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Pakistan Urged To 'Immediately' Tackle Enforced Disappearances

Pakistani rights activists hold images of bloggers who have disappeared, during a protest in Lahore in January 2017.
Pakistani rights activists hold images of bloggers who have disappeared, during a protest in Lahore in January 2017.

Amnesty International has urged the Pakistani government to ensure that "all measures are taken" to immediately end the practice of enforced disappearance, which it said has long stained the country's human rights record.

"Despite the pledges of successive governments to criminalize the practice, there has been slow movement on legislation while people continue to be forcibly disappeared with impunity," the London-based human rights watchdog said in a statement on March 27.

Pakistan's Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances (COIED) has 2,178 cases unresolved as of now, Amnesty International said, and victim groups and the civil society have criticized the commission for not using its powers to investigate and hold the perpetrators accountable.

Amnesty International said that those targeted in enforced disappearance include groups and individuals from ethnic minorities, the Shi'ite religious community, political activists, human rights defenders, as well as suspected members of armed groups and banned religious and political organizations.

"In some cases, persons are openly taken into custody by the police or intelligence agencies, and families trying to find out where they are held are denied information by the authorities," the statement said.

It added that some victims "are eventually released or their whereabouts are disclosed to their families but they continue to be held in arbitrary detention including in internment camps."

Those forcibly disappeared are also at risk of "torture and death during captivity," while their families are "often threatened, harassed and intimidated."

Amnesty International called on the government to "immediately" disclose the fate or whereabouts of victims of enforced disappearance, and to release them or ensure that they are brought "promptly" before a judge to rule on the lawfulness of their detention.

In January, the Ministry of Human Rights submitted a draft bill to the Ministry of Law and Justice to criminalize enforced disappearance.

Amnesty International called the move an "important and positive first step" in ending the practice, but urged the government to consult with civil society on the draft bill.

The government should also ensure that the offence is defined in accordance with international law and standards, the watchdog said.

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