February 22, 2007
National Press Club, Washington , DC

For watching the video of the seminar, please visit:

The World Sindhi Institute (WSI) held a seminar on the topic of
“Disappearances in Pakistan ” on Thursday, February 22, 2007 at the National Press Club, ‘Lisagor Room’, Washington , D.C. The two hour event started on scheduled time at 12:00 noon and ended at 2:00 pm . The seminar was very well attended, with participants from some prominent human rights organizations in DC, such as Torture, Abolition & Survivors Support Coalition, National Council of Negro Women, INC., Amnesty International, Project on Middle East Democracy, Sindh Excellence Team, Pen Foundation and Sadhu Vaswani Mission, some leading media agencies, including Reuters, ANI and Daily Times, Think Tank on Self Determination, representatives from the business community, Pakistani students in the U.S., the U.S. State Department and Embassy of Pakistan in USA. Even before the seminar proceedings began, great impact was being created by the numerous posters sticking on the walls of the room, each with the actual name of one missing person and the date and place of that particular disappearance; thus as the participants kept coming and settling down, it was realized that the event is not only an academic endeavor, but is about real people and genuine cases of forced extrajudicial arrests. The time of the event nearly coincided with the forced disappearance of Dr. Safdar Sarki, the Sindhi activist who was also a U.S. citizen and was abducted by the Pakistani authorities on February 24, 2006 from Karachi , where he was visiting with his family. Thus the seminar was held as an annual commemoration of the sacrifice by Dr. Sarki and many more vocal and active human rights advocates in Pakistan . The event was marked by an extremely lively and intuitive discussion by most of the participants on the subject that has lately emerged as a national issue of Pakistan . The fact that enforced disappearances as a growing and critical problem of the country has drawn global attention, particularly from all human rights groups and believers of peace and democracy became quite evident during the course of the most interesting and brain storming deliberations in the seminar.

The worthy Speakers of the seminar included the following:

Keynote Speaker:
Dr. Dorothy I. Height; Chair and President Emerita, National Council of Negro Women, INC. An administrator, teacher, and social activist, she has been a leader in the struggle for equality and human rights for all people.


Sr. Dianna Ortiz, Executive Director of TASSC (Torture, Abolition & Survivors Support Coalition) is herself a survivor of torture in Guatemala .

T. Kumar, Advocacy Director for Asia & Pacific, Amnesty International, USA

Yohannes Tsehai, Senior Legislative Counsel, Office of Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee (Co-Chairperson of Congressional Pakistan Caucus)

Munawar Laghari, Executive Director, The World Sindhi Institute, Washington , DC

Ms. Humaira Rahman, Director WSI Canada performed the role of the Moderator of seminar. She opened the proceedings by welcoming the guests and provided a brief back ground of the issue of disappearances in Pakistan . She raised concern over the horrific practice of forcefully abducting, torturing, and even executing any person having the courage to express difference of opinion with the government’s policies or actions. Further more, she declared the practice of enforced disappearances in Pakistan as a ‘War on Freedom of Expression’.

The first speaker of the event was Dr. Dorothy I. Height; the keynote speaker. She began by recalling that her first visit to the continent of Asia was in 1952, when she first landed in Karachi , Pakistan on her way to India . Thus she still considers Pakistan to be her orientation to that region. She reminded that in the history of nations, there usually comes a time when they have to sacrifice and pay the price for nation building, but hopes that history does not have to repeat itself and that we learn from the past mistakes in other parts of the world. Curtailing human expression by force has never succeeded as a mechanism of managing affairs of nations, as “Might is not always Right”. She expressed great concern while quoting survey results of some renowned international human rights groups, which disclose that the number of persons missing in Pakistan due to enforced abductions goes up to many thousands, 4000 being from one province only. Another cause of concern is that numerous disappeared persons include professors, poets, journalists, political workers, labor leaders, nationalists and human rights activists and NOT Terrorists! She urged the government of Pakistan to take this issue seriously and to take steps to solve it. She also commended The World Sindhi Institute to provide a platform where this serious issue is being brought up for open debate and remedial suggestions. Narrating an incidence from the past in Europe , she ended her speech by highlighting the American values of equality, democracy and freedom of expression as the basic foundations of this great nation, where even if lynched, a person can freely speak up against lynching! She stressed on the need to associate with those who value these traits as virtues, and not those who ruin them by persecuting their own people. This she said is important because the highest ideals for us to achieve is a world where there is not only law and order, but also peace and humanity.

Sister Dianna Ortiz from ‘Torture, Abolition & Survivors Support Coalition’ (TASSC) was next to speak. She presented a very forceful and emotional account of the human aspect of the issue of disappearance and torture in Argentina and Guatemala . She gave the perspective of a torture survivor, which she herself is and also narrated true stories of few more torture victims in her circle of friends. Her paper included the perspective of the family of the victim also, which she claimed, get as much hurt and devastated as the victim him/herself. She expressed surprise that out of so many places in the world where abductions and torture are being practiced as a tool of governance, one of them is an esteemed friend and ally of the U.S. – Pakistan, where it is not only far from uncommon, but is a full blown practice. She said that according to some acknowledged sources, although the government of Pakistan has sold alleged terrorists to the U.S. for an impressive sum of money; however, Baloch and Sindhis are a special target of enforced abductions in that country. Drawing attention of the audience to this ironical situation, she mentioned that on one hand President of USA states that “Freedom from torture is an inalienable human right” and that, “The United States is committed to the worldwide elimination of torture and we are leading the fight by example”, and on the other hand he is the same president who praises a government who abducts and tortures not only its own people, but did not even spare a U.S. citizen, Dr. Safdar Sarki. She assessed that the only example the Bush administration has set is not one of eliminating torture, but justifying its practice. It is hardly surprising then that when, on June 26, 2003, the president condemned by name countries that torture, he listed only those whose governments that the U.S. opposes. It is not surprising that Pakistan ’s government was not mentioned.

Mr. Yohannes Tsehai represented Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, the Co-chair of Congressional Pakistan Caucus at the seminar. He apprised the audience about the work done at Congresswoman’s office regarding extra-judicial arrests, which particularly got triggered at the time of disappearance of Dr. Safdar Sarki. He explained the process, through which he himself conducted investigation on that particular case of disappearance, whereby he carried out fact finding at various levels, including interviews with Ambassador of Pakistan to the U.S. But to his frustration and despair, no one seems to know anything about the whereabouts of Dr. Sarki, although there have been reports from other independent sources that few detainees who returned back from the detention centers of the intelligence agencies in Pakistan have personally met Dr. Sarki in one of those centers. This, he expressed, adds on to his frustration that even at the U.S. Congressional level, it becomes difficult to get to the truth about certain issues in Pakistan. However, he committed to continue the search for truth at his end and praised the efforts of all those who are attempting to do the same in spite of all the challenges.

Mr. T. Kumar, Advocacy Director for Asia & Pacific in Amnesty International, USA came next to deliver his most heart-felt speech. He candidly condemned the brutal practice whereby the administration of a country abducts and tortures its own citizens. He did not mince words when he expressed extreme shock and grief over the observation that police and army personals in Pakistan stripped the family members naked and tortured them too, when they asked about the whereabouts of the disappeared person and their loved one. This so-called act of bravery on the part of armed forces and police, according to him, was the most brutal act that has no precedence throughout the world. To add to the frustration, he said, is the obscurity with which the crimes related to enforced disappearances and abductions by authorities are conducted, whereby the responsible authority very conveniently negates even the happening of the incidence and gets away with it by simply denying the fact. It is observed, he commented, that the missing persons constitute those who opposed the Musharraf rule, and that those who disappear, rarely ever re-appear to be with their family and friends. Majority of these victims are leaders of ethnic minorities and political opponents of General Musharraf, including Baloch and Sindhi activists who are struggling against military rule in the country. The list is still growing, he warned. Mr. Kumar commended the effort by WSI to organize an event of this nature, which he conveyed, is beneficial in serving the following three purposes:

1. To raise the issue of disappearances as an important and worthwhile cause to work for.
2. Communicate to the Musharraf led government in Pakistan , that the world is watching their acts of human rights violations and that they are not in a state of isolation and absolute authority.
3. To prevent further acts of disappearances, because by creating and raising awareness about the issue, not only opponents, but also the allies of General Musharraf have now realized the fate of any kind of opposition and difference of opinion under his dictatorial regime.

He winded up his emotionally stirring deliberations with the hope that Washington would understand and be careful about the nature of allies that they decide to hold hands with. Moreover, he wished that through auspices of this seminar, a message would be communicated to the wider world that there are people who are not ready to accept such crimes against humanity as the fate of some unfortunate persons, and that we will keep struggling for basic human rights of all, wherever they may be and however strong the persons committing the atrocities may be.

The last speaker of the seminar was Mr. Munawar Laghari, Executive Director of The World Sindhi Institute in Washington , DC . He began by giving a brief historical background of the practice of disappearances and torture during repeated phases of martial law and dictatorial regimes in Pakistan since its creation, with particular reference to the present regime and disappearance, torture and execution as tools of revenge from political opponents. Mentioning forced abductions as a general trend and menace of the present regime, he supported his notion by referring to individual incidences, such as Mian Nawaz Shareef, cases of extra judicial detention as well as execution in Balochistan, including Nawab Akbar Bugti, Sardar Mengal and Habib Jalib and many similar cases in Sindh, including Dr. Safdar Sarki, Asif Baladi and Chetan Bajir and numerous journalists and activists, such as Hayatullah Khan from Waziristan; all this while, the government professed ignorance about their whereabouts. He expressed concern that the implication of this common practice has been grave for the country, when international community clearly notices that even the Supreme Court and Ministry of Defense in the country seem helpless in preventing ISI and Military Intelligence agencies from these acts under a government that claims to implement ‘enlightened moderation’ in the country. The most difficult situation, he said, is for the relatives and friends of the victims, who are forced to resort to radical measures such as hunger strike and suicide attempts in order to know the whereabouts of the lost family member. Agreeing with the critical observation made by Amnesty International, he said that parliamentarians and the courts are to be blamed for not effectively raising their voice against such violations and for not providing relief to the affected people. He quoted Article 4 section (1) of the Constitution of Pakistan that provides guarantees against arbitrary arrests and detentions as “the inalienable right” of everyone to be treated in accordance with the law. He attributed the indifference of Pakistani civil society to the fact that over a period of time people have grown used to the abuse of their rights and to violence. Mr. Laghari appealed to the International Human Rights organizations, United Nations, USA, European Union and all individuals who believe in human dignity, liberty and democracy to pressurize the government of Pakistan to provide each family with accurate information about the arrests of their relatives & where they are being held and to shut down the places of illegal detention. Through the auspices of the seminar, he also demanded from the government of Pakistan to ensure that all complaints of enforced disappearance are investigated promptly, impartially and effectively, and appealed to the judiciary of Pakistan to seriously fulfill their constitutional duty of protecting human rights and particularly to treat petitions filed by the relatives of victims with the urgency they deserve.

The floor was then opened for Q&A session. The first question came from Mr. Walter Landry from ‘Think Tank on Self Determination’, who asked Mr. Yohannes Tsehai if members of the U.S. Congress are following upon the situation in Pakistan and are they keeping track on matters such as will General Musharraf end term this year or are there other plans for that country?

Mr. Tsehai said that he does not have information on General Musharraf’s, a question that should be directed to himself or Ambassador Durrani, but as there is no information on his discontinuance, it may be inferred that he would continue as the President of Pakistan. However, he said, that although there is convergence of interests between U.S. and Pakistan due to international terrorism, we should not turn a blind eye to what our friends do. Congresswoman Lee is very cognizant of this fact that constructive engagement should be carried out without sacrificing our basic values of human rights and freedom of speech and press. HR1 has specific provisions about use of funds to Pakistan and Afghanistan , making sure it goes in the right direction.

Mr. Khalid Hashmani referred to the herald magazine’s article quoted during Mr. Tsehai’s speech, which mentions that labor leaders have met Dr. Safdar Sarki along with more detainees. He asked if the Pakistani authorities do not provide correct information, what action could the office of the Congresswoman then take?

Mr. Yohannes said that Mrs. Sarki and WSI first drew his attention to this information on the specific location of Dr. Sarki, at which he immediately contacted Ambassador of Pakistan in the U.S. , Mr. Mahmud Ali Durrani, his staff and the Foreign Minister of Pakistan. They enquired from the police, military and intelligence agencies in Pakistan , but did not get any clue of the missing persons. Mr. Tsehai committed that he would continue pushing the Pakistani authorities to continue the search and urge other Congressmen and State Department to do the same and to support organizations such as Amnesty International and WSI in their efforts to search the missing persons.

Mr. Khalid Hasan from Daily Times asked about the exact figure on the number of disappeared persons and if there is any documentation on that?

Ms. Humaira responded by referring to published reports by Cage Prisoners, Amnesty International and Herald magazine, according to which, she mentioned that somewhere around 8,000 persons are missing. She said that obviously the government of Pakistan would not provide statistics on this, although they are the one who can, hence there are no official records available on the exact number of missing people. To this Ms. Deeba from the audience added that first of all, typically in such cases it is not possible to track numbers and figures, not only because the culprits of this crime refuse to acknowledge it, but also because sometimes the families of victims hesitate to report them with fear of further persecution. Moreover, she said that just the estimate that nearly 4,000 persons have disappeared from the province of Balochistan alone, is enough for us to figure out that there must have been some truth in the estimated figure of 8,000 disappeared persons in Pakistan as quoted in some reports.

Mr. Khalid Hashmani, representing ‘Sindh Excellence Team’ as well as the private sector diaspora requested Mr. Yohannes Tsehai to elaborate further on the information about some labor leader detainees having met Dr. Safdar Sarki in a detention cell in Pakistan . To this Mr. Tsehai responded in affirmative and Ms. Humaira assisted him by reading out a paragraph from the Herald magazine, where this information was documented in detail.

Out of some young Pakistani students present at the occasion, Mr. Asif raised concern over the blatant way that actions of Pakistani government and particularly General Musharraf were criticized during Mr. T. Kumar’s deliberations in the seminar, and if he would have said the same, had it not been for Pakistan? To this, Mr. Kumar asked them to refer to his speech at the occasion of Gujrat riots in India and to see for themselves that he is equally critical and vocal about all and any human rights violation any where in the world, so much so, that in India he is sometimes blamed to be an agent of Pakistan. This neutral approach and use of tough words for violators of human rights is the key policy and methodology of working at the Amnesty International as an organization of international repute.

Mr. Stephen Mc. Inerney from Project on Middle East Democracy asked Mr. Yohannes if his office has had communication with the White House on the issue of disappearances and what is the level of their interest in working on this matter. Also, are the other members of Congressional Pakistan Caucus involved too? He was told that the Congresswoman’s office has not had any communication with the White House on this, but they have worked closely with the State Department and have felt they should be more active in exerting pressure both publicly and privately. Along with friendly ties, we need to be critical too, especially when it comes to our own values, not only for ourselves but also for the rights of Pakistanis in their land. Regarding the other members of Congressional Pakistan Caucus, he said that majority are generally active in engaging Pakistan , particularly the Democrats. Human Rights consideration is universal to America and US should condemn acts of violence regardless of our relations with that country. Caucus members should also engage more in this.

In the context of active engagement of Pakistan , Ms. Humaira informed that the Ambassador of Pakistan, Mr. Mahmud Ali Durrani was invited to the seminar but due to his visit to the west coast, he has sent his representative. So, any question from the Embassy may be directed towards him. At this Mr. Shahid Ahmed, Counsellor of Pakistan Embassy introduced himself as the representative of the Ambassador.

Mr. Khalid Hashmani enquired if the gathering could be apprized about the official stance of the government of Pakistan on the issue of enforced disappearances happening so frequently in the country. Mr. Khalid refused to comment, declaring it un-necessary, as the government’s point of view is available in the newspapers.

Mr. Faisal, a Pakistani student asked for clarification from Mr. Munawar about the time period when he was tortured in Pakistan, which seems to coincide with the elected government of Ms. Benazir Bhutto. Mr. Munawar corrected him that it was the period of General ZiaulHaq’s Martial Law. However, he added that whether martial law or democracy, in Pakistan it is always the ISI and Military Intelligence who actually rule on the freedom of people. Military rule always stays on the country, whether directly or indirectly.

The last question of the day came from Mr. Arif, Pakistani student in the U.S. , who asked Ms. Dorothy Height if she had any documented supporting evidence for the information that she gave, that some missing persons were arrested as suspected terrorists and have been handed over to the U.S. , to be kept in Guantanamo Bay ?

To this, Mr. T. Kumar and Ms. Humaira both responded in affirmative that this information is well on record and is documented. A participant from the audience reminded that General Musharraf has admitted to this fact in his book, “In the line of fire”.

The heated discussion had to be concluded in order to follow the scheduled timings. With wide consensus of the participants, a resolution was passed, which was signed by almost all except the worthy representatives of the Pakistan Embassy. The resolution was articulated as follows:


February 22, 2007
National Press Club, Washington , DC

Consequent upon the deliberations of WSI’s Seminar on “Disappearances in Pakistan ”, we, the participants of seminar are in absolute agreement and consensus on the following:

* We condemn the practice of extra-judicial involuntary and forced disappearances in Pakistan .

* We urge the Government of Pakistan to immediately sign the ‘International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearances’, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on December 20, 2006.

Lastly, Ms. Humaira thanked all participants for attending and specially thanked the Speakers to take time out for enlightening all with their thoughts. Most of all Dr. Dorothy Height’s kindness and support was commended, who gave priority to this human rights issue, in spite of her very busy schedule.

Light lunch was served after the vote of thanks and the seminar came to its end.

For watching the video of the seminar, please visit: