According to a commission of inquiry created 10 years ago, more than 2,000 cases of missing persons remain unsolved. A recent briefing by Amnesty International documents the effects of abductions on the families of the disappeared. The government has not yet reacted to the charges, but has repeatedly claimed that the missing joined militant groups in Afghanistan.
Islamabad (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Amnesty International is urging Pakistani authorities to end using enforced disappearances as a political tool.
Two days ago, the human rights organisation released a report, titled Living Ghosts, which documents the effects of disappearances on the families of the missing.
The research is based on interviews conducted with 10 family members of missing persons "whose fate remains unknown after they were abducted by Pakistan’s security services.”
“Enforced disappearance is a cruel practice that has caused indelible pain to hundreds of families in Pakistan over the past two decades,” said Rehab Mahamoor, Amnesty International’s acting South Asia researcher.
“On top of the untold anguish of losing a loved one and having no idea of their whereabouts or safety, families endure other long-term effects, including ill health and financial problems.”
What is more, without a death certificate, they cannot apply for a pension or other benefits. As a result, many families endure social and economic exclusion.
In 2011, the Pakistani government set up a commission of inquiry to document and investigate cases of missing people in Pakistan. Since then, the commission has received over 8,000 complaints, with 2,274 cases still unsolved, this according to the commission’s September 2021 monthly report.
Based on interviews with family members of the missing, Amnesty found that the authorities have refused to register complaints when disappearances appear to be the work of the government.
“Most of the families of forcibly disappeared people [. . .] said that not only were they unable to use the legal system to locate their loved ones, [. . .], but that they had considerable difficulties even filing a First Information Report (FIR) with the police,” reads the briefing.
The latter also documents the intimidation against victims’ families to stop their activism and legal action against the government.
Zakir Majeed, an ethnic Baloch student activist in the southwestern city of Quetta, was abducted on 8 June 2009. Amnesty quotes his sister as saying that she too was threatened “with the same fate as her brother if she did not stay silent”. His fate remains unknown.
In another case, the brother of a man kidnapped in 2014 was contacted by a member of the secret service who asked him about his brother in order to get information to solve the case.
In March of this year, the unidentified man raided the victim’s home and abducted his younger brother.
Eventually, “[The man] told Amnesty International that he received a message through a family member from law enforcement agencies warning him not to speak up, to stop attending protests and to take down all his posts on social media trying to draw attention to the abduction of his brothers,” Amnesty’s briefing reads.
Amnesty researchers also spoke with the victims of enforced disappearances who were later released. One of them is writer Inaam Abbasi who was kidnapped on 4 August 2017 and released 10 months later.
In addition to numerous physical ailments that are the result of the “severe physical torture he was subjected to”, Abbasi also displays multiple symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which could be triggered by ordinary incidents such as the ringing of a doorbell.
When he hears the bell, “I believe that someone has come to take me away again,” Abbasi told Amnesty.
The Pakistani government has not yet reacted to the report. In the past, it has repeatedly denied the allegations, claiming that most of the missing went to Afghanistan to join militant groups in recent years.