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PAKISTAN: The ongoing problem of forced disappearances

Asian Legal Resource Centre

[This is the written statement submitted by the ALRC—a non-governmental organisation with general consultative status—to the 10th Session of the Human Rights Council]

The problem of forced disappearances has been significant in Pakistan in recent years, notably since the beginning of the so-called war on terror following the 9/11 attacks in the US in 2001.

The forced disappearance of political opponents by state intelligence services continues in spite of the newly elected government’s claims that they will swiftly deal with this problem. Since the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) again came to power nearly one year ago, no serious, credible steps have been taken to address these disappearances. Although it has been officially declared that the state intelligence agencies are working under the Prime Minister, they effectively remain out of control and act as if beyond the law.

The ISI and Military Intelligence (MI) agencies are reportedly largely responsible for the arrest and disappearance of more than 4,000 persons since the start of the ‘war on terror’, as reported by various local groups. In the first nine months of the PPP’s government only around a dozen people have resurfaced from intelligence agency custody. During the same period, about 52 persons have gone missing after their arrests, mostly in the southern province of Balochistan, where military operations continue. Certain religious organisations claim that more than 23 persons belonging to various religious groups, mostly young students, are still missing after their arrest.

A former interior minister in the cabinet of ex-president Musharraf told the national assembly in December 2005 that 4000 persons had been arrested in Balochistan province and for the most part were missing. Human rights organizations in the province claim that not more than 100 of these persons have been produced before courts. The current advisor to the Prime Minister and Minister in Charge of Interior Affairs, Rehman Malik, has again confirmed on February 14, 2009, that around 1000 persons are missing in Balochistan Province, and the Chief Minister of Balochistan says he has a list of 800 missing persons.

The Asian Legal Resource Centre and its sister organization, the Asian Human Right s Commi s s ion (AHRC) , have documented a list of missing persons from the province of Balochistan, with the help of a local organization the Anjumane Ettehad e Marri. This list details the cases of 872 missing persons from different districts, including 81 women, 151 school girls and 3 infants.

Since the war on terror began, large numbers of disappearances have occurred in the North Western Frontier Province (NWFP) where NATO and Pakistani forces are engaged in fighting militant religious fundamentalist forces. Ordinary people are being caught in the crossfire. Religious persons are the main target of disappearances. Both the fundamentalist forces and the Pakistani authorities are detaining people and taking them to secret places.

The militants in general kill them, while the Pakistani authorities are engaged in detaining them incommunicado in unknown locations. When missing persons are released by the Pakistani law enforcement agencies they frequently join the militants, clearly showing that such methods are fuelling rather than attenuating the problem of militancy and terrorism. In the NWFP more than 2000 persons are missing including some officers from Pakistani army.

The nationalist forces of Sindh province claim that about 100 persons have been disappeared, some of whom were later released following the intervention of the Supreme Court and the Sindh High Court. In Punjab province most of the estimated 100 disappeared persons are thought to have come mainly from religious groups working in its southern and north western areas.

Counter-terrorism has provided the Pakistani military with an excuse to abuse its powers when dealing with opponents of the government and religious activists, including arbitrary arrests, incommunicado detention for several months and torture in order to obtain confessional statements. Such practices have continued under the newly elected government, as the Pakistan army is refusing to provide the government with access to their domain.

The AHRC, in a report issued on June 5, 2008, documented the fact that the Pakistani military is running is at least 52 torture and detention centres throughout the country, where people are detained incommunicado for several months and torture severely, leading to deaths and/ or disappearances. Every cantonment area has at least one torture cell which is directly run by the state intelligence agencies. The new government of Asif Zardari, the president of Pakistan, has not initiated any serious effort to secure the release by the military of the missing persons, who are thought to be being kept in military torture cells.

It should also be noted that a significant failure of the Universal Periodic Review of Pakistan in 2008 at the United Nations was this review’s failure to sufficiently address the critical issue of disappearances in Pakistan. In particular, the ALRC is concerned by the emergence of numerous cases involving the disappearance of women. Some examples of cases follow:

Zarina Marri, a 23-year-old schoolteacher from the Government Middle School at Kahan, in Balochistan province, was arrested in late 2005, and has been held incommunicado in an army torture cell in Karachi, the capital of Sindh province. She has allegedly been repeatedly raped by military officers and is being used as a sex slave, to induce arrested nationalist activists to sign state-concocted confessions.

Ms. Marri was among 429 men, women and children who migrated from their homes in Kahan, Dera Bugti district, Balochistan province after October 2005 following Pakistani military action, notably bombardments by the Pakistan Air Force. The civilians were trapped in fighting between nationalist militants and the military. It was believed that many men, women and children were killed in that fighting, but it has emerged that at least Ms. Marri was arrested and disappeared by the state.

Munir Mengal, the managing director of a Balochi-language television channel, witnessed this young woman’s plight. Mr. Mengal was arrested on April 4, 2006 at Karachi International Airport by the State intelligence agencies and transferred to a military torture cell in Karachi for 16 months. He narrated the story of the forced sex slavery of young school teacher Zarina Marri whom he encountered in a military cell. The current whereabouts of the young woman are not known. It has been asserted that women who are fighting for the greater autonomy of Balochistan are being arrested by the state agencies and forced into sex slavery in their custody.

In another case, Dr. Aafia Siddiqui, a female scientist was reportedly arrested in Karachi, Sindh province, on March 30, by Pakistani intelligence agencies while on her way to the airport and initial reports suggested that she was handed over to the American Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). At the time of her arrest she was 30 years old and the mother of three sons, the oldest of which was four and the youngest only one month. Reports indicate that she was detained incommunicado in Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan by the US before being taken to the US for trial.

The whereabouts of her children was also not known for lengthy periods and it is understood that one of them died in custody. There are also reports that Dr. Siddiqui has suffered significant damage to her physical and mental health as a result of her treatment. Furthermore, her family has reportedly been threatened with reprisals if they talk to the media concerning this case. The government of Pakistan has still not initiated a probe into allegations that the Pakistani military is using missing girls and women as sex slaves, or the wider problem of forced disappearances.


The Human Rights Council must intervene immediately and credibly to ensure that the government of Pakistan:

1. Constitutes a high-level judicial commission with wide-ranging powers to probe the cases of disappearances throughout Pakistan, notably those perpetrated under the war on terror as well as the cases the women who are being detained in the military’s torture cells and are being used as sex slaves. This should begin with the case of Ms. Zarina Marri, who is thought to be being detained in a military torture cell at the Corp Commander’s office in Karachi.

2. Provides all necessary legal support to Dr. Aafia Siddiqui and probes her disappearance for more than five years during the military government of General Musharraf.

3. Ensures the immediate release by the intelligence agencies of all disappeared persons.

4. Ensures that the military immediately allow access to all places of detention and closes the at-least 52 torture cells that it is operating.

5. All allegations of arbitrary and/or incommunicado detention, sex slavery, torture, extra-judicial killings and/or disappearances must be investigated without delay by an independent and well resourced body, and all persons found responsible should be tried, with adequate reparation being provided to the victims and/or their families.

Posted on 2009-08-06
Asian Human Rights Commission

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