Bangladesh Government must stop its hate campaigns against the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances (WGEID) of the United Nations and human rights group Odhikar.
The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) is gravely concerns over the continuation of gross human rights violations including enforced disappearances1 and extrajudicial killings in the country even after the visit of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights2. Instead of creating independent investigative mechanism to probe the alleged incidents of enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings the government has intensified coercion and intimidation of the victims’ families, instead3. The authorities should immediately stop harassing the human rights defenders.
Hate Campaign against the UN Independent Experts:
The pro-government media and the internal and external allies of the Government of Bangladesh are smearing campaign against the UN Independent Experts, specially the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances (WGEID) for their consistent attention to address the issue of enforced disappearance. 4An Indian media outlet on its online edition challenges the credibility of the WGEID regarding a list of 76 victims of enforced disappearances that were committed in Bangladesh since Sheikh Hasina assumed to office in January 2009. The report refers to the names of two victims: 1. Rajkumar Meghen, also known as Sanayaima Rajkumar, who used to be the chairman of the United National Liberation Front (UNLF); and 2. Keithellakpam Nabachandra also known as Chilheiba, reportedly a major of the UNLF. The Indian media report states about Rajkumar Meghen:
“The UN Working Group identifies Sanayaima Rajkumar as a victim of enforced disappearance in Bangladesh. The UNLF chairman whose real name is Rajkumar Meghen (Sanaiyama is his party alias) operated in Bangladesh under active government patronage during the BNP-JAMAAT regime and the military-backed caretaker regime. But he fled Bangladesh and took refuge in Nepal after the Sheikh Hasina government took charge in January 2009 and unleashed a crackdown against northeast Indian rebels, leading to the arrest of a few top leaders who were then handed over to Indian authorities. Meghen was arrested by the police from the East Champaran district of Bihar when he tried to enter the country from Nepal on November 30, 2010.”
Regarding Keithellakpam Nabachandra the same report of India Today, published on 19 September 2022, claims:
“The UN Working Group report also lists Keithellakpam Nabachandra alias Chilheiba as a “victim of enforced disappearances” in Bangladesh. Nabachandra is a “major” in the UNLF armed wing. The Border Security Force, or BSF, said that they arrested him in 2015 as he attempted to enter India through the Sylhet-Meghalaya border near Dawki. Some media reports in Manipur said Nabachandra was arrested in Dhaka by the Bangladesh Police and quietly handed over to Indian border guards – a charge India has denied. Nabachandra was handed over to the Manipur Police on March 17, 2015 and is now facing trial. Bangladesh officials say the crackdown against armed northeast Indian insurgent groups was part of Sheikh Hasina’s commitment to zero tolerance against terrorism.”5
Unsubstantiated Information Used for Smearing Hate Campaign:
The AHRC finds publicly accessible media reports that suggest the India Today’s report unsubstantiated. A report published the BBC News on 13 October 2010 quoting ‘senior Indian officials’ confirmed that “Rajkumar Meghen, who leads the UNLF, was held by the Bangladeshi police earlier this month (October 2010)”.6 The same BBC report clearly indicates that the Bangladesh Police ‘held’ Meghen days before handing him over to the Indian authorities.
Two weeks after, on 27 October 2010, the BBC News published another report entitled “Arrested India rebel’s family appeals for information”.7 Quoting Meghen Rajkumar’s unnamed ‘son’ and ‘wife Rajkumari Ibenmungshi’ the BBC News reported that “the family knew nothing about his (Meghen’s) whereabouts and was very worried for his safety”. Meghen’s wife was quoted in the report, “I have no objection to the trial he may face in India or Bangladesh but we need to know whether he is alive, healthy and whether he will have access to legal aid to defend himself.” The same report claimed, “Indian authorities have not commented publicly on Mr. Meghen’s whereabouts”. The report also asserted that “Bangladesh has handed over more than 50 leaders and activists of Indian separatist groups since a crackdown began in 2009. Many more have fled Bangladesh to evade capture or been caught on the border by Indian guards.”
Another BBC News report titled “Manipur rebel alleges secret detention in Bangladesh” was published on 3 December 2010. It quoted Rajkumar Meghen’s statement before a court in Guwahati, India, that he was ‘arrested in Dhaka on 29 September (2010) and “kept in secret detention for two months in Bangladesh before being handed over to India”.8 The AHRC quotes the BBC News report, “I was kept in secret detention for 61 days,” Mr Meghen told the court in the north-eastern Indian city of Guwahati. “Only this week, I was moved to India and shown as arrested in Bihar state.”
The BBC News in a report published on 29 November 2010 said that the “UK-based Amnesty International has asked India and Bangladesh to disclose the whereabouts of a separatist leader from India’s Manipur state” referring to Rajkumar Meghen.9
Regarding the alleged enforced disappearance of Keithellakpam Chilheiba also known as K. C. Nabachandra, who is reportedly a major of the Manipur People’s Army – an armed wing of the United Liberation Front (UNLF) of Manipur, the local news portals of Manipur confirmed Chilheiba’s disappearance quoting the UNLF’s statement.10 The media report quoting the UNLF’s official statement claimed that Chilheiba was arrested at 10 PM on 11 February (2010) from Mohammadpur, Dhaka (Bangladesh) by a joint team of Indian intelligence and Bangladesh (black dress) Police (which indicates the Rapid Action Battalion).11
According to Article 2 of the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, “”enforced disappearance” is considered to be the arrest, detention, abduction or any other form of deprivation of liberty by agents of the State or by persons or groups of persons acting with the authorization, support or acquiescence of the State, followed by a refusal to acknowledge the deprivation of liberty or by concealment of the fate or whereabouts of the disappeared person, which place such a person outside the protection of the law.”
In fact, the incidents of abduction of Rajkumar Meghen by the Bangladesh Police from Dhaka and picking up Keithellakpam Chilheiba and holding both of them incommunicado in ‘secret detention’ facility without disclosing their whereabouts to the families or in public are undoubtedly the act of ‘enforced disappearance’ under the international treaty.12
The AHRC has published the detailed documentation on enforced disappearances of Bangladesh that were committed between January 2009 and June 2022 in its website.13 The two cases that the India Today referred to in its report are not included in the total number of 623 cases of enforced disappearances.
The Pattern of Abduction and Disappearance by the Security Forces of Bangladesh and India:
A. Indian Nationals Disappeared in Bangladesh and Reappeared in India:
Bangladesh’s national newspaper The Daily Star’s online edition on 1 December 2009 published a report titled “Indian separatist leader ‘arrested’. It referred to NLFT leaders named “Sasha Choudhury and Chtrabon Hazarika were arrested and handed over to India”.14
Indian newspaper Hindustan Times also carried similar stories confirming the fact the Indian political leaders who fight for self-determination were ‘picked up by Bangladesh police’ prior to the Indian agencies officially declared the arrests. Ranjan Chowdhury of the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) is one of the people abducted by the Bangladeshi state agents.15 The AHRC quotes from a report: “He (Ranjan Chowdhury) was arrested by plainclothes policemen June 6 from Rumpa Clinic in Mymensingh town where he was admitted after being injured. At that time, police and the para-military Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) had denied the arrest, the paper said. But his wife Sabitri Sangma confirmed the arrest to media persons.”16 The same report claimed, “Last December (2009), the Bangladesh authorities facilitated the arrest of ULFA chief Arabinda Rajkhowa, Raju Barua and eight others of the group. India and Bangladesh have stepped up cooperation in handling crime, militancy and terrorism since Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina took office in January in 2009.”
B. Bangladeshi Nationals Disappeared in Bangladesh and Reappeared in India:
On 5 November 2012, the Bangladesh police abducted Shukhranjan Bali, originally a Prosecution Witness turned to be a Defense Witness at the War Crimes Tribunal, from the gate of the Tribunal within the Supreme Court’s compound of Bangladesh capital.17 Bali was reportedly held incommunicado for six weeks in Dhaka and then was handed over to the Indian Border Security Forces.18 Later, Bali was found imprisoned in a jail in Kolkata, the capital of the West Bengal province of India.19
On 10 March 2015, the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) abducted Salahuddin Ahmed, a Joint Secretary General and main spokesperson of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), from a flat of Uttara, Dhaka, Bangladesh.20 Ahmed remained disappeared for 62 days since then. On 12 May 2015, he was resurfaced at Shilong, the capital city of India’s Meghalaya province.21
In all the above mentioned cases of abduction of the nationals of India and Bangladesh the government of Bangladesh primarily denied the fact that the individuals concerned were arrested under any specific charges.
Pro-Government High Profile People Smear Hate Campaign against the UN and Right Group Odhikar:
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s son Sajeeb Wazed has been leading from the front to promote such hate campaign against the UN Independent Experts in his verified Facebook page on 22 September 2022.22 The domestic pro-government media has also joined the Premier’s son to smear the campaign targeting the UN Independent Experts and Bangladesh based independent human rights group Odhikar. This is clearly a deliberate attempt to target independent human rights group Odhikar, which is already facing continued judicial harassment including deregistration of its status as an NGO under the Sheikh Hasina government.23 In the latest hate campaign Wazed had used bilingual texts with an audiovisual report of a pro-government private television channel of Bangladesh.
India Today, and other media outlets that strongly support the Sheikh Hasina government in Bangladesh, continues hate campaign against the UN Independent Experts who serve as the Members of the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearance (WGEID). Quoting a pro-government leader of a non-governmental organisation (NGO) and an academic the media outlet challenged the credibility of the UN human rights mechanisms that contributes to address the issue of enforced disappearance.24 The report also blamed Bangladesh based human rights organisation Odhikar. The India Today, and the ‘experts’ it had referred to, have completely failed to substantiate the fact whether Odhikar has ever submitted the two disappearance cases of Indian nationals to the WGEID it is undeniable that those disappearances were originated within the territory of Bangladesh.
The human rights community is aware that high profile Bangladesh ministers and governmental officials continuously spread hate campaign publicly against Odhikar. Such hate campaign has been increased since the United States Department of Treasury designated sanctions against the RAB and its six commanders.25 Media reports suggest that Bangladesh’s Home Minister stated that: “- – – some UN organisations were provided with the report on enforced disappearances by a “very biased” Bangladeshi organisation.” The minister’s remark was directly pointed to Odhikar.26 The Information Minister in a public meeting directly took Odhikar’s name to smear hate campaign; however, the English speaking media has not published it in their reports.27 The immediate past Inspector General of the Bangladesh Police Benazir Ahmed in a reception hosted by the pro-ruling party expats while he was attending a UN meeting in New York termed Odhikar as ‘information terrorist’ along with other unnamed entities.28
Bangladesh must stop accusing the international human rights experts of the UN and the ongoing reprisals against the prominent human rights defenders for documenting the cases of gross human rights violations. They should listen to the families who cry for justice for the ‘crime against humanity’.
 Prothom Alo English, 13 September 2022, Criminal Investigation Department of the Bangladesh Police abducted a physician from his home in Dhaka on 11 September 2022, https://en.prothomalo.com/bangladesh/crime-and-law/0jzw02d9gz
2 United Nations, 17 August 2022, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet concludes her official visit to Bangladesh, https://www.ohchr.org/en/statements/2022/08/un-high-commissioner-human-rights-michelle-bachelet-concludes-her-official-visit
3 New Age, 12 September 2022, Editorial, Smear campaign against Mayer Daak Deplorable: https://www.newagebd.net/article/180828/smear-campaign-against-mayer-daak-deplorable
4 India Today, 19 September 2022, UN report on enforced disappearances in Bangladesh replete with errors, https://www.indiatoday.in/world/story/un-report-on-enforced-disappearances-in-bangladesh-replete-with-errors-2002564-2022-09-20
6 BBC News, 13 October 2010, Indian separatist leader ‘arrested in Bangladesh’, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-south-asia-11532737
7 BBC News, 27 October 2010, Arrested India rebel’s family appeals for information, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-south-asia-11633604
8 BBC News, 3 December 2010, Manipur rebel alleges secret detention in Bangladesh, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-south-asia-11913974
9 BBC News, 29 November 2010, Amnesty appeals for information on arrested India rebel, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-south-asia-11860193
10 Kangla Online, 19 February 2015, UNLF Claims Its Officer Untraced After Arrest In Bangladesh, http://kanglaonline.com/2015/02/unlf-claims-its-officer-untraced-after-arrest-in-bangladesh/
11 E-PAO, 19 February 2015, Arrested man hidden: UNLF, http://e-pao.net/GP.asp?src=9..200215.feb15
12 United Nations, International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, https://www.ohchr.org/en/instruments-mechanisms/instruments/international-convention-protection-all-persons-enforced
13 Asian Human Rights Commission, 8 September 2022, BANGLADESH: Government Must Bear Responsibilities if Victims of Enforced Disappearances are Harmed, http://www.humanrights.asia/news/ahrc-news/AHRC-STM-013-2022/
14 The Daily Star, 1 December 2009, Indian separatist leader ‘arrested’, https://www.thedailystar.net/news-detail-116074
15 Hindustan Times, 18 July 2010, ‘Arrested ULFA leader was picked up by Bangladesh Police earlier’, https://www.hindustantimes.com/world/arrested-ulfa-leader-was-picked-up-by-bangladesh-police-earlier/story-ETOIB5i6UTeQv5mM7RnerN.html
17 Human Rights Watch, 13 November 2012, Bangladesh: Investigate Alleged Abduction of War Crimes Witness – Judges’ Refusal to Order Inquiry Suggests Bias, https://www.hrw.org/news/2012/11/13/bangladesh-investigate-alleged-abduction-war-crimes-witness
18 Bangladesh War Crimes Tribunal, 17 May 2013, Tribunal witness confirms police abduction, http://bangladeshwarcrimes.blogspot.com/2013/05/tribunal-witness-confirms-police.html
19 Bangladesh War Crimes Tribunal, 17 May 2013, Missing witness of war crime suite found at Indian prison, http://bangladeshwarcrimes.blogspot.com/2013/05/bbc-bengali-services-version-of-bali.html
20 The Wire, 23 May 2015, Anatomy of a Disappearance, and a Reappearance – The curious case of a Bangladeshi opposition leader whose sudden and mysterious arrival in Shillong raises difficult questions for both Dhaka and New Delhi, https://thewire.in/external-affairs/anatomy-of-a-disappearance-and-a-reappearance
21 Prothom Alo English, 19 June 2021, https://en.prothomalo.com/bangladesh/missing-persons-say-nothing-upon-return ‘Missing’ persons say nothing upon return
22 Sajeeb Wazed’s Verified Facebook Page, 22 September 2022, https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=1525827527868973&ref=sharing
23 New Age, 7 September 2022, PMO upholds Odhikar deregistration, https://www.newagebd.net/article/179965/pmo-upholds-odhikar-deregistration
24 India Today, 2 October 2022, ‘Travesty of justice’: Experts criticise errors in UN report on forced disappearances in Bangladesh, https://www.indiatoday.in/world/story/experts-criticise-error-un-report-on-forced-disappearances-in-bangladesh-2007495-2022-10-02
25 U.S. Department of The Treasury Press Release, 10 December 2021, Treasury Sanctions Perpetrators of Serious Human Rights Abuse on International Human Rights Day , https://home.treasury.gov/news/press-releases/jy0526
26 The Daily Star, 6 February 2022, Bangladesh Enforced disappearances: Govt doubling down on stance, https://www.thedailystar.net/news/bangladesh/news/enforced-disappearances-govt-doubling-down-stance-2955226
27 The Daily Jugantor [Vernacular national daily newspaper], 20 September 2022, Anti-State groups’ information about disappearance and killings are untrue: Information and Broadcasting, https://www.jugantor.com/todays-paper/city/597215/
28 Business Insider, 2 September 2022, IGP Benazir attends civic reception in NY, https://www.businessinsiderbd.com/bangladesh/news/27679/igp-benazir-attends-civic-reception-in-ny