Defence of Human Rights

The landscape of Injustice: The Space for Activism Around Enforced Disappearances

“The need to lend a voice to suffering is the condition of all truth”

We didn’t say that. Theodor Adorno did. But it continues to be heard, explored and put into action across the world. The erasure of a person’s identity is recognized in neoliberal terms as the greatest violation of their rights. The identity and erasure thereof that we are discussing here includes mass graves and tortured dead bodies labeled, categorized, and executed unanimously at the State’s agency. People like Abdul Sattar Edhi, of the Edhi Foundation, would have been able to shed light on this activity. Throughout his life, he kept restoring some burial dignity to those executed and those bereaved. This is the fate that awaits the victims of enforced disappearances.

Our Fact Sheet alone, reveals 2811 registered cases of “missing persons” with the DHR, out of which only 484 of them have ever been released. In other words, these people lose their identity forever – after release, they become “released persons” stamped with a loss of voice. Unless they turn back to create a space for themselves. Amina Masood Janjua did precisely that. There are other stories of survivors who raised an issue.

Raising the Issue:

The issue of enforced disappearances is a complex and multi-faceted human rights issue. The objective of this essay is to individualize the abduction of a sweep of men, women, and children, that have colloquially been known as “enforced disappearances” Take the example of Niaz as one example emblematic of many. Niaz was a 39-year farmer in his hometown of Swat. He was classified as a threat during security operations and abducted for questioning. Released 10 days later, he came out to find that his brother had passed away as collateral damage – “heat stroke” due to the conditions of custody. One brother lived, another barely survived, and a family broke down.

This method of deliberative nonchalance by the state apparatus in providing fundamental human rights to its constituents has led to an alternative tide (hereafter, the “Tide”). This tide is led by organizations that advocate for just and humane treatment of those abducted and those displaced. The State itself, comprised as it is, of the legislative, military, and parliamentary arms, has been inefficient in curbing extrajudicial encounters. However, the alter-ego or countercurrent tide seeks legal action. The stimulus for their action comes from Pakistan’s violation of international and regional human rights conventions. Pakistan has proclaimed that it must treat all its citizenry equally and fairly. Naturally, this includes tribal areas as well. The Tide must next focus the State’s attention on tribal discrimination, appropriate representation, and inclusive processes.

Historical Landscape:

Pakistan’s four administrative provinces, including KPK and Sindh, show the repercussions of external wars to this date. KPK specifically, containing the former FATA straddles the Durand Line, the disputed territory between Pakistan and Afghanistan. The territory is controlled mostly through tribal leadership, making it vulnerable to human rights violations by the State machinery in order to stamp its writ.

Seeking redress for them is one of the functions of the Tide. The first step towards that is accounting for them and keeping a database. Thus, the political landscape creates a conducive terrain for the State’s enforced disappearances of the individuals here. It is easy in this power vacuum to remove individuals and try to influence the power dynamic of a whole region. More “enforced disappearances” give the State the impulsion to intervene. However, this intervention faces resistance at the hands of those who recognize their detention center dictators. Thus, the cycle of violence continues.

Contemporary Landscape:

The convergence of this betrayal at the hands of state agencies and decadent social development allows for mediators like Defence of Human Rights to be present. At the very least, they allow the issue and the victims of enforced disappearance to remain visible. They remove the veil of silence that has engulfed these people. The Joint Statement by AFAD, DHR, ICAED, FORUM-ASIA, FIDH, CAGE, and World Sindhi Congress, lists the cross-section of principals involved in this endeavor. It promises a Right to Truth, creating a tangible relationship between the enforced disappearances and the NGOs working for their release and exposure. In other words, this is a new landscape, one that attempts to acknowledge the issue without gaslighting the relatives into a space of disappearance.

There are details missing from this overview – philosophical arguments, mission statements, individual accounts, and so on. But the crux of activism as seen through the examples of these various groups stays constant – it is to rid the stigma of a “disappearance.” It is to bring this issue to the public discourse. It is to engage with the phenomenon of disappearances through the center of politically meaningful activities. This cannot be accomplished without instilling individual and physical narratives of pain in public spaces, as well as confronting the body politic with these accounts.

Muhammad Hammad Bilal
Intern, Defence of Human Rights Pakistan

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