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Background

 

In Pakistan, a citizen who is declared ‘wanted’ by the law enforcement agencies including the police, and any other person who is charged with corruption and is being investigated by the authorities, can be prevented from leaving the country by the Government of Pakistan.

 

Authority is granted by the “Exit from Pakistan (Control) Ordinance, 1981”, which authorises the Federal Government of Pakistan to restrict certain persons from leaving Pakistan. Exit Control lists were historically under the control of the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA). Recently however, the Ministry of Interior has taken overall responsibility for this, mainly to avoid complications that were experienced previously (Aman, 2018) 1.

 

For a long time, ECLs have been used as a tool to blackmail Pakistani citizens and as a tool of punishment without charge or trial without limitation. Citizens have only a limited right to relief from their name being placed on an ECL and risk damage to their reputation  as inferences are drawn as to the reasons why they are on an ECL.

 

One serious concern is that citizens are not even informed by the government when their name is being place on an ECL and they often find out for the first time when either they reach the airport  and are stopped from exiting Pakistan at great embarrassment and distress, or sometimes the fact is leaked to the media and the first time the citizen discovers their name is on an ECL is when the fact is reported in the media.

 

The process of ECL has long been subject to debate in Pakistan which has not only made it a political concern but also raised issues over its procedure and policies implemented over the past few years. The process which ideally should be an effective approach for preventing accused people from exiting the country has now become mostly a political weapon for citizens to endure.

Similar methods are also pursued by other countries but for a different cause such as to maintain and sustain the criminal justice system, unlike in developing countries such as of Pakistan where it is used for political victimization.

 

International Community Travel Bans

 

The UK also uses international travel bans. This system is created by UN and EU means. The decision to impose a travel ban on any person is either made by the “Instrument of Council of the European Union” or by the “Security Council of the United Nation” (Blackbourn andWalker, 2016)

Travel bans control or restrict the movement of any person who is recognised as being associated with any group or organisation involved in particular illegal activities not considered acceptable by international society.

 

The members of the EU and the UN must reject the entrance and exit of individuals thought their country if a travel ban is approved. Under UK law, there is no provision for individuals to challenge if they are restricted by an “International Travel Ban”. An individual who is restricted by a “travel ban instrument” is denied permission to leave the country, under “section 8 B (1) (a) of the 1971 act”.

 

Current Situation in Pakistan

 

Politicians as well as ordinary citizens continue to face serious harassment through this law by the government especially those “civil society activists” who raise their voice against politicians.

 

In Pakistan due to a corrupt system, people who have powers can easily remove their name from an ECL if they are affiliated with the ruling party of the time. This procedure needs to change.

 

The Exit Control List Amendment Bill 2018 has been approved by  the Senate Standing Committee which suggests that unless an order has been made by  the Supreme Court or Trial court a citizen’s name should not be placed on an Exit Control List.

 

This ensures a separation between the executive and the judiciary and needs to be implemented immediately and effectively to safeguard human rights so that ECL are not controlled by the Ministers of State.

Over the decades Pakistan has failed to implement adequate legislation to protect individual rights. When one government obtains power, the last government is often prosecuted. There needs to be a system whereby draconian laws are removed immediately.

 

The Parliament of Pakistan needs to urgently reform the present legal system and adopt a similar one to the UK by introducing the formation of a new Administrative Court (with High Court jurisdiction) whereby all applications in the first instance shall  be dealt with through the Administrative Court such as constitutional rights, suo motto, ECL and in the event of a point of law of public importance, courts can certify  and leap frog the  procedure to the Supreme Court.  In the alternative, the citizen or the state should be granted a right of appeal to the Supreme Court and courts should be able to award costs against the losing party. This will filter out malicious and frivolous applications.

Dr Liaqat Malik, LLM, PhD, March 2019

 

References

1 Aman Khan, N., 2018. Pakistan, constitution and nation.

2 Blackbourn, J. and Walker, C., 2016. Interdiction and Indoctrination: The Counter‐Terrorism and Security Act 2015. The Modern Law Review79(5), pp.840-870.

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