While the first well-documented case can be tracked to Kalpana Chakma in 1996, hundreds of disappearances from January 2009 to December 2018 have left families distraught, the few fortunate returnees quiet, and law enforcement agencies move glacially to wrap up their investigation
A glaring issue in Bangladesh’s human rights standing is the persistence of enforced disappearances for years. And the International Day of the Disappeared, which is being observed worldwide today, is just a glowing reminder of that.
While the first well-documented case can be tracked to Kalpana Chakma in 1996, hundreds of disappearances from January 2009 to December 2018 have left families distraught, the few fortunate returnees quiet, and law enforcement agencies move glacially to wrap up their investigation.
The International Federation for Human Rights, the second-oldest international human rights group, published a report in April 2019, titled “Vanished Without a Trace: The enforced disappearance of opposition and dissent in Bangladesh,” which cited 507 such cases between 2009 and 2018, covering the ruling party’s back-to-back terms in office.
Among them, 286 returned and 62 were found dead, but 159 remain missing. The report says the cases indicate the involvement of the police and the Rapid Action Battalion.
The Ain o Salish Kendra (ASK), a Dhaka-based legal aid and human rights organization, also offered similar figures in their data collected between 2013 and 2019.
In most of the cases, it added, families, relatives and witnesses alleged that the victims were picked up by law enforcement officials.
However, the government has always firmly denied charges that state bodies are involved in enforced disappearances, claiming that the missing people go into hiding to avoid getting arrested.
Dhaka Metropolitan Police (Public Relations) Deputy Commissioner Masudur Rahman said: “A person might go missing for various reasons. He or she could have been embroiled in financial or family disputes.”
Kazi Reazul Hoque, immediate past chairman of National Human Rights Commission, said enforced disappearances in conjunction with extrajudicial killings have created an atmosphere of terror in the country.
Not curbing crimes
Supreme Court lawyer Barrister Jyotirmoy Barua said enforced disappearance is not defined in the law, and it is a term without any legal grounds, but with very real ramifications.
He stressed the importance of a free and fair judicial process accessible to all citizens to curb extrajudicial activities.
Jyotirmoy said picking someone up and holding them against their will, even if they are criminals, does not reduce crimes.
“It is certainly affecting our standing in the international community. International reports on the disappearances in Bangladesh make us the laughing stock of the world.
“The state has to act to address this issue. We as citizens too have to be aware and prevent these things from happening,” he added.
BNP Secretary General Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir has claimed that over 500 of their party men have gone missing in the past few years. Many of the missing people, especially from the opposition, have multiple outstanding cases against them.
Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal has frequently slammed reports on enforced disappearances in Bangladesh.
However, after years of denial, Law Minister Anisul Huq admitted to the UN Committee Against Torture at Switzerland last month that enforced disappearances do occur in Bangladesh, but in very few numbers.
He also maintained the position that many cases of people going into hiding are mislabelled as enforced disappearances.
ASK for independent probe commission
The Ain o Salish Kendra in a press release issued on Thursday, on the eve of the International Day of the Disappeared, again urged the government to form an independent and neutral commission to investigate the allegations of all enforced disappearances.
It said the government must find out all the disappeared people immediately, investigate the incidents promptly and fairly, take punitive measures against those involved, and ensure justice for the disappeared person and their family.
ASK also urged the government to provide necessary reparation to the victims and ensure their proper rehabilitation.