ICJ’s scathing review
IT is not enough to say that a crime has been committed: to tackle it effectively perpetrators must be traced, investigated and successfully prosecuted. On that score, the Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances has proved to be an unmitigated failure.
In a briefing paper highly critical of its work, the International Commission of Jurists — a global body of 60 eminent judges and lawyers whose opinions command enormous respect — has recommended that the COIED’s mandate not be renewed beyond Sept 14 when its tenure is due to expire. Titled Entrenching Impunity, Denying Redress, the document notes that the COIED has focused solely on determining the whereabouts of the missing, in which it has to some extent been successful. Of the 6,752 cases it has handled since March 2011 when it was established, 4,642 are have been “disposed of”; 2,110 remain pending. However, the commission has neglected to fulfil its mandate to “fix responsibility on individuals or organisations responsible”. In not a single case has anyone been held to account.
The ICJ has also pointed out that the definition of ‘enforced disappearance’ in the commission’s regulations is inconsistent with the international definition and “misses several critical elements”. As a result, it does not cover secret detentions, abductions by non-state actors having state support, etc. Many victims thus fall outside the COIED’s purview.
The commission’s “lack of structural independence”, according to the ICJ, weakens it further. There is also the question of its credibility, considering its chairman — retired Justice Javed Iqbal — also serves as head of NAB, a full-time job in itself, and in that capacity has been involved in a number of controversies. One may recall that the Supreme Court in a recent judgement denounced NAB for its violation of fundamental rights and pursuit of a political vendetta. In short, much needs to change before victims and their families can find redressal.
Meanwhile, those who commit this despicable crime, one that is taken straight from the playbook of history’s most despotic regimes, have been further emboldened. Enforced disappearances not just continue to take place here, they have reached a level of brazenness inconceivable a few years ago. Earlier, it was often in Balochistan — long a black hole for information — or remote parts of KP that individuals would be forcibly disappeared.
The theatre of action then slowly expanded to more populated areas. Now, victims are not necessarily snatched under cover of darkness; abductions even take place in broad daylight in busy urban centres. There may be multiple witnesses, yet no one seems able to trace the perpetrators, let alone prosecute them. Journalist Matiullah Jan was kidnapped in Islamabad on the morning of July 21; his ordeal ended 12 hours later when he was set free. Despite CCTV footage that clearly captured his abduction, no one has been apprehended. The ‘known unknowns’ remain free.
Death of miners
THE unfortunate deaths of more than 20 labourers in the Ziarat marble mines in Mohmand, KP, are yet another grim reminder of the perilous conditions that are part and parcel of the mining occupation in the country. The labourers died when large parts of the Ziarat marble mountain caved in on Monday, resulting in a massive rockslide that struck the workers in its path. According to the provincial labour minister, 34 miners had been present at the time of the accident. The bodies of 22 workers have been found while seven more were still missing at the time of writing. Earlier in February, at least nine workers perished and 14 were injured in a similar accident in Buner district when major portions of the marble mine in Bampokha village collapsed. On site were approximately 30 workers. Given the dangerous working conditions, resulting from outdated mining methods and the disregard for protective measures, such accidents and the ensuing loss of life are anything but surprising. This much was acknowledged by Federal Minister Fawad Chaudhry who lamented the “bitter” working condition of mine labourers. Meanwhile, the provincial labour minister acknowledged that modern mining methods needed to be implemented to ensure the safety of workers. He promised to carry out an investigation to ascertain the cause of the accident, saying that if anyone was found negligent they would be punished. One hopes that his words translate into action, and that the deaths don’t just become another statistic.
After the accident in Buner, the local marble industry stakeholders had come to an agreement with the deputy commissioner on following SOPs during mining operations. Perhaps in this incident too, the provincial government can, besides paying compensation to the families of the dead workers, get stakeholders in the local marble industry in Mohmand to agree to follow the relevant SOPs to make sure the workers are safe on the job. However, the issue of dangerous working conditions is not unique to the mining industry and persists in other sectors as well. Who can forget the gruesome deaths of over 260 workers burnt alive inside a garments factory in Karachi’s Baldia area on this day in 2012? Criminal intent had been cited in that case but poor fire safety measures were also reported. In the case of the recent deaths, the Senate committee looking into the hazardous working conditions in coal mines can also take the marble mining industry under its purview.
Killing trans people
TWO aspects of the latest attack on transgender persons in Peshawar stand out: first, the frequency of these assaults, many of them fatal, in KP, and second, the unbridled, brandishing of weapons at ceremonies across the province that often lead to death and violence.
In this latest incident, gunmen killed one trans person and injured another. Apparently, the shooting took place just as a group of transgender performers was leaving a wedding venue after an evening’s entertainment. Gul Panra was hit fatally. A wounded Chahat was taken to hospital, reports said. According to a social activist, no less than 69 trans people have been violently killed in KP since 2015.
The figure underscores the need for greater security than has been provided to these souls who cannot be expected to build safer abodes for themselves at a distance from civilisation. They have to share the same environment that has unfortunately been poisoned by a mindset that identifies certain groups as pariahs. There is an urgent need to arrest this alarming trend that encourages the targeting of trans people before the situation worsens.
Laws have been enacted over the last few years to ensure that trans persons have the same rights as other citizens. These legal steps have been accompanied by rules aimed, in theory at least, at giving more breathing space to a group that has been traditionally discriminated against. There have been campaigns in the media highlighting how the transgender community is as capable and active as anyone if it is given the same opportunities.
Perhaps there is some change, but by and large, the old attitudes persist. The complaints that those who attack trans people are not prosecuted and punished is seen by some as part of the larger picture of a rickety justice system that lacks proper trials. But the point to ponder here is that the marginalised of Pakistan including transgender complainants are even less likely to get a fair hearing than the ‘more fortunate’ have-nots of this land.