Raza Mahmood Khan is a 40-year-old man from a humble background. He is not part of Pakistan’s elite and is not connected to any political or religious group. His is best known for his work as a peace activist who has been working to promote peace between India and Pakistan. For this, his initiative to connect Pakistani and Indian students via Skype so that they form friendships once they realize that they have more or less the same likes, dislikes, etc. has been much praised.
Raza has kept a low profile and does not step on anyone’s toes.And still, since December 2017 he has become one of the many Pakistanis who have disappeared – vanished in thin air without any explanation.
His friends and family have no idea where he is.The manner of his disappearance – during which his apartment was ransacked, but only the CPU of his computer went missing with him – points towards this being a case of enforced disappearance.That is when a person is secretly abducted or imprisoned by a state or political organization or by a third party with the authorization, support, or acquiescence of a state or political organization, followed by a refusal to acknowledge the person’s fate and whereabouts, with the intent of placing the victim outside the protection of the law.
It is estimated by human rights groups that more than 2,000 persons are missing in Pakistan, and while the majority belong to the Balochi nationalists, there are activists like Raza among them who is a Punjabi living in Lahore. Unfortunately, despite protests by human rights activists and a Lahore High Court directive to the police to produce him in court he remains missing.
Enforced disappearance is nothing new and nor is it confined to Pakistan.Over time, it has been used by various criminal and state organizations to get rid of their opponents. It is a process almost exclusively used in countries of Asia, Africa and South America and in recent times has become virtually unknown in the Western World except for the infamous American detention center in Cuba.
According to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, which came into force on 1 July 2002, a “forced disappearance” qualifies as a crime against humanity and, thus, is not subject to a statute of limitations. On 20 December 2006, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance.
In Pakistan,Article 9 of the constitution states, ”No person shall be deprived of life or liberty save in accordance with law,” while article 10 states, ”No person who is arrested shall be detained in custody without being informed, as soon as may be, of the grounds for such arrest, nor shall he be denied the right to consult and be defended by a legal practitioner of his choice.Every person who is arrested and detained in custody shall be produced before a magistrate within a period of twenty-four hours of such arrest.”
The Supreme Court judgement in the Muhabat Shah case (2013) declared such enforced disappearances as “crimes against humanity”.
Still, such unexplained disappearances continue to be reported on a regular basis.Last year four bloggers vanished in a similar way, and when they were finally released by their captors after many weeks they reported that they were held by Pakistani military agencies and were brutally tortured during the detention.
While some apologists will argue, and indeed not all such abductions are by them, there is not some but overwhelming evidence of the involvement of state officials, including intelligence agencies, in cases of enforced disappearances. This was acknowledged by government commissions of inquiry on enforced disappearances, the Supreme Court judgement in the Muhabat Shah case (2013), the detailed documentation of enforced disappearances in Balochistan by the Supreme Court in Constitution Petition No.77 of 2010 and even an official ISI statement attached as Appendix I to the book The ISI of Pakistan by Hein G. Kiessling, recognizing this practice and detailing efforts made to solve it.
Thus, there are no hidden or mysterious forces like aliens involved in these abductions.
The question is, why these agencies continue to use this tactic to abduct, harass and even kill those they do not like. And while there may be several reasons for this, the primary reason is that they find it convenient for they do not have to go through the lengthy process of law, and most of all because they know they can get away with it. Indeed, despite many Supreme Court decisions against such detentions, not a single official of an intelligence agency has ever been prosecuted for such abduction, torture and even murder. In my personal conversation with a senior judge I was told by him that if he is picked up by a lowly officer from an agency no one can do anything about it!
Recently the war against this illegal and unconstitutional practice suffered a major blow when we lost our greatest champion Asma Jahangir.
It is therefore vital that the judges of Pakistan Supreme Court do not focus all their energy in selective prosecution of politicians, but take a vigorous stand in stopping this illegal and unconstitutional practice including punishing those who are responsible no matter who they are and what rank they have.
And it is equally important that in these times those who believe in human rights and freedom of speech stand together and present a united front by protesting against any such abduction regardless of who is the victim.
To quote Martin Niemoller:
‘First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me’