Out of sight, out of mind


ORIGINALLY POSTED AT DAWN

It’s worth remembering the adage ‘justice delayed is justice denied.’ Yesterday marked the second anniversary of the missing people’s case. Amina Masood Janjua, chairperson of the Defence of Human Rights in Pakistan – an independent organization calling for the release of all citizens who have been illegally detained – continues her four-year-long struggle to locate her missing husband as well as the other missing people of Pakistan. Most of them were dragged out of their houses, abducted from offices, picked off roads, and hustled into waiting vans, never to be heard from again. For all intents and purposes, they are gone without a trace.

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According to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), of the more than 400 missing persons listed by the HRCP in 2005, 240 have been traced. Currently, the list contains 198 names, of which 99 have been located. However, Janjua and many others still await justice, a promise that was made to them while they marched and sloganeered for the freedom of the judiciary. The days of fiery press conferences and passionate promises to bring back the ‘brothers and sisters of the nation’ seem to be over, as human rights campaigners are increasingly disillusioned by the reality of our judicial system.

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Of course, no one expected the recovery of missing persons to be an easy task. But the fact that the missing people’s case is yet to be taken up by the Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry is appalling. After all, the case of missing persons was one of the most vital issues that dragged people out of their homes and on to the streets to demand the restoration of the chief justice.

To the dismay of many, the efforts of the public seem to have been in vain, as little is being done or said about the case. While the families of the missing people still await justice, the lives of ordinary people have been consumed by another, pressing issue. The authorities now have much more to worry about in the form of the war against terror, and media channels are focusing on the plethora of news-worthy incidents that erupt (literally) every day. Meanwhile, the judicial system is yet to decide its stance.

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The public at large has forgotten the plight of the missing people and their families as terrorists threaten to paralyse our cities. Ironically, the only time one hears about the missing people is during one of those flaming ‘America is the devil’ speeches by religious fanatics or opposition leaders struggling for the limelight. After all, blaming America has always been the best way to shove our internal issues under the conspiracy carpet. It should be noted here that, contrary to popular belief, most of those missing are being held in detention centres within Pakistan.

Speaking to Janjua about her case, I was amazed by her unwavering dedication and hope for the return of her husband along with hundreds of others who have gone missing.  When I asked her how she expected the nation to rise to the issue and participate in her struggle, she offered a simple and doable solution.

We need a forum to mobilize the youth of the country. We aim towards making an environment where human rights matter. A society that is safe and respects the rights of individuals. Apart from this being an emotional dilemma, it is also an economic crisis. Most families have lost their sole earners; they are even deprived of necessities such as flour. My organization caters for them as well as raising voice for their lost ones. I would request help from all factions of the society lawyers, NGOs, writers, human right activists, youth and everyone else to join in our cause. Arrange seminars help our cause grow. For those living abroad could help by sending funds, which would be used to arrange seminars and to support the families of the victims.

It would not be a bad idea to support the families of missing persons. Their plea is to bring justice to their loved ones by giving them the basic right to a fair trial. The fact is, as the authorities continue to detain hundreds of suspected terrorists, doubts may be cast on the authenticity of the claims of the families of missing people. No doubt, we should not assume that those in detention are innocent. But in the absence of a trial, how will we ever find out the truth?

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