Enforced disappearances in Pakistan

Amnesty International demonstration outside the Pakistan High Commission against the practice of enforced disappearance in Pakistan, London, 30 August 2008

Amnesty International demonstration outside the Pakistan High Commission against the practice of enforced disappearance in Pakistan, London, 30 August 2008

© Amnesty International


Ever since Pakistan declared its support for the US-led “war on terror”, hundreds if not thousands of people accused of links to terrorist groups have been arbitrarily detained. Many of them have become victims of enforced disappearance.

Custodial safeguards required by Pakistani law have routinely been ignored as people have been improperly arrested without warrant, detained without reference to any law, held in undeclared places of detention, denied access to lawyers, family and courts, and often subjected to torture and other ill-treatment.

The Pakistan government began using the practice of enforced disappearances widely after it joined the US-led "war on terror" in 2001. Domestic political opponents of the Pakistani government were also targeted, in particular members of Pakistan's Sindhi and Baloch nationalist groups advocating greater autonomy.

In Balochistan, a province in southwest Pakistan, the human rights situation is particularly dire. Arbitrary detention, abductions, enforced disappearances, torture and extrajudicial executions are overwhelmingly committed with impunity. At least 100 Baloch activists, teachers, journalists and lawyers were subjected to enforced disappearance and were subsequently executed extrajudicially, in so-called “kill and dump” operations, between July 2010 to February 2011. Their bullet-riddled bodies, most bearing torture marks, have been recovered across Balochistan. Previously, the bodies of missing persons were rarely recovered.

The confrontation between Baloch groups and the state is characterized by human rights abuses committed by all sides.

Amnesty International believes that genuine security in Pakistan must include full observance of human rights and rule of law, and that this must be at the core of any counter-terrorism strategy.

In its 2008 report, Amnesty International confronted the Pakistani authorities with evidence that government officials were obstructing attempts to trace those who have disappeared. The evidence included official court records and affidavits of victims and witnesses of enforced disappearances. The tactics included denying detention had taken place and denying all knowledge of the fate and whereabouts of disappeared persons; refusing to obey judicial directions; concealing the identity of the detaining authorities (for example, by transferring the disappeared to other secret locations); threatening harm or repeat disappearance; and filing spurious criminal charges long after a person has been subjected to enforced disappearance, to create a facade of legality.

By holding people in secret detention, the government of Pakistan has not only violated their rights but also failed in its duty to bring to justice those suspected of involvement in attacks targeting civilians. Where there is reason to believe that people have participated in the planning or perpetration of such attacks, they should be investigated, charged, receive a prompt and fair trial and, if found guilty, punished, in accordance with international standards.

Read more:

‘As if Hell Fell on Me’: The Human Rights Crisis in Northwest Pakistan (June 2010)
Denying the Undeniable: Enforced Disappearances in Pakistan (July 2008)
Pakistan: Working to stop human rights violations in the "war on terror" (December 2006)
Pakistan: Human rights ignored in the “war on terror” (September 2006)

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