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International Day of the Disappeared: Families of the missing continue to struggle

  • Published at 01:08 am August 30th, 2018
A tired and distressed mother holds high the picture of her disappeared son at an event last year, asking the authorities concerned about his whereabouts
A tired and distressed mother holds high the picture of her disappeared son at an event last year, asking the authorities concerned about his whereabouts Syed Zakir Hossain/Dhaka Tribune

Legal rights advocacy group Ain O Salish Kendra (ASK) says at least 310 people have disappeared in Bangladesh between 2014 and 2018

For the families of the victims of forced disappearance, making it through every day is a struggle. 

Some of the people who disappeared returned, some turned out to be dead, but most remain still missing – some for years. 

Legal rights advocacy group Ain O Salish Kendra (ASK) says at least 310 people have disappeared in Bangladesh between 2014 and 2018, based on the news reports. 

Of them, dead bodies of 44 were recovered, 33 returned alive, and 45 were later shown arrested. 

The rest still remain disappeared. 

Odhikar, another rights advocacy organization, says around 435 people have disappeared between 2009 and May 2018. 

Families of the people who have yet to return continue to live amid both hope and fear. 

“My parents are living like the dead,” said Rehana Banu Munni, brother of Selim Reza Pintu, president of Jatiyatabadi Chhatra Dal’s Sutrapur unit in Dhaka. 

Pintu was picked up from his house in Sutrapur on December 11, 2013. Since then, he has been without trace, Rehana told the Dhaka Tribune. 

“My parents’ only wish is to see their son again. But I don’t know if their last wish will be fulfilled,” she said. 

The law enforcement agencies have barely been any help to find the disappeared people, alleged Mashiur Rahman Lotus, elder brother of Mazharul Islam Rasel, who disappeared in December 2013. 

“They never pay heed to our plea,” he told the Dhaka Tribune. “RAB [the Rapid Action Battalion] seems it is not looking into the case properly. Even after filing a general diary (GD) with Tejgaon police station after he disappeared, they did not communicate with us until recently.” 

Legal and human rights experts said the authorities concerned deny that enforced disappearances are happening in the country. 

“This is alarming, and is creating a culture of impunity,” said Nur Khan Liton, prominent human rights activist and former ASK executive director.

A suffering with no end

“My brother was the sole earner in the family,” said Pintu’s sister Rehana Banu Munni. “Soon after he disappeared, our financial condition became worse.” 

Mazharul Islam Rasel’s brother Lotus said the last few years have been like a nightmare for his family. 

“He was the glue that held our family together. Now our family is in total disarray,” Lotus told the Dhaka Tribune. 

Families of those who have returned are not faring much better. 

“When we learnt that my brother had disappeared, we felt like we were lost in the dark. We kept praying that he would be alive,” said Tamanna Tasmim, sister of researcher and North South University teacher Mubashar Hasan, who was picked up by still unidentified people on November 7, 2017. 

Mubashar was returned home on December 22, and is currently abroad, but the feeling of terror has not gone away, said Tamanna. “We are still traumatized.” 

Besides the trauma of not knowing where their beloved family members are, most families also face immense financial struggle as, in most cases, the disappeared people are also the sole breadwinners of their families. 

“We suffering, both emotionally and financially,” said Rehana, Chhatra Dal leader Pintu’s sister. “We have gone door to door seeking help. But we could not draw the government’s attention to my brother’s case.” 

Authorities in denial?

Speaking to the Dhaka Tribune, a number of families alleged that the government and the law enforcement agencies mostly deny or avoid the cases of disappearance. 

They also alleged that, in most cases, it is the law enforcement members who are involved in the forced disappearance cases. 

Denying the allegations raised by the families of the disappeared, RAB Media Wing Director Mufti Mahmud Khan said the elite force was not involved in any case related to disappearances, and the force conducts proper investigation when they received complaints of disappearance. 

On several occasions, Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal has said that there has been no incidents of enforced disappearances in the country.

He further said in most cases, the missing persons go into hiding – a number of such people rescued later confessed to it. 

“If one goes into hiding to avoid judicial process, it becomes difficult to find them,” the home minister said. 

This is a dangerous state of denial that the government is currently in, said Dr Shahdeen Malik, eminent human rights lawyer. 

“This gross violation of human rights is not at all addressed by the authorities concerned. This is alarming,” he told the Dhaka Tribune.

Nur Khan Liton said there is a pattern regarding enforced disappearance and extra-judicial killing; reports in the recent past show that in a particular year, if there is a high number of disappearance, the number of extra-judicial killing victims is low, and vice versa. 

“For example, this year, extra-judicial killings reached the highest peak, and the number of people who disappeared dropped significantly,” Liton said. 

In 2018, five people have disappeared between January and July, according to ASK. In 2017, the number was 60. 

“The most important factor in this regard remains that the government has to address the issue properly. Otherwise, all citizens of the country will become vulnerable to this menace – whether it is me, you, or a person in power,” Nur Khan said.

No transparency, no reparation

The authorities concerned are not maintaining transparency with the victim families, several families complained. 

“It has been five years since my brother disappeared, but no one (from the government) has contacted us about what they are doing,” Pintu’s sister Rehana told the Dhaka Tribune. 

She further said her family of five was struggling to make ends meet in Pintu’s absence. Similarly, Most families of disappeared people that she knows of are living miserable lives, she added. 

Most of such families are in similar situation, she said.

In such circumstances, over 100 families of disappeared people launched a campaign named “Mayer Dak” a few years ago to draw the government’s attention to the cases of disappearances.

In a press statement released yesterday marking International Day of the Disappeared, ASK urged the government to form a judicial commission immediately to guarantee proper trial of the incidents of involuntary disappearances.

In 2003, the then chair-rapporteur of the United Nations Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, Olivier de Frouville, said victims of enforced disappearances have the right to reparation from the state. 

According to Article 24(4) of the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, each state party should ensure in its legal system that the victims of enforced disappearance have the right to obtain reparation and prompt, fair and adequate compensation.

Bangladesh has yet to ratify the convention. 

“Losing a family member not only harms the family financially, but also socially. As the government has failed to find the disappeared persons, it is its duty to see how these families are leading their lives. Unfortunately, no such initiatives have been taken yet,” Nur Khan said.

In its press statement, ASK also urged the government to sign the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance.