Is this rule of law?
The piecemeal “tracing” of 25 out of 41 missing persons whose case a two-member bench of the Supreme Court is hearing provides a measure of the government’s reluctance to share information even with the apex court on the whereabouts of those who have gone “missing” over the years. This indeed is mind-boggling. It also negates the government’s claim of having introduced good governance and rule of law in the country. Mrs Amina Janjua, the wife of one of the missing persons, Masood Ahmad Janjua, an educationist, counter claimed that only 18 people had been freed so far while 22 persons were still missing.
She also deplored that no representatives of the three intelligence agencies were present in the court despite clear directives from the bench. An intriguing aspect of the case is that the “missing persons” have a vast range of professional background and include teachers, engineers, software experts, businessmen etc who are suspected of having maintained links with extremist organisations, including al Qaeda.
The phenomenon of “missing persons,” a throwback to the brutal Latin American dictatorships of the 1970s has come to haunt post-9/11 Pakistan, thanks largely to the government’s extra-judicial pragmatism in pursuit of security and reward.
According to the Pakistan Institute for Peace Studies, media monitoring between January 2002 and May 2006 brought to light over 1,000 such cases. However, according to conservative estimates by different human rights are only 600 people disappeared in the first half of 2006 alone. This indeed is an unacceptable tally by any count. The human rights groups have compiled meticulous data on all such “disappearances.”
Last year’s, abduction and incarceration of BBC correspondent Dilawar Khan Wazir or the kidnapping and brutal murder of journalist Hidayatullah earlier demonstrates that the security apparatus is not averse to stifling or silencing the voices of dissent. It has been claimed that the number of “missing persons” has gone up even after Pakistan became a member of the UN Human Rights Council on May 9 last year.
What has caused particular concern to the relatives of the missing persons is the admission in President Musharraf’s autobiography that the government had “earned bounties totalling millions of dollars” by handing over to the US Pakistani citizens suspected of involvement in terrorism. Neither Islamabad nor Washington has so far released details about the Pakistani detainees held at Guantanamo or at any of the scores of secret detention facilities run by the US.
If in its zeal to earn “bounties” or goodwill, the government has indeed handed over any of the “missing persons” to the US it should make a clean breast of it, to relieve the relatives of the agony of uncertainty, and then work for their release at the earliest.
Rule of law is the fountainhead of all that the government claims it wants to achieve, ie good governance, transparency, justice etc-etc. But if the government is not willing to disclose the whereabouts of the missing persons even to the Supreme Court, or to put them through due process of law, how can it claim good governance as one of its priorities?
The right to a fair legal trial is one of the fundamental rights guaranteed both under the Constitution and the UN Charter. A cavalier approach to issues of human rights has already given us a bad name in the comity of nations. The court’s directive to the government to scale up the efforts for early recovery of the disappeared persons should be obeyed without demur and complied with in earnest.Secondly, it should be ensured that the missing people get a fair legal trial whatever the nature of the offence/offences they have been charged with. Let the government high-ups give a practical demonstration of the rule of law they keep speaking about every now and then.