ISLAMABAD: Islamabad High Court (IHC) Chief Justice Athar Minallah Friday remarked that causing citizens to disappear is unacceptable and equal to breaching the Constitution.
Hearing a case of missing persons, including journalist Mudassar Naro, he provided the federal government with two months for taking measures to ensure that all missing persons were recovered. “No official has done their job […] we will hold everyone responsible if another missing persons case is filed in this court,” the IHC chief justice said.
The IHC had directed the federal government in May to serve notices on former president Pervez Musharraf and all other successors — former prime ministers, including the incumbent holder of the office — in cases of missing persons.
The IHC CJ had issued a 15-page order in a case relating to the disappearance of journalist Naro and five other people after their petitions were fixed for final arguments, but the federal government requested an adjournment in May.
The IHC directed the government to ensure that the missing persons were recovered by June 17; however, since then the authorities had been seeking adjournments, citing various reasons.
In July, the IHC had warned that if the missing persons were not recovered, it would summon the incumbent chief executive — PM Shehbaz Sharif. During today’s hearing, the court not only summoned the prime minister but also Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah and Law Minister Azam Nazeer Tarar, who appeared before the bench.
The law minister requested for more time and sought at least two months to resolve the issue, after which the IHC CJ Minallah adjourned the hearing till Nov 14. At the outset of the hearing, IHC CJ Minallah told PM Shehbaz that the court had bothered him as the case was about a major issue.
The IHC chief justice remarked that the state was not responding as per its responsibility. “A chief executive ruled this country for nine years. He proudly wrote in his book that he sold out his people abroad,” IHC CJ Minallah said. It seems like it was probably the “state policy”, he remarked. “But if we talk about the Constitution, there couldn’t be a state within the state,” he added.
“The court considered it appropriate to tell you [premier] what the issue actually is. A commission was formed to address the issue of missing persons, but the proceedings were hurtful,” the IHC chief justice said.
He said that the things Amina Masood Janjua told about the commission’s conduct were extremely painful and intolerable. The IHC CJ said that disappearance of people was the biggest form of torture and the court had no other option but to ask the executive. “What should we do when the state expressed ignorance as who made the citizens disappeared,” he asked.
Justice Minallah expressed his displeasure at the government for having no control over subordinate institutions. “This court will ensure civil supremacy,” said the CJ. “Either it should be admitted that the Constitution is not held or these institutions are under the control of the executive.”
Chief Justice Minallah expressed annoyance that no work was done despite continuous assurances and the formation of committees by the authorities. “There are detention centres from where people have been recovered, but no action was taken,” he said. The CJ remarked that the state is responsible for redressing the sufferings of missing persons’ [families].
“The state is not helpless. It is the state’s responsibility if someone goes missing. Disappearing citizens is equal to breaching the Constitution,” the IHC CJ said. He said that the chief executive of the province or the Centre, wherever a person goes missing from, is responsible.
The IHC CJ said enforced disappearances are a deviation from the Constitution. “Otherwise, you’ll have to say that the Constitution is not in its original form,” he said. He said that the prime minister had the national security of Pakistan in his hands and the problems of the country would be solved when the Constitution was fully restored.
PM Shehbaz Sharif said it was his duty to respond to the court’s summons and appear before it. “The child [son of a missing person] requested me to reunite him with his father. This sentence of the child was extremely worrisome for me, therefore I will not waste a single chance to fulfil my responsibility,” the premier said while assuring the court of making efforts to reunite missing persons with their families.
He said he was answerable to the people of Pakistan and Allah Almighty. Informing the court about the progress of the committee formed for recovery of missing persons, PM Shehbaz Sharif said that the committee had held six meetings. He promised to the court that he would present a report before it for every meeting.
Law Minister Azam Nazeer Tarar then asked the court if he could speak about a few matters. In response, the IHC CJ said that he did not want to hear that the government had formed a committee and was probing the case. “I am telling you, no missing persons case should be filed again in this court”.
The IHC CJ told the law minister and prime minister that he wanted all previous missing persons cases to be resolved as his court was still getting complaints. “This is an issue dating back 20-21 years, it will not be resolved within 10 days,” the law minister told the court.
The IHC CJ then asked why Baloch students were being profiled based on their ethnicity. The law minister then said a permanent solution to the issue was dialogue. The IHC CJ said that even personnel from the Federal Investigation Agency pick them up.
Tarar said that there were five to six reasons for this, at which the court said that it was the responsibility of the government to address them. It should take up the matter in the parliament, and make laws to address the issue once and for all. The CJ remarked that India and some other countries also resolved this issue in parliament.
IHC CJ Minallah said that if the Constitution was violated, everyone involved was responsible and in case a person went missing in future, it would be tantamount to breaking the Constitution.
“Your message is loud and clear, Mr chief justice,” the prime minister said in response. The law minister told the court that UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres was in Pakistan and the prime minister had to meet him. At this, the IHC allowed PM Shehbaz to leave.
Moving on, the IHC CJ said that the issue at hand was that all the office holders claim that they were not involved, no matter what the issue was. “If you can’t resolve the issues, then why don’t you leave your office?”
Attorney-General for Pakistan Ashtar Ali Ausaf said that indeed, that should be the case. The law minister apprised the court that the incumbent government was a coalition government and it had allies like the MQMP and parties from Balochistan — who keep on complaining about missing persons.
“We want everyone to be satisfied; we want an open dialogue.” The law minister said that the government was holding meetings in this regard every week and that it required two months, and not a week, to resolve the issue.
The IHC directed the Ministry of Interior to establish a cell on the missing persons the matter. The court accepted the law minister’s plea to resolve the case within two months and adjourned the hearing till November 14.