Pakistan: UN Experts Appalled By Disappearance of Activist
On 13 November 2019, Idris Khattak, a leading human rights defender in Pakistan, went missing. Despite calls for over six months from the UN for Pakistan to disclose his whereabouts, nothing was disclosed. On 16 June 2020, Pakistani authorities announced that the activist had been held in police custody for the duration of his enforced disappearance, to the consternation of the UN human rights experts. According to the experts, "The enforced disappearance of Mr. Khattak, which began over seven months ago, is an intolerable attack on his legitimate work of monitoring, documenting and advocating against a range of human rights and minority violations". Pakistan has long used enforced disappearances to target and punish "human rights and minority defenders critical of the Government and the military, as well as persons suspected or accused of involvement in the opposition."
Below is a joint statement by Experts of the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights (OHCHR)
UN human rights experts* welcomed today the disclosure by the Pakistani Government of the whereabouts of Idris Khattak, a leading human rights defender who went missing last year, yet strongly condemned his enforced disappearance.
Khattak was last seen on 13 November 2019 after security agents stopped his car near the Swabi Interchange in the northernmost province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. On 16 June 2020, the Pakistani authorities acknowledged for the first time that he has been in the custody of law enforcement authorities and detained incommunicado since then.
“The enforced disappearance of Mr. Khattak, which began over seven months ago, is an intolerable attack on his legitimate work of monitoring, documenting and advocating against a range of human rights and minority violations in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the former Federally Administered Tribal Areas in Pakistan,” the independent experts said.
“We are extremely concerned by the authorities’ continued practice of enforced disappearance, leaving thousands of cases unresolved in the country. We call for a prompt and impartial investigation into the abduction and incommunicado detention of Mr. Khattak, and for the prosecution of those responsible,” the experts said.
The experts condemned the widespread silencing of human rights defenders through intimidation, secret detention, torture and enforced disappearance, whether with the direct involvement of the Pakistani government, or with its complicity or complacency.
“Even today, Mr. Khattak remains deprived of the most basic protections of the law, and his enforced disappearance subjected him and his family to severe and prolonged suffering, that could amount to torture,” the experts said. “Given the arbitrariness of Mr. Khattak’s arrest and detention, and the very serious violations of his integrity and procedural rights, we call on the Government of Pakistan to immediately release Mr. Khattak and to provide him and his family with adequate redress and rehabilitation” said the experts.
Pakistan has a long history of enforced disappearances, many of which have targeted human rights and minority defenders critical of the Government and the military, as well as persons suspected or accused of involvement in the opposition. While successive Governments have promised to criminalise enforced disappearance, none has taken concrete steps and the practice continues with impunity.
The experts stressed that there can be no justification for the Government’s failure to end enforced disappearances and that any such violation must be investigated, prosecuted and punished.
“Truth and justice must be served, both in the case of Idris Khattak and for countless other victims and their families in Pakistan. State-sponsored disappearances and related impunity may amount to a crime against humanity and must end now,” they said.
The experts have taken note that Pakistan’s Commission on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances has been seized of the case and call on the Commission to ensure accountability. The experts will continue to engage with the Pakistani authorities to assist them in eradicating this horrendous practice and to closely monitor the situation.
The experts: Mr. Nils Melzer, Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; The UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances: Mr. Luciano Hazan (Chair-Rapporteur), Mr. Tae-Ung Baik (Vice Chair), Mr. Bernard Duhaime, Ms. Houria Es-Slami, and Mr. Henrikas MickeviÄius; Ms. Mary Lawlor, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders; Ms. Agnes Callamard, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions; Mr. Fernand de Varennes RP, Special Rapporteur on minority issues
The Special Rapporteurs, Independent Experts and Working Groups are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.
UN Human Rights, Country Page – Pakistan
Photo: Idris Khattak. © Twitter/ @IdrisKhattak