Forced disappearances have reached a horrifying level, so much so, that every five days, at least one person is disappearing. Some come back, some do not. The ones fortunate enough to be able to return to their near and dear ones prefer keeping mum about the matter and never disclose what happened to them while in the hands of the abductors.
The Bangla Tribune
portal hosted its latest Boithoki
roundtable “Forced disappearance” in its office in Dhaka on Thursday with a host of noted speakers and writers discussing the relatively new phenomenon in the country’s crime scenario.
‘Enforced disappearance a new phenomenon’
Speaking at the event, Bangla Tribune Head of News Harun Ur Rashid
said: “Abductors are very smart and well trained. It raises the question whether the abductors are more powerful than the law enforcement agencies. Are the law enforces scared of the abductors? If not, why do these abduction cases remain unsolved?
“The frightening culture of enforced disappearance has been created all of a sudden in this country. But why has the crime become so frequent?”
The fear of being abducted always haunts those who speak out against enforced disappearance or abduction, Harun said, adding that some victims who managed to return home were seen speaking very little.
‘People of different political thought are the main target’
DBC (Dhaka Bangla Channel) Editor Zayedul Ahsan Pintu
said: “The people who hold a different political ideology and disagree with views and ideologies of powerful political parties are the most vulnerable to abduction. Also, the abductors are very powerful and smart; otherwise it would not have been possible for them to abduct people so quickly.
“Trial in abduction cases remains stuck as probe into the incidents does not progress. When asked, police refrain from giving updates on the trial, saying ‘investigation is in progress.’ But the investigation never reaches a conclusion.”
Pintu added: “They [police] say that they know nothing about enforced disappearance. But a closer look into the cases reveals that it is a political problem. I do not believe the police do not have information in this regard.
“No one will fall prey to enforced disappearance anymore if there is a political will to prevent it. But the state does not focus on this. As a result, it is now clear that those holding a different political thought or philosophy are becoming the main target.”
If the situation continues, enforced disappearance or abduction will become socially acceptable in future, Pintu expressed fear.
‘It has to be scrutinised whether the police are working for anybody else’
Former inspector general of police (IGP) Enamul Haque
said the culture of impunity and lawlessness is making perpetrators get away with their crimes.
“Lawlessness means lack of responsibility and accountability. People in society are in the grip of abduction. This is very unfortunate,” he said.
About the role of police in the prevention of forced disappearance, Enamul suggested that policemen adhere to their professionalism and ethics.
“Police should work as employees of the republic as they are supposed to do. It has to be scrutinised whether they are working for anybody else.”
He said victims of enforced disappearance can be categorised into three groups: people who are abducted, abductees who come back, and those who come back but keep mum.
“Some of the abductees who returned home started to speak but very little. For instance, Aniruddha Kumar Roy [a businessman abducted from Gulshan in Dhaka on August 27] gave a written statement [to the press] three days after he returned. I think the statement is important, because it has created a pathway to the discussion on forced disappearance,” Enamul said.
Only the policymakers can now say whether they really want to take the issue seriously, because they should remember that gone are the days when there was none to protest such crimes, he said. “Aniruddha’s return has created an opportunity of mass protest against abduction and forced disappearance.”
The former police chief further said: “We need to protest enforced disappearance to free ourselves from this frightening environment; or else our valour will fade away.
“Parliament is not discussing the issue either. If the policymakers do not come forward to purge the society of such crimes, they will not get the right sort of response from their subordinates and the prevailing dreadful situation will deteriorate in future.”
‘Abduction is even more horrifying when it is committed for political purposes’
Dr Mizanur Rahman
, former chairman of National Human Rights Commission, said: “Abduction becomes even more horrifying when it is committed for political interest, or if the abductors are backed by the government, or the government remains oblivious to the offence.”
Forced disappearance is an international crime and can be defined as a crime against humanity, he said.
“The term ‘forced disappearance’ means a person is secretly abducted, and is followed by a refusal to disclose his or her whereabouts. This is extremely horrifying, because the victim remains outside the protection of law. He or she becomes so helpless that they cannot even seek legal assistance during their captivity,” Mizan continued.
“Why is such a crime going on in our country even after we know all these things? This sort of crime can be committed only when the rule of law and the state itself becomes very weak. Abductors feel encouraged to commit such heinous crimes when the institutions are less transparent,” he added.
‘Public security system on the brink of collapse’
, a political activist, said: “People know who are involved in abduction and forced disappearance. Why is the state not taking action against them? What is the function of a state, then? The public security system is collapsing. Who will protect the people from the menace?”
The onus certainly lies with the government, but it keeps silent. Unless the government takes stern action against those involved, the situation will not improve, and such discussions on the issue will not serve any useful purpose, he added.
“In reality, the situation is far worse than what is appearing in newspapers. Here we are holding a discussion on enforced disappearance, but none of us dares disclose the name of a single person or a group involved in the offence. A self-censorship is working here,” Firoz said.
‘Returnees haunted by a fear of being abducted again’
Human rights activist and security analyst Nur Khan
said: “Though we are talking about enforced disappearance, the reality is that we cannot discuss many issues associated with the crime because of a lack of security. Even political leaders dare not protest abduction in case they end up being a victim of this.
“I approached some of the victims who came back home but they declined to talk much as they are in fear of being abducted again. This is why their families prefer keeping silent as well. This begs the question whether abduction is committed to create a panic in the society.”