The Pakistani parliament has rejected a bill seeking ‘harsh’ punishments for those forces involved in the illegal practice of enforces disappearances in the country.

The member of parliament from Waziristan and Pakhtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM) leader Mohsin Dawar and Member national assembly from Balochistan had presented the bill in the assembly, asking to add to the law that anyone involved in enforced disappearances should be sentenced to life in prison. “It was aimed to prevent people and institutions from enforced disappearances. It was an anti-government bill,” Dawar told media.

Dawar also called for support from the Human Rights Minister Shireen Mazari, but a majority of members of the National Assembly voted against the bill, so it was not presented to parliament for voting. International human rights organizations, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have accused the Pakistani military of forcibly disappearing people. They suggested that the issue should be treated as a criminal offence and that the perpetrators should not be left unpunished.

The number of enforced disappearances is highest in the tribal districts and Balochistan. Baloch militants are fighting for independence from Pakistan. Mama Qadeer Baloch, deputy director of the Voice for Missing Baloch Persons, an organization working to find the missing, told Mashal Radio that thousands of people are missing in Baluchistan.

Pakistan’s security forces have refused to abduct anyone but in April 2020, army spokesman Asif Ghafoor told a news conference in response to a question about the enforced disappearances that anything was permissible in war and love. He alleged that most of the missing persons were armed militants.

But a report released by the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) in September 2020, said that Pakistan’s official commission on missing persons was ‘ineffective’. According to the report, the commission has failed to hold accountable the individuals and institutions involved in the disappearance, which has further strengthened the culture of impunity.

Shabir Hussain Gagiani, a lawyer of the Peshawar High Court, who is representing the missing persons’ cases, said under the law no one has the authority to forcibly disappear a person. “Whether it is the army, the police or the Rangers or the intelligence agencies, no one can forcibly abduct a person. If anyone is arrested, he must be presented to a magistrate within 24 hours,” he told Mashal Radio on January 27.