It is quite a frightening prospect to find out that the number of enforced disappearances has substantially increased in the city.
It also creates an environment of fear among the voices of dissent, ultimately chipping away at our liberty.
People may disappear for various reasons, but there is a clear distinction between a missing person and enforced disappearance.
After all, “enforced disappearance” implies state sponsorship.
However, right to life is a fundamental right enshrined under the constitution of Bangladesh.
It is a supreme right of a person that cannot be comprised without due process and legal intervention.
In accordance with the report released by the rights NGO Ain O Shalish Kendra (ASK), from 2010 to July 2017, as many as 519 people have reportedly become victims of enforced disappearance, and the fates of 329 of them are still unknown.
Enforced disappearances continuously disregard constitutional mandate and violates basic human rights.
What happens here
Typically, law enforcement agencies, deny any engagement, and subsequently refuse to tell the whereabouts of the person missing -- even though family members, friends, relatives, and various witnesses to the crime usually tell law enforcement that men came by dressed as members of law enforcement agencies, and forcefully took the detainee with them under the pretense of “arresting” a person of interest.
In some of the cases, only after the family, media, and rights groups put severe pressure on law enforcement agencies do they acknowledge the arrest of the said person many days after the arrest took place, but they still fail to give any explanations for their actions. Nowadays, the practice of arrest has changed and people are being detained every other day.
The government and law enforcement agencies are not only silent in taking any initiatives against this massive infringement of human rights, but both entities remain very reluctant in revealing the truth behind these crimes. Only a lucky few have returned from their unknown “detention centres.”
People may disappear for various reasons, but there is a clear distinction between a missing person and enforced disappearance. After all, ‘enforced disappearance’ implies state sponsorship
Law enforcers are also neither successful in rescuing them nor investigating the matter properly, except in very rare incidents like the controversial Farhad Mazhar case.
In almost every other case, the returned persons are neither willing to disclose the identity of their abductors nor give an account of their experiences during detention as they become heavily mentally traumatised and also aware that their silence ensures their continued security.
What is said on paper
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948 prohibits governments from making arbitrary arrests, while every enforced disappearance violates universal human rights. Bangladesh has also acceded to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) that prohibits the grave violations of rights highlighted above.
According to Article 2 and 6 of the ICCPR, it has the obligations to ensure the right to life of its people and to ensure prompt and effective reparation where violations occur. Under the obligation of the ICCPR, governments must ensure a fair and public trial for anyone charged with a criminal offense, and such a trial must take place “without undue delay.”
Furthermore, international human rights bodies have identified the elements of torture that relate to enforced disappearances and international courts also agreed with this view.
In the Velasquez Rodriguez case, the Inter-American Court on Human Rights referred to Article 1(1) of the Convention, the court has indicated that the states must prevent, investigate, and punish any violation of the rights recognised by the Convention and, if possible, attempt to restore the violated rights and provide compensation as warranted for damages resulting from said violation.
However, we are yet to get any decision from our judiciary on enforced disappearance, while our National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) is acting merely as a post-box in this regard.
As a state statutory body, the NHRC must play an active role in protecting and upholding the human rights of the citizen conferred by the constitution.
Where it gets tricky
Enforced disappearance is not defined by any law in our country. Hence, it is mandatory to legislate an autonomous offense of enforced disappearance in the penal law immediately to try the crime effectively. Clear communication regarding the fate or whereabouts of the victims and integral reparation to the victims -- not only through compensation, but also through rehabilitation -- is a matter of grave urgency.
Hence, creation of an independent commission to investigate all the enforced disappearances property (including the cases when the victims returned) and provide assurance of their safety is a crying need at this moment.
The government must show its willingness to work for the prevention of this heinous crime and must take recommended steps to resolve the fear and anxiety of its citizens.
Raisul Islam Sourav is an Assistant Professor of Law at Dhaka International University, a legal researcher, and an equality and rights activist.