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Pakistan: New report urges action on ‘War on terror’ detainees after Musharraf attempts to bury issue

Despite growing anger in Pakistan at the practice of enforced disappearances, the government has still not acknowledged its responsibility for hundreds of people arbitrarily detained in secret locations, said Amnesty International today (8 December, as it released a fresh report on the issue.

Cooinciding with a week of demonstrations from the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) against enforced disappearances, Amnesty International has published its 30-page report, Pakistan: Working to stop human rights violations in the 'war on terror', as an update to a major report in September. This report had called on Pakistan’s President Pervez Musharraf to reveal the fate of hundreds of ‘war on terror’ detainees who had ‘disappeared’ after being taken into custody, many by Pakistan’s intelligence services.

The new report contains new ‘disappearance’ cases and describes how families searching for their relatives have begun to organise themselves into protest groups.

For example, on 29 September (the same day that Amnesty International published its first report), magazine editor Abdur Rahim Muslim Dost was arrested as he left a mosque in Peshawar. His fate and whereabouts are still unknown. He had just published a book describing how he was arrested by members of the Pakistani military in 2001, transferred into US custody and detained in Guantánamo Bay. The book recounted his torture in Pakistani and US custody.

Amnesty International South Asia researcher Angelika Pathak said:

"The Pakistani government needs to treat this issue with the gravity and urgency it deserves - we are talking not only about the fate of hundreds of people, but also the devastating effect on their families. The situation involves serious breaches of international law.

"Of course the Pakistani government has a duty to protect people from security threats. At the same time it must follow national and international law in doing so - anyone suspected of terrorism should be charged, given access to a lawyer and their family, and given a fair trial.

"To prevent anyone else being subjected to enforced disappearance, the government must set up a central register of detainees and publish regular lists of all recognised places of detention."

At the time of the September report’s release, Pakistan’s President Pervez Musharraf dismissed Amnesty International’s findings out of hand, refusing to reply when questioned about them by a BBC journalist. Other government officials were similarly offhand. Foreign Secretary Riaz Mohammed Khan told Amnesty International delegates that legal procedures were too longwinded to be followed in Pakistan in a political context in which results were needed quickly.

Angelika Pathak added:

“Politics, economics, security - all have variously been given as excuses as to why the government needs to break international law. But there is never an excuse for violating human rights. Human rights are the bedrock - the starting point for approaching politics and security.”

Family members have continued to face harassment. For example, in early October, even as parliamentarians, lawyers and NGOs gathered for a workshop organised by the HRCP and Amnesty International in Islamabad, at least one relative of a ‘disappeared’ person was stopped by intelligence agents on the morning of the workshop and questioned over why he was attending it.

Meanwhile, Abid Raza Zaidi, a researcher at Karachi University, was detained by Military Intelligence agents after giving a speech at the same workshop. He said he was taken to the Red Fort in Lahore and threatened with dire consequences if he spoke publicly about his experiences again. In his speech he had described being detained for over three months without charge and being beaten to make him confess to taking part in a suicide bomb attack at Nishtar Park in April 2006. Abid Raza Zaidi was not charged and was released after 24 hours at the intervention of the HRCP.

Several people subjected to enforced disappearances have reappeared in recent weeks after being arbitrarily detained in secret locations for over two years on average. Each was warned not to speak publicly about their experiences and detention.

Read a copy of the report Pakistan: Working to Protect Human Rights Violations in the 'War on Terror'

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