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Pakistan: Investigate ‘Disappearance’ of Activist

(New York) – Pakistani authorities have not seriously investigated the enforced disappearance of a political activist and human rights defender, Idris Khattak, who has been missing nearly six months, Human Rights Watch said today.

Khattak, 56, has not been seen since November 13, 2019, when unidentified armed men intercepted his car near Swabi, in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. Khattak’s family filed a habeas corpus petition in the Peshawar High Court, which ordered the government to report on Khattak’s whereabouts, but the authorities have repeatedly stalled proceedings.

“The Pakistani government should urgently investigate and report on the whereabouts of the activist Idris Khattak, who has been missing for nearly six months,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Pakistan has an international legal obligation to investigate enforced disappearances, prosecute those responsible, and bring an end to the pain suffered by the families of the disappeared.”

Khattak is a political activist and secretary general of the National Party’s Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa provincial office. He is also a human rights researcher on Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa.

His daughter recently said in a statement: “We've been told nothing of his whereabouts or the reason why he was taken. We feel hopeless to [know] when he will return back to us. We miss him every single day.”

Pakistan’s security forces have long been implicated in enforced disappearances, carried out with impunity. The Pakistani Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances reported in December 2019 that 2,141 individual cases remain unresolved. However, the government has yet to provide answers to families, charge or release people held in illegal secret detention centers, or hold those responsible to account.

Prime Minister Imran Khan had been a vocal critic of enforced disappearances while in the political opposition, and, after taking office, approved a draft law criminalizing the practice. However, the draft law has not been presented before parliament for approval. In November 2018, the federal minister for human rights, Dr. Shireen Mazari, who had condemned the practice as violating Pakistan’s constitution, advised the prime minister to sign the International Convention against Enforced Disappearance.

The continuing failure of Pakistani authorities at the national and provincial level to exert the political will to address the issue of enforced disappearances has contributed to the inability of law enforcement agencies and the criminal justice system to make headway in tackling the problem. The authorities need to send a strong message to the security forces and to adopt and put into effect concrete measures to end enforced disappearances.

An enforced disappearance occurs when state officials or their agents deprive a person of liberty and then refuse to acknowledge the deprivation of liberty or conceal the fate or whereabouts of the disappeared person. Enforced disappearances are a continuing offense. They increase the risk of torture and extrajudicial execution and are traumatizing for victims’ families. The prohibition not only requires a government to prevent them, but also entails a duty to investigate allegations of enforced disappearance, provide information on the fate or whereabouts of those disappeared, and prosecute those responsible.

“Enforced disappearances are an egregious crime that will persist in Pakistan unless the government gets serious about investigating them and bringing those responsible to justice,” Adams said. “Now that he is prime minister, Imran Khan needs to ensure that Pakistan takes measures to end the cruel practice.”

 

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