Published in The Express Tribune on Feb. 5th ::
Law experts and human rights activists from South Asian countries have called upon governments in the region, to ratify the United Nations convention on enforced disappearances.
Enforced disappearance is an international crime. In spite of that several South Asian countries including Pakistan have not yet ratified to the International Convention for the Protection of all Persons from Enforced Disappearance.
“They are yet to ratify… because enforced disappearances are not part of their dark past, it is their present,” said Hina Jilani, former UN special representative on human rights defenders at a two-day international conference on “Enforced and involuntary disappearances: building solidarity, breaking barriers” organised by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) and the International Commission of Jurists that concluded here on Tuesday.
The conference brought together human rights defenders from Nepal, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Philippines, India and Pakistan.
The conference opened with a discussion on legal immunities exercised by the military and Government of India in crackdowns against ‘insurgents’ and ‘separatists’ in north-east India, the Punjab and Kashmir.
The delegate from India said there had never been accountability or prosecution of law enforcement agencies in this regard and no FIRs had been registered. So far, there have been around 70,000 killings and 8,000 documented cases of missing persons in Jammu and Kashmir.
Delegates from Balochistan and Sindh said that seeking legal recourse in matters of enforced disappearances was futile. “Several families, who have tried that option, have had family members picked up.”
In her comments, the Nepalese delegate said governments usually try to silence public outcry by forming inquiry commissions that end up weakening the criminal justice system and providing immunity to human rights violations.
HRCP General Secretary IA Rehman added that inquiry commissions were, for most part, instruments of diffusing public pressure.
“There is a strange history at play,” she said. South Asian countries have a keen interest in becoming part of the international community and joining the UN Security Council, Jilani said. “But there is very little commitment to implementing the UN conventions on human rights.”
The Thai delegate spoke on why reparation and psychosocial rehabilitation of families of disappeared persons was important.
Sri Lanka’s experience with enforced disappearances is its greatest shame, delegate Kishali Pinto-Jayawardena said. The country’s constitution does not have a clause ensuring right to life, she said, adding that “They still haven’t estimated the exact number of missing persons in the north.”
She spoke about how the policy of arbitrary detention and summary executions was considered an effective counter-terrorism strategy.
Nepal’s experience has seen substantial gains for activists. One of the Nepalese delegates said laws were made to protect the state. “And if the state commits a crime, it is not held accountable.”
Delegates and participants, at the end of the conference, passed a resolution demanding that all regional countries implement recommendations made by the UN Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances.
They also demanded investigation and prosecution of alleged perpetrators of enforced disappearances.