the close relatives of the disappeared, but also effect their communities and society as a whole.

An enforce disappearance is defined as:

1- Deprivation of liberty against the will of the person

2- Refusal to acknowledge the deprivation of liberty or concealment of the fate or whereabouts of the disappeared person.

When disappearances occur the government fails to establish the facts and the whereabouts of victims. This fails to bring perpetrators to justice and fails to provide reparations to victims including the families of the disappeared. Instead the government has responded by passing the protection of Pakistan Act 2014 which facilitates enforced disappearances by retrospectively legitimising detention at undisclosed locations and providing immunity to all state agents acting in “good faith”.

Victims of enforced disappearances are mostly men and boys and they occur regularly throughout Pakistan including. Of particular concern is of Baluchistan because of a pattern of enforced disappearances targeting political activists, human rights defenders, journalists, lawyers and known persons of society.

Disappeared persons are often found dead their bodies having bullet wounds and marks of torture. Examples as reported by eye witnesses include Zahid Baloch, a Human Rights defender and chairperson of Baloch student organisation who was abducted in Quetta. A state security force was widely implicated in the enforced disappearances in the province. Despite widespread protest and appeal for his release from relatives and human rights group, the authorities have failed to adequately investigate his abduction, determine his fate or whereabouts, and bring those responsible to justice.

A few weeks before 14 August, dozens of ethnic Blaoch were arbitrarily arrested in New Kahan area of Quetta Turbat and Kharan districts. Still the fate or whereabouts of all these people remains unknown. Hundreds of men and boys of Muttahida Quami Movement political party and ethnic Pashtuns are accused of being associated with Taliban have been subjected to enforced disappearances in the city of Karachi over the last two years. Several members of ethnic Sindhi nationalist groups have also allegedly been subjected to enforced disappearances in areas where they are carrying out counter insurgency operations against Taliban.

International organisations like ICJ, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have urged the Pakistani, government to take important steps as a matter of urgency to confirm its commitment to end enforced disappearances and meet its obligations under international human rights law. Firstly Pakistan must ratify the international convention for the protection of all persons from enforced disappearance and implement its provision in law, policy and practice.

Secondly, it must carry out a thorough review to amend all security legislations, in particular the Protection of Pakistan Act 2014, and Actions, Regulations 2011 to ensure compatibility with international human rights law and standards.

Thirdly, it must ensure that all persons held in secret or arbitrary detention are immediately released or charged for cognisable crimes.

Fourthly, it must ensure that prompt, thorough, independent and impartial investigations are carried out.

UN General Assembly expressed its deep concerns in particular over the increase in enforced or involuntary disappearances. To create a national DNA bank could be helpful.

It is also essential to expand the use of forensic expertise and DNA testing and make adequate use of all the available technological and scientific techniques.

If appropriate they must setup ad hoc bodies and specialised units to investigate causes of enforced disappearance and create national DNA banks to hold genetic samples of all cases reported.

In spite of clear rulings from the Pakistan Supreme Court in 2013 demanding justice for victims of enforced disappearances as well as recommendations from United Nations working group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances in 2012, the Pakistan government has done little to meet its obligations under international law and the Pakistan constitution to prevent enforced disappearances.

The time for promises has passed. Now it is the time to act. States must urgently address the anguish of relatives of the disappeared and reinvigorate their investigations into cases of disappearances. We owe it to the disappeared, to their families and friends who wake up every day hoping to know the fate and whereabouts of their loved ones.