BANGLADESH: People paying price for country’s justice institutions

Bangladesh’s Government and its law-enforcement agencies have earned a reputation for refusing to take responsibility for the crimes they commit institutionally or that agency personnel commit in their individual capacity. The Bangladesh Government and its law-enforcement agencies have been shamelessly denying their involvement in enforced disappearances despite over 300 people having been disappeared by Bangladesh law-enforcement agencies since January 2009.

In the case of the disappearance of Yasin Mohammad Abdus Samad Talukder, the British High Commission in Dhaka has confirmed that Yasin “was detained by Bangladesh government authorities and is in their custody”, according to a report published in the Wire on 4 November 2016. By denying the allegation of Yasin’s disappearance, the Government of Bangladesh has once again proven itself to be an official “liar”, having lied consistently in other cases of enforced disappearances too. Bangladesh is now paying the price of this bald-faced ‘denial’, becoming a source of global ridicule.

The Asian Legal Resource Centre (ALRC), the sister organization to the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC), filed a complaint regarding Yasin’s disappearance with the United Nations Working Group on Enforced, or Involuntary Disappearances (WGEID) on 5 September 2016. The WGEID, on 9 September, sent a communication to the Government of Bangladesh. The government may well exercise its habit of denial in its response to the WGEID, which won’t be surprising to anyone who knows government history in the face of cases of gross human rights abuse.

Yasin’s disappearance has exposed another aspect that is often overlooked. Yasin’s family has been tempted to pay bribes of BDT 5 million (Approximately $ USD 63,700), according to a report published by Prothom Alo, a vernacular national daily, on 5 November. So-called self-claimed “source” in the law-enforcement agencies have disclosed the extortion of the bribes on several occasions between the 1st and 14th of August. The extortionists bargained with the disappeared man’s family on the condition that the victim may be extrajudicially killed in the pretext of ‘crossfire’ if the money was not paid as per the demands. However, the Rapid Action Battalion has denied its responsibility of taking Yasin into their custody.

Many Bangladeshis have been forced to pay higher, and often unaffordable, amount of bribes to such extortionists even without having a chance to verify the identity of the people who claim to be the officers or the sources of law-enforcement agencies. Numerous families of victims have spent virtually all their life savings to save a life from the deadly the law-enforcement system. Thus, the people pay the price of the justice institutions of the land, through money, blood, and lives.

Why do the people waste their assets to pay bribes instead of seeking “justice” from the judicial system? This would be a logical question, for those unaware of how this coercive system functions. These “justice” institutions have taught the people not to trust the system through both diabolical action and inactions, proving again and again their inability to uphold “justice”. The families of the victims of gross human rights violations have repeatedly asserted to the Asian Human Rights Commission that there is no remedy available for them.

Among the families of the disappeared victims, those who could somehow afford to bear the expenses of filing Habeas Corpus writs before the High Court Division of the Supreme Court have not been gifted any remedy. The High Court Benches performed their duty by issuing Rules against the Respondents in the respective writs. In few cases, the Benches asked the Home Ministry to “investigate into the alleged disappearance” and “respond within one to four weeks”. However, the Respondents have never bothered to appear or to submit any investigation report before the High Court Benches yet. In a few writ cases the Court asked the petitioners to withdraw their writs as if it was not submitted. The High Court Benches consistently entertained the statements of denial that the Attorney General’s Office has submitted taking the side of the law-enforcement agencies. As a result, the High Court has never passed any order asking the Government or the law-enforcement agencies to produce the disappeared person alive before the Court.

Bangladesh’s situation clearly indicates that there is no accessible, affordable redress in cases of enforced disappearances. This situation is compelling many people, who are afraid of being a target of the agencies for their political or other identities, to migrate to those countries known to be safer. For example, in Hong Kong, the number of migrated Bangladeshis is increasing day-by-day, while most of the illegal migrants claim that they run the risk of being victim to arbitrary deprivation of life in Bangladesh. If the region and the globe do not wish to be inundated by an influx of refugees from one of the most densely populated countries in the world, they cannot afford to remain silent.

An authoritarian government may feel comfortable by refusing to own up to the responsibility of committing crimes against the citizens, as the domestic justice system is incapable of holding the authorities accountable. Enforced disappearances are the most heart-rending of the panoply of tools being used by the incumbent government to silence the society as a whole, in order to continue hanging on to power without legitimacy.

The trend of enforced disappearance has been possible due to the inaction of the justice apparatus of Bangladesh. The failure of the domestic justice apparatus suggests that international jurisdiction might have to be enforced to stop the state-organized horror. As a matter of fact, enforced disappearance is a crime against humanity under the international law. The perpetrators of this crime deserve prosecution before the International Criminal Court under the Rome Statute to which Bangladesh is a party.

The people of Bangladesh need to properly examine the actual capabilities of the country’s justice apparatus without being tricked by illusion, myth, and memory. The justice institutions that allow and entertain “denial” and “cover-up” of state-sponsored crimes need to be redesigned and rebuilt so that “justice” can become accessible and affordable to everyone in the country. Illusion of the so-called justice institutions in place today cannot protect the life, liberties, and assets of the people. The illusion must be broken, and effective institutions re-engineered to enable to social transformation.