“To deny people their human rights is to challenge their very humanity.”

–Nelson Mandela


Among many inalienable human rights strongly needed in Pakistan, the right to bodily autonomy remains one of the more immediate concerns. In places far from the center, and populated by the vulnerable –those not backed by capital or power– entire bodies are forcefully erased. The issue of ‘Enforced disappearances’ has been a pertinent one across the country for a while now. Cases have been reported on a wide scale throughout the nation. This doesn’t just apply to the few popular activists who have gone missing; many lesser-known individuals gone missing rarely find a mention on national media. However, owing to their lack of prominence, their disappearances have never been made part of the public consciousness. There is sympathy, but a lack of action on behalf of the so-called vigilant civil society. The families and friends of these individuals still have no knowledge of what has happened to their loved ones. Their pain further reinforces this blight on Pakistan’s human rights record, at an international level. To begin to address this concern among others, Pakistan needs to ratify the First Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which would allow individual citizens who have exhausted all domestic remedies and still require justice.

The problematizing factor here is related to the procedural fairness of preventive detention. Article 10 of Constitution of Pakistan, ‘Safeguards as to arrest and detention’, ironically placed under Fundamental Rights Chapter, has authorized and legalized preventive detention. The exception created in the Article aforementioned allows for the perpetrators of the disappearances to claim legality for their actions, thus stripping people of their right to know why they’ve been taken into custody, alongside other obvious concerns.

Article 9 of the ICCPR discusses the same issue by stating: “Everyone has the right to liberty and security of person. No one shall be deprived of his liberty except on such grounds and in accordance with such procedures as are established by law”. However, the pertinent concern is the fact that Pakistan isn’t a signatory to the First Optional Protocol, and therefore the individual complaints and grievances of the affected parties cannot be addressed. Also, the defaulted states cannot be held responsible at any International platform, which immediately impacts accountability.

In a report published by Amnesty International on November 6, 2017, it was brought to the attention of Pakistani authorities that there was a mounting increase in the cases regarding enforced disappearances and abduction of activists. Three hundred such cases were reported to Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances only in one month period. Sadly, however, it has been observed that, to date, not a single perpetrator of such hostilities and barbarianism has been brought to the corridors of justice. In addition to this, human rights lawyer, Saroop Ijaz, member of Human Rights Watch (HRW), also argues that although Supreme Court of Pakistan has repeatedly asked the government to take necessary measures for the protection of people facing enforced disappearances, the government, unfortunately, has remained steadfast in their stance, and no substantial measures have been taken to curb such cases. Thus, it is crucial for Pakistan to sign up for the first optional protocol as it will put international pressure on different authorities in the nation to act swiftly in cases relating to enforced disappearances.

On the other hand, it has been stated that signing an optional protocol or a treaty like ICCPR could lead to very significant problems for a state. First of all, a state’s sovereignty could be held under scrutiny if the inherent issues and human rights are repeatedly taken to international forums like ICCPR. However, in my opinion, the argument regarding states sovereignty is limited because the country signs on consensually, thus indicating self-rule. Further, if it is about international scrutiny, it is important to mention that the signing and ratification of international treaties by Pakistan can be seen as acting in the spirit of cooperation, and harmony between countries.

At the heart of it, Pakistan is at a critical juncture in its political and legal development. We can choose to let things fester as they are, or we can choose to provide an option for people who have been robbed of their human rights by the state, such as those that have been made to disappear.


The author is pursuing a degree in legal studies at LUMS.