GENEVA: UN human rights experts have condemned the enforced disappearance of Idris Khattak, a Pakistani human rights defender, calling it an "intolerable attack" on his legitimate work against a range of human rights and minority violations in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the former Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) in Pakistan.
In a joint statement on Tuesday, nine UN human rights experts called for a prompt and impartial investigation into the abduction and incommunicado detention of Khattak and said that they are extremely concerned by the authorities' continued practice of enforced disappearances, leaving thousands of cases unresolved in the country.
Khattak was last seen on November 13 last year after security agents stopped his car near the Swabi interchange in the northernmost province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
On June 16, the Pakistani authorities acknowledged for the first time that he has been in the custody of law enforcement authorities and detained incommunicado since then.
Human rights experts welcome the disclosure by #Pakistan Government of the whereabouts of Idris #Khattak, a leading human rights defender gone missing last year. "We call for a prompt & impartial investigation into his abduction & incommunicado detention." https://t.co/879Ek9hDzk pic.twitter.com/lzyIhaJWRo— UN Geneva (@UNGeneva) June 29, 2020
"The enforced disappearance of 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.
The experts are Nils Melzer, Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; Luciano Hazan (Chair-Rapporteur), Tae-Ung Baik (Vice-Chair), Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders Bernard Duhaime, Houria Es-Slami, and Henrikas Mickevicius; Mary Lawlor; Agnes Callamard, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions; Fernand de Varennes RP, Special Rapporteur on minority issues.
"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 Khattak, and for the prosecution of those responsible," the experts said.
They 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, 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 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 Khattak and to provide him and his family with adequate redress and rehabilitation," they added.
Pakistan has a long history of enforced disappearances, many of which have targetted 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 Pakistan 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 called on the commission to ensure accountability.
The experts will continue to engage with the Pakistani authorities to assist them in eradicating the "horrendous practice" and to closely monitor the situation.