Protesters demand the recovery of missing persons at a rally at the Liberty roundabout in Lahore on Aug. 30. (Photo by Kamran Chaudhry/ucanews.com)
University students joined an independent watchdog to protest against increasing enforced disappearances by Pakistan security agencies.
Holding human-sized silhouettes at the Liberty roundabout in Lahore, they called for the recovery of abducted activists in Pashtun and Baloch tribal areas and in restive Balochistan province.
The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) organized the Aug. 30 demonstration and a seminar to mark International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances.
Students urged participants to wage social media campaigns for missing persons. HRCP claims to have received 3,300 complaints about abductions, mostly from militarized zones around the country.
"Anybody who speaks of friendly relations with neighboring India or Afghanistan is labeled as an anti-national. People-to-people contact has become a crime," HRCP board member Farooq Tariq told ucanews.com.
"In Balochistan province, the bodies of abducted people are thrown from helicopters. Mass graves are discovered in this western province but people are afraid to speak about it."
The Pashtun Tahafuz Movement, a human rights group of the Pashtun community, has compiled a list of about 1,200 missing persons. Its members blame Pakistani security agencies, particularly the army, for violating human rights and engaging in extrajudicial killings, displacements and attacks on ethnic Pashtuns.
Similarly, Baloch separatist groups in mineral-rich Balochistan province regularly accuse Islamabad of stealing Balochistan's natural gas and mineral wealth. They have been waging a low-scale insurgency for decades.
Tariq was abducted for three days in Lahore in 2007.
"They raided my house and kept me in the warehouse of an abandoned factory for three days. Those sleepless nights of hot summer still haunt me. Two policemen guarded me, and they used my money to buy food for us," he said.
"Finally, I refused to cooperate and warned them to either shoot me or provide a lawyer. Later I was transferred to a prison for more than a month."
Watch this ucanews.com video of the protest in Lahore.
In a press statement, HRCP reiterated the need for the government to criminalize enforced disappearances.
"Even as we express solidarity with forcibly disappeared people and with their friends and families, it is worth reminding ourselves exactly why the phrase 'missing person' is a gross understatement in terms of human rights," it said.
"That we have no reliable estimates of the number of people in this position — given the enormous discrepancy between official estimates and reports on the ground — is a chilling reminder of why the state cannot afford to stall this issue."
The commission also demanded that the government take immediate steps to criminalize enforced disappearances and replace the Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances with a judicial tribunal answerable to the Supreme Court.
"The findings of the 2010 Judicial Commission on Enforced Disappearances must be made public and implemented. It is also high time that Pakistan ratify the International Convention to Protect All Persons against Enforced or Involuntary Disappearance and engage productively with the United Nations Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances."