UN human rights experts have condemned the enforced disappearance of Idris Khattak, a leading human rights defender, calling it an “intolerable attack” on his legitimate work of advocating against a range of human rights and minority violations in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
Khattak was last seen on 13 November, 2019 after security agents stopped his car near the Swabi Interchange in the northernmost province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. On 16 June 2020, the Pakistani authorities acknowledged for the first time that he has been in the custody of law enforcement authorities and detained incommunicado since then.
“The enforced disappearance of Mr. 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.
In a joint statement on June 29, 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.
The experts also 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, Mr. 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, the UN experts also called on the Government of Pakistan to immediately release Khattak and to provide him and his family with adequate redress and rehabilitation.
Pakistan has a long history of enforced disappearances, many of which have targeted 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 criminalize enforced disappearance, none has taken concrete steps.
The experts stressed that there can be no justification for the 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.