About a week ago, late one night, I watched Hamid Mir present his regular show Capital Talk, not from the studio but from outside the parliament buildings in Islamabad, where a peaceful protest was taking place. Literally hundreds of people were camped out on Constitution Avenue for several weeks, demanding to know where their sons, husbands, brothers have disappeared to. As I watched Hamid Mir walk around the camp, talking to family members of some of the many thousands who are now referred to as “missing persons”, as I heard the numerous stories of people desperately seeking information about loved ones who are in the illegal custody of security agencies, I could not stop crying.
The tears were flowing down my face as I wondered why there is there is no outrage in our society about this. Do we care so little about the rule of law and fundamental rights?
The constitution of Pakistan and international law guarantee all of us certain fundamental rights, including that of being presumed innocent. The presumption of innocence, (Latin: Ei incumbit probatio qui dicit, non qui negat), is the principle that one is considered innocent until proven guilty, and is a fundamental right of anyone accused of a crime. The burden of proof is on the prosecution, to collect and present enough compelling evidence to convince a court that the accused is guilty. If any reasonable doubt remains, the accused is to be acquitted. This principle is enshrined in Article 11 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1948. Articles 10 and 10A, and other articles of the chapter on Fundamental Rights of the Constitution of Pakistan requires the State to ensure this protection is given to each and every citizen.
The camp outside parliament was organised under the leadership of Amina Janjua, whose husband, Masood Janjua, has been missing since July 2005. She is an intelligent, articulate and educated woman, who has now become a campaigner for the rights of missing persons. When Robert Fisk of the Independent profiled her in March 2010, he wrote:
“If you want to know how brutally Pakistan treats its people, you should meet Amina Janjua. And although neither a soldier nor a policeman has ever laid a hand on her, she is a victim of her country’s cruel oppression. Because, five years ago, her husband Masood became one of Pakistan’s “disappeared”. It is a scandal and a disgrace and, of course, a crime against humanity. Ask not where Masood Janjua has gone – Amina does ask, of course, all the way up to the President – for he has entered that dark world wherein dwell up to 8,000 of Pakistan’s missing citizens, men, for the most part, seized from their homes or from the streets by cops and soldiers on the orders of spies and intelligence agents and Americans since 11 September, 2001. In Lahore alone, there are 120 “torture houses” just for the missing of the Punjab. Their shrieks of pain from the basements could be heard by residents – who complained only that the buildings might provoke bomb attacks. In Pakistan today, preservation counts for more than compassion.”
Read what he said two years ago: a scandal, a disgrace, a crime against humanity. Eight thousand missing citizens, shrieks of pain, preservation more than compassion. Read it and weep. Because it is truer today than it ever was.
The 2011 Annual Report on Pakistan by Amnesty International reported on enforced disappearances saying that hundreds of people have gone missing, apparently held by intelligence services or the army, and a judicial commission has completed its investigation and submitted its recommendations to the Federal government, but the commission’s report remains classified.
Human Rights Watch has reported numerous cases of abduction and extra-judicial killings. In May 2010, a resident of Swat, Farman Ali, was found dead in a field with a gunshot to the head. In January, 12 bodies of villagers who had been earlier picked up by the army, were found riddled with bullets and covered with marks of torture. Also in January, the body of Humayun (alias) was dumped outside his house, showing visible signs of torture, including broken bones. In October 2009, Islam Khan was picked up from his house in an army raid and his body was found 15 days later. His legs and arms had been broken. It was reported that after the body was recovered, soldiers came to his house and told his family not to mention the incident or their house would be demolished, and took the body away.
The New York Times reported that on 1 September 2010, a group of soldiers arrested Akhtar Ali in his electrical shop in Mingora. Family members went to army headquarters the day after his arrest, and authorities assured them that Ali would be released. The family filed a petition stating that on 5 September, security forces dropped Ali’s body on their doorstep. According to his family, “there was no place on his body not tortured.” There were no developments or arrests in this case. In some cases children also disappeared. According to the AHRC, a 14-year-old boy, Adbul Majeed, son of a well-known trader, was abducted, allegedly by the Frontier Corps. His body was later found in a river. There were bullet wounds in his head and chest.
On 14 July 2011, Supreme Court lawyer and former senator Habib Jalil Baloch was shot dead in Quetta. The Baloch Armed Defence Group, allegedly sponsored by Pakistani security forces, claimed responsibility. In late October, Mohammad Khan Zohaib and Abdul Majeed, both aged 14, were found shot dead after reportedly being detained by Frontier Corps personnel in October and July respectively in Khuzdar. Faqir Mohammad Baloch, a member of the Voice for Baloch Missing Persons, was abducted in September 2011. His body, bearing a bullet wound and signs of torture, was found in Mastung district in October. The mutilated body of 38-year-old lawyer Zaman Marri was found in September 2011 in Mastung. He had gone missing on 19 August in Quetta and had represented his cousin Ali Ahmed Marri, who was taken by men in plain clothes earlier in the year and whose body was found in the same area later that month.
There are probably thousands of people who have been picked up, without charge, without the opportunity to present their defense; all of them have been tortured and many have been killed. All their family members are asking for is to be told what their loved ones are guilty of. Is that too much to ask?
It is not that I do not understand that the security forces have nothing personal against these people. I understand that they are facing considerable challenges with militancy and insurgency. I grant that laws are inadequate. I agree that terrorism needs to be tackled. But this way? Torture? Bullet ridden bodies dumped on the streets? Are we still human, or have we become so insensitive that we are okay with looking the other way? Did you see the state that the missing persons brought to the Supreme Court were in? How can anyone justify that kind of inhuman treatment for anyone?
Of course some of those missing persons may be terrorists, they may be insurgents, traitors to Pakistan and killers of innocent civilians. But who is going to determine that? When a military agency commands authority beyond the rule of law, can any of our fundamental rights be safe? When a government is complicit in picking up its people, holding them without charge, handing them to foreign powers, what is the message it is sending to its citizens? More importantly, what are the questions we should be asking ourselves?
If laws are inadequate, what stops new laws from being made? After all, if it isn’t legislation, what is the job of parliament? Even if these accused were to face court martial in military courts that would still be better than extra judicial murder.
The bottom line is that there is no excuse, no reason, no rationalisation good enough to justify drilling holes in someone’s knees and gouging their eyes out. Why don’t we get it? If fundamental rights are ignored & laws are trampled underfoot, there’s nothing else left!