BANGLADESH: Disappearance will never stop unless impunity is ended
Enforced disappearance has become a matter of everyday life, as torture is inevitable in the hands of the law enforcement agencies. Both disappearance and torture are the by-products of the 'rule of coerciveness' in absence of the 'rule of law' in Bangladesh. It is a matter of grave concern that the incidents of disappearance are increasing, alarmingly and unabatedly. The families of the disappeared persons continue screaming while the law-enforcing agencies and their political masters of the incumbent regime continue to deny the involvement of the State-agents in such heinous crimes.
One of the latest incidents of disappearance has taken place two days ago. Mr. M Ilias Ali, a former Member of Parliament and Organising Secretary of the main opposition political party – Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), and the driver of his car named Mr. Ansar, have been found missing since both of them left the former's residence by a private car at around 9:30pm on 17 April 2012. The Gulshan police of Dhaka city reportedly claimed that the police found Illias' car in a park with his mobile phone in it with all the doors of the car opened in an abandoned condition. Since then the whereabouts of Ilias has not been known.
The chairperson of the BNP and the Leader of the Opposition in the Parliament Mrs. Khaleda Zia has directly blamed the government by saying "a government agency and Rapid Action Battalion have picked up Ilias from his car". Mrs. Khaleda Zia, former Prime Minister of Bangladesh, has been quoted by the Daily Star and almost all the national dailies yesterday, 19 April, that "some people witnessed law enforcement agency personnel picking up Ilias while they left no information of whereabouts for Ilias' family members". The opposition leader has announced several political programmes including nationwide general strike on Sunday in protest of this latest disappearance and other issues.
Ms. Sahara Khatun, Minister for Home Affairs in Bangladesh, accompanied by high-ranking police officers, visited the house of Illias on 18 April to tell the family that the law-enforcing agents have not abducted Ilias. It should be noted that the Home Minister and her colleagues have been repeatedly denying the involvement of the State agents even though the incidences of enforced disappearance have been happening endlessly. Almost in all cases the eyewitnesses of the abductions, followed by disappearances of the victims, have pointed their fingers against the State agencies, especially the RAB, Detective Branch (DB) of Police.
A High Court Division Bench of the Supreme Court of Bangladesh has ordered the Gulshan police to find Ilias and keep updating the Bench every 48 hours. This order was passed yesterday after the disappeared political leader's wife Mrs. Tahsina Rushdi Luna had filed a writ with the Court. It should be recalled that, at least, two families – that of Mr. Salim Mian, a fruit seller in Gazipur district and Mr. Chowdhury Alam, a Dhaka City Corporation Commissioner - filed similar complaints with the High Court after both persons were disappeared, about two years ago in separate incidents. Both families and eyewitnesses alleged that the RAB kidnapped the victims and since then their whereabouts remains untraced even after the intervention by the High Court Division.
There is no reason to believe that the latest incident of disappearance of Ilias Ali and Ansar is an isolated one. Enforced disappearances have taken place during all the successive regimes since the inception of the country despite the variation in frequencies. Most of the allegations of abductions and disappearances have been brought against the agencies of the State while the nation had most of its current law-enforcement agencies throughout these periods except the RAB, which was created in 2004 and since its creation has often been referred to as a "death squad" maintained by the State itself. The undeniable truth is that none of the cases of enforced disappearances or State-sponsored extrajudicial killings have ever been credibly investigated, let alone led to any prosecution and trial of the perpetrators. Given this reality it is evident that impunity is deeply entrenched within the system and the judicial institutions have been incapable of administering justice. Since the inception of the country people's right to life and right to liberty have only been denied. Bangladeshi people suffer an epidemic of practices of tortures and disappearances.
The law-enforcement agencies and security forces enjoy blatant impunity for creating extreme form of fear in the society through coercive actions. State agencies torture detainees instructed by the government, bribed by the enemies of the victims, or inspired by colonial habits rooted in the institutions. The judicial institutions are poorly structured in terms of their intellectual and moral capacities. These are manifested in the recruitment process of the judges and the judgements they deliver and their attitudes toward the justice-seekers. The nexus between the government and the bureaucracy has made a vicious power structure in their favour. While party in power woos the bureaucracy by delegating endless powers, the bureaucracy stands in the way of institutional reforms necessary for transparency and proper democracy having a functional rule of law system.
The most precarious point is that both the government and the opposition come up with an outcry only when the victim has a political identity or certain social status. Countless cases of tortures and custodial deaths inflicted on the poor people remain unnoticed, although these are the people who provide government the power, money and legitimacy.
The institutional system, particularly the policing, judiciary, politics and bureaucracy deliberately keep themselves alienated from the original aspiration of the people, who have been struggling for democracy in its true institutionalised functional form having a justice-based fair system. None of the political parties have ever come to the people with any convincing manifesto that could be capable of establishing fundamental human rights and justice to the people let alone acting for the implementation of such reformative plan. It is undeniable that the current impunity-based institutional system has no capacity to serve the people, who suffer endlessly, in Bangladesh. The question remains before the people of Bangladesh that can they stop enforced disappearance keeping the culture of impunity to the agencies that are fed by their tax-money.