Pakistan’s New Enforced Disappearance Law Fails to Address Problem


Last week the National Assembly passed nine bills including the Criminal Laws (Amendment) Bill 2022. While the amendment acknowledged the “crime of enforced disappearance” and defined it as the “unlawful or illegal deprivation of liberty by an agent of the state,” the amendment does not address the need for a new legal architecture extending civilian oversight to these very agents.


In a recent statement, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) expressed “reservations” about the bill. HRCP noted that the lack of any new legal architecture was problematic as “such a provision is central to any effective legislation to curb enforced disappearances, given the thousands of allegations and testimonies that hold state agencies responsible for this practice.”


As HRCP pointed out: “Legislation to determine the mandate of state agencies such as the ISI is also necessary, given that it has claimed in front of the superior courts to have had ‘lawful’ authority to arrest persons accused of ‘anti-state activities.’ Additionally, the bill does not address the question of reparations to victims and their families nor does it address the accountability of perpetrators.”


Further, as HRCP noted, “Enforced disappearances must be treated as a separate, autonomous crime. Any legislation to curb this practice must provide guarantees that anyone deprived of their liberty is kept in a fully authorised place of detention and victims, their families and witnesses provided protection in case of reprisals. Pakistan must also sign and ratify the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance.”


HRCP also argued for the need to amend laws that “allow the military to investigate and try civilians.” As HRCP pointed out, “It is no mere coincidence that human rights defender Idris Khattak—who was disappeared for eight months and then acknowledged by security agencies to be in their custody—was convicted under the Army Act 1952.”