BANGLADESH: Not denial, credible investigations required to administer justice to complaints of disappearances 

Today, 30 August 2013, is the International Day of Victims of Enforced Disappearance. According to the UN Resolution A/RES/65/209 adopted in the Sixty-fifth Session of the General Assembly, the 30th day of August has been declared, and has been so observed since 2011, as the International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearance every year.

This Resolution was adopted following “…the increase in enforced or involuntary disappearances in various regions of the world, including arrest, detention and abduction, when these are part of or amount to enforced disappearances, and by the growing number of reports concerning harassment, ill-treatment and intimidation of witnesses of disappearances or relatives of persons who have disappeared…”

The UN has also adopted the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, which is already in effect now, setting out the “right of victims to know the truth regarding the circumstances of the enforced disappearance, the progress and results of the investigation and the fate of the disappeared person and sets forth State party obligations to take appropriate measures in this regard…”

Enforced disappearance is one of the more heinous forms of gross human rights abuses. Allegations of disappearing citizens have been frequently raised against the law-enforcement agencies of Bangladesh. The country’s human rights groups often publish various statistics of enforced disappearance on the basis of their respective organisational documentations. The numbers of victims, according to rights groups, are increasing day by day.

Theoretically, there is legal remedy available for victims if any Habeas Corpus writ is filed according to Article 102 (2) (b) (i) of the Constitution of Bangladesh, which reads:

“(2) The High Court Division may, if satisfied that no other equally efficacious remedy is provided by law – (b) on the application of any person, make an order – (i) directing that a person in custody be brought before it so that it may satisfy itself that he is not being held in custody without lawful authority or in an unlawful manner…”

But, practically, seeking remedy by filing a writ petition to the High Court Division of the Supreme Court, which requires fronting high expenditure for lawyers’ fees and facing entrenched corruption in the entire judicial institution, is not affordable for families of disappeared victims. Further, it is regrettable to see the role played by the Office of the Attorney General, which constantly objects to the petitioners’ writ – as the Asian Human Rights Commission has experienced in the case of Mohammad Salim Mian – in order to protect state-agents, instead of widening avenues of legal remedies for victims. Such actions of the Attorney General for Bangladesh undermine even the notion of administering justice.

The harsh truth is that plunging into the rigmarole of the formal complaint mechanism is simply suicidal for families of disappeared victims: police refuse to register complaints alleging atrocities committed by any law-enforcement agency and, in instead, proceed to intimidate the complainants incessantly. This stonewalling and harassment of devastated families is over and above that which they face from individuals connected to the agencies accused, such as the Bangladesh Rapid Action Battalion, which, at the very least, always, unfailingly, completely denies any disappearances.

It is this denial that pervades government at all levels. When the same matters have been discussed in the UN Human Rights Council, the government has used such opportunities to deny allegations of enforced disappearance outright. For example, Bangladesh’s Foreign Minister Dipu Moni made a strange point during the 16th Session of Universal Periodic Review, held in Geneva in April 2013. In paragraph 66 of the UPR Report, the minister stated that she “disagreed with the suggestion that enforced disappearance was frequently used by LEAs and clarified that the term did not exist in Bangladeshi laws, which recognized kidnapping or abduction as cognizable offences. She underlined that the association of LEAs or State machinery with such criminal acts was deliberately done to undermine their credibility and create misperception in the public mind.”

Can a government deny its obligation to ensure justice to those who complain against state-agents for disappearing their dear ones if the country’s law does not criminalise this particular offence in its law books? Any responsible, pro-people, government should be happy to meet the vacuum of adequate legal provisions by enacting legislation in compliance with the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, followed by immediate accession. That its Foreign Minister can make such an inane and shameless statement to the international community only betrays the government’s sincerity in addressing the calamity besetting the lives of its citizens deprived by those acting on its behalf. This is nothing if not endorsement to the ongoing crime. It appears to be the adopted policy of the State to disappear its own citizens, and to deny its own responsibility.

What the nation needs is not shameless denial. What the nation needs is the guarantee of credible investigations into all allegations of enforced disappearance. This is what a responsible, pro-people government should institutionalize for the welfare of its own citizens. The country’s judiciary has undeniable constitutional obligation to administer justice to petitioners regardless of whichever regime is in power. It is the inescapable mandate of institutions having the ability to administer justice to strive to build public trust. Otherwise, the fallout will be terrible chaos.

Continued disappearance will lead to multiple crisis in the Bangladeshi society. Firstly, the professionals involved in the institutions of the country’s criminal justice system will be utterly demoralised. Seeking judicial remedy even for them will be deemed to be nothing but a dark and twisted joke. Secondly, the number of widows, orphans, and aggrieved parents and siblings will swell. This population, and their relatives, will merely survive the passage of time with complete frustration and distrust towards the state. The state and society will face further withdrawal of people in terms of creative and productive public contributions quintessential for the fair development of Bangladesh. This will in turn lead to manifold socio-economic hardships and further alienation of the state and the people. Does Bangladesh really need to multiply its problems involving the crimes of enforced disappearance or address them immediately.

For further details, in Hong Kong, please contact: Mr. Md. Ashrafuzzaman; +852-60732807 (telephone) or write to:

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