They said the authorities mostly deny or avoid cases of forced disappearance
Aggrieved families have come down hard on law enforcement agencies alleging that they were either involved or reluctant to rescue missing people or those forcibly disappeared.
Families have said the government and law enforcement agencies failed to rescue the people even years after they have gone missing.
They said the authorities mostly deny or avoid cases of forced disappearance. Some families alleged, in most cases, it is the law enforcement members who are involved.
Families echoed similar sentiments in saying the government now says that there is no such thing as forced disappearance.
"And that is why we have to continue talking about the matter. We must empower ourselves through protests," said the families on Saturday at a discussion on “Enforced Disappearances and the Continuing Crisis of Democracy” organized by the Committee for the Protection of Fundamental Rights, at the National Press Club.
Keynote speaker Rezanur Rahman Lenin, citing Amnesty International, said at least 80 people had been disappeared during 2017-18.
A member of the committee, Lenin referred to local rights bodies and said over 500 people had suffered the same fate between 2009 and 2018.
“At least 12 people were whisked away by law enforcement agencies in January alone,” he said, citing a local rights group.
Of them, two were later found dead, one returned, and five are still missing or in custody, with four remaining unaccounted for.
"The scenario was rather bleak last year as 92 people had been picked up by law enforcement officials."
At least eight of them were later found dead, 10 returned, 47 faced lawsuits, and 27 remain missing, he said.
Lawyer and human rights advocate, Shahdeen Malik said: “During the Pakistani era, the army had picked up my uncle, and many others during the war. But we could never imagine forced disappearances happening now.”
"It is a crime against humanity in all international laws," said Malik.
He further said the criminals thought that nothing would happen, yet trials were held for the grenade attack case of August 21, the Bangabandhu murder case, and the jail killings case, and the perpetrators were duly sentenced.
“I believe that such forced disappearances will be tried and there will be justice and peace in this country. But I cannot say when,” he added.
He also said those involved with such disappearances are facing trial, and that is why people have to continue talking about it to ensure justice.
Barrister Sara Hossain said: "We are Bangladeshis irrespective of party affiliation or ideology.
"We have the right to go to them [law enforcement agencies]. They have been given the responsibility to protect us. Not being able to speak with them is an extreme human rights violation.”
Activist Anu Mohammad, also an economics professor at Jahangirnagar University, said: "Every day, at least one person dies in a gunfight or disappears. Police and RAB [Rapid Action Battalion] officials, and other law enforcement officials pick up civilians, whereas, it is the job of such agencies to investigate such crimes.
“When the police are hesitant to take up cases relating to missing persons or disappearance, it becomes clear that they were involved,” he added.
Sajedul Islam Sumon, organizing secretary of Ward 25 BNP, who disappeared from Bashundhara residential area on December 4, 2013, along with 5 others, is still missing, said his elder sister Marufa Islam.
Not only the BNP activist, but also an Awami League student cadre, Rampura unit Chhatra League ex-president Moazzem Hossain Topu, disappeared on January 26, 2016, said his mother Saleha Begum. His whereabouts remain unknown.
Family members alleged that law enforcement officials were dismissive when approached with the complaints.
Tahsina Rushdir Luna - wife of former lawmaker and BNP organizing secretary (Sylhet Division) M Ilias Ali, who disappeared along with his driver on April 17, 2012 — said that several countries observe disappearance day while Bangladesh does not.
Earlier, disappearances were rare cases. But, nowadays it seems to have become an outbreak, she added.
Suborno Chakma – sister of disappeared top leader of the United People’s Democratic Front (UPDF) Michael Chakma, who went missing on April 9 while on his way to Dhaka from Kanchpur in Narayanganj – said her family wants her brother back.