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Enforced Disappearances: UN expert group welcomes official efforts in Pakistan, but notes that “serious challenges remain”

ISLAMABAD (20 September 2012) – The United Nations Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances welcomed today “the declared will of the Government of Pakistan to tackle the issue of enforced disappearances,” but noted that “serious challenges remain.”

“We acknowledge the security challenges faced by Pakistan” said the independent experts at the end of their official visit to the country. “However, according to the 1992 Declaration for the Protection of All Persons Against Enforced Disappearances, ‘no circumstances whatsoever, whether a threat of war, a state of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked to justify enforced disappearances.’”

“There is acknowledgement that enforced disappearances have occurred and still occur in the country. We note that cases continue to be reported to the national authorities. But there are controversies both on the figures and on the nature of the practice of enforced disappearances,” they observed.

The experts welcomed the role played by the judiciary to shed light on the phenomenon of enforced disappearances in Pakistan and to trace missing persons. “The relatives of the disappeared persons have the right to know the truth about the fate and whereabouts of their loved ones”, they stressed.

However, they expressed their concern that relatives of victims reported that even when clearly identified by witnesses, so far perpetrators have not been prosecuted and convicted. “It is the responsibility and the duty of the State to thoroughly investigate all allegations of enforced disappearances and bring the perpetrators to justice,” they recalled.

The experts underlined the need to reinforce the Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances, as well as to ensure the oversight and the accountability of law enforcement and intelligence agencies, and to provide protection for victims and witnesses.

“Other important challenges that Pakistan needs to overcome are the absence of a provision qualifying enforced disappearances as an autonomous crime, and the lack of reparation measures and social assistance programs for the relatives of the disappeared.” they stressed.

Olivier de Frouville and Osman el Hajjé, two of the five members of the Working Group, visited Pakistan from 10 to 20 September 2012, and held meetings with State authorities, civil society organizations and relatives of disappeared persons in Islamabad, Lahore, Karachi, Quetta and Peshawar.

The analysis of the information received during and prior to the visit will be considered in the preparation of the report which will be presented to the Human Rights Council at a session in 2013.

Read the full text of the preliminary observations of the Working Group: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=12549&LangID=E

(*) The Working Group is comprised of five independent experts from all regions of the world. The Chair-Rapporteur is Mr. Olivier de Frouville (France) and the other members are Mr. Ariel Dulitzky (Argentina), Ms. Jasminka Dzumhur (Bosnia and Herzegovina), Mr. Osman El-Hajjé (Lebanon), and Mr. Jeremy Sarkin (South Africa).

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The Working Group was established by the UN Commission on Human Rights in 1980 to assist families in determining the fate and whereabouts of disappeared relatives. It endeavours to establish a channel of communication between the families and the Governments concerned, to ensure that individual cases are investigated, with the objective of clarifying the whereabouts of persons who, having disappeared, are placed outside the protection of the law. In view of the Working Group's humanitarian mandate, clarification occurs when the fate or whereabouts of the disappeared person are clearly established. The Working Group continues to address cases of disappearances until they are resolved. It also provides assistance in the implementation by States of the United Nations Declaration on the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance. For more information on the Working Group, visit: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Disappearances/Pages/DisappearancesIndex.aspx

For more information and media requests contact:
Stacey Winston: (+92 (0) 300 850 2397 / stacey.winston@undp.org)
or write to wgeid@ohchr.org