Five years have passed since former BNP lawmaker M Ilias Ali disappeared without a trace, and investigators have failed to find him.
The BNP leader, who was an organising secretary of the party at the time of his disappearance, went missing in Dhaka along with his chauffeur Md Ansar on the night of April 17, 2012. Police later found his car near his home in the city's Banani area.
Ilias' family and BNP have repeatedly blamed the government for his disappearance, saying that it was some law enforcement agency that picked him up.
The law enforcement agencies have denied the allegations of enforced disappearance and said they were working to find the BNP leader.
However, they have yet to show any visible progress in their search for Ilias. They have not even been able to confirm whether he is still alive or not.
“He is still missing. We are trying to find him,” said BM Forman Ali, OC of Banani police station, when the Dhaka Tribune called him yesterday.
Ilias is not the only case of enforced disappearance, and the country's law enforcement agencies, particularly Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), have been often accused of making people disappear – both by the victims' families and human rights activists.
In one of the recent incidents, a doctor named Muhammed Iqbal Mahmud was picked up by plainclothes men from the Science Laboratory intersection in Dhaka's Dhanmondi area on October 15 last year, according to his family.
A CCTV footage, which went viral, showed that some people forced Iqbal into a microbus, and when it left the scene, it was followed by a police vehicle.
Iqbal's father AKM Nurul Alam on December 17 sought Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s attention regarding the case because the law enforcement agencies had failed to find his son.
BNP alleges that at least 500 of its activists and leaders have been made disappeared since the Awami League-led 14-party alliance came to power in 2009.
Enforced disappearances on the rise
In September last year, the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances expressed deep concern that the number of enforced disappearance was on the rise in Bangladesh and was becoming a frightening trend.
According to human rights organisation Ain O Salish Kendra (ASK), 309 individuals involuntarily disappeared between 2013 and March 2017.
ASK's data is based on reports published in different newspapers.
According to that data, 53 persons disappeared in 2013, 88 in 2014 and 55 in 2015. At least 88 people disappeared between January and November in 2016 among whom eight were found dead, three returned home and 20 were found to have been arrested. The remaining 57 still remain missing.
In the first three months of 2017, 25 people have been reported to have disappeared. Of them, one was found dead, and four had been abducted and were released later. The rest remain disappeared.
’Government is responsible’
Human rights activists said the government's irresponsibility is the main reason behind the upward trend of enforced disappearance.
“The government is not paying proper attention to this issue,” said Nur Khan Liton, former acting executive director of ASK. “It is the responsibility of the state to find out a person who has been abducted or gone missing.
“Human rights organisations have long been demanding formation of a judicial investigation commission to probe [enforced] disappearance cases, but it has yet to happed.”
Prof Asif Nazrul, who teaches law at Dhaka University, said the judiciary has the authority to direct the law enforcement agencies to find all the missing individuals and direct credible periodical reports on the progress of their search.
Furthermore, all human rights organisations should form a strong alliance and make coordinated efforts to investigate the complaints of enforced disappearance, and the human rights commission must conduct independent investigation on such complaints and publish their findings, Asif told the Dhaka Tribune.
National Human Rights Commission Chairman Kazi Reazul Hoque said: “Every person is entitled to basic human rights. Enforced disappearance is not acceptable. The government must take initiatives to stop it. If a state-run organisation is found to be responsible, the government should take legal actions accordingly.”