The Islamabad High Court (IHC) Chief Justice Athar Minallah remarked on Wednesday that the responsibility of missing persons falls on the prime minister and members of the federal cabinet.
Justice Minallah made the remarks while hearing a petition filed by Rana Mehmood Ikram, father of journalist Mudassar Mehmood, who had reportedly gone missing on August 19, 2018.
Human Rights Minister Shireen Mazari and Interior Secretary Yousuf Naseem Khokhar appeared for today's hearing. Additional attorney general Qasim Wadud and deputy attorney general Syed Tayyab Shah were also present in the courtroom.
Advocate Usman Warraich appeared on behalf of the missing journalist's father. However, Advocate Imaan Mazari was not present as she was unwell.
During today's hearing, Justice Minallah told the minister that she had been summoned because the state was not "visible" in tackling the issue of enforced disappearances.
"A person going missing is a crime against humanity. The prime minister and members of the cabinet are there to serve the people of the country. The state's response towards recovering missing persons is pathetic," he remarked.
Justice Minallah said that if a person comes to court stating that a loved one has disappeared, it means that the state has failed. He remarked that the state being accused of kidnapping a citizen was a "serious crime".
He stated that if a public office holder's loved one disappears, the entire state machinery would be mobilised. "The government's response should also be the same when a common citizen disappears."
Justice Minallah said that the court was informed that the missing journalist's wife had also passed away. "All agencies are under the control of the federal government. This is not a matter of summary or reports. You need to satisfy the children and parents of the missing person. The state has a responsibility to take care of the children and listen to the affected family," the judge told Mazari.
The minister said that the issue of enforced disappearances was a part of the PTI's manifesto. She said that that legislation had also been enacted and would be sent to the Senate soon. "Imran Khan has had a very clear stance on the issue from before he became prime minister," she said.
She added that the government had not received the affidavit from the missing person's family according to which the process for paying the compensation would begin.
Justice Minallah told the minister to take the missing person's family to meet the prime minister and members of the federal cabinet.
"The premier will hear them out. [But] first we want to complete the process for paying the compensation, which will be completed by next week," she said.
"Our government considers enforced disappearances a grave crime. No one can be allowed to make someone disappear in a democracy," she said.
The IHC CJ told Mazari to ensure that the missing person's family comes back "satisfied" after meeting the prime minister. "The responsibility of missing persons falls on the prime minister and the members of the cabinet. Instead of the state paying the compensation, why are the prime minister and cabinet members not paying it so that this issue can be eradicated?" he asked.
"If a person went missing in 2002, shouldn't the chief executive at the time be held responsible for paying compensation?" Justice Minallah asked, adding that "state and non-state actors" were involved in enforced disappearances. "Someone needs to be held responsible," he said.
The IHC CJ remarked that when a person disappears, their entire family suffers.
Agreeing with the judge, Mazari said that the rights of all citizens are equal. "The state's response should be equal in every missing persons case," she said, adding that past government's had not taken any serious steps in this regard.
"Half of our lives have been spent under undemocratic governments and this is their doing," the IHC CJ said.
In the written verdict, the IHC CJ observed that in the case of enforced disappearances, "the buck stops with the federal government i.e. the worthy prime minister and members of the federal cabinet".
"It is their constitutional duty not only to find the missing person but to discharge the onus of satisfying the loved ones of the missing person that no state actor is involved nor complacent in their trauma and agony," he observed.
Justice Minallah directed the human rights minister to ensure a meeting between the parents of the parents and children of the missing person with PM Imran before the next hearing.
"The matter shall thereafter be placed before the federal cabinet i.e. worthy prime minister and its members. The latter shall direct all the agencies under its control to produce the missing person before this court or trace his whereabouts," the written order stated.
"In case the missing person is not produced before this court nor his whereabouts are traced, then the federal cabinet shall ascertain the agencies and public functionaries responsible for the failure and inform this court regarding the action taken against them," it added.
Justice Minallah also directed the attorney general to appear and assist regarding the responsibility and liability of the federal government in case Mehmood is not produced before the court or if his whereabouts are not traced.
The hearing was adjourned for December 13.