BANGLADESH: Government and Justice Institutions owe explanations about enforced disappearances

A Joint Statement by the Asian Human Rights Commission and the Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) and the Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances (AFAD) calls for the return of all disappeared persons to their families. The government of Bangladesh must tell the whereabouts of the disappeared persons, and respond to the question why justice is not afforded for these crimes.

4th December 2015 has been two years of the disappearances of eight activists belonging to the opposition political party. The victims include the General Secretary of the Tejgaon Thana unit of Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), Mohammad Sajedul Islam Sumon, Mohammad Zahidul Karim Tanveer, Mohammad Majharul Islam, Mohammad Abdul Kader Bhuiyan, Mohammad Asaduzzaman, Al-Amin, Md. Kausar and Adnan. Members of the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) picked up the eight people the night of 4 December 2013 from the Bashundhara area under Bhatara Police Station of Dhaka Metropolitan City. Since then their whereabouts are unknown. Family members of the disappeared said that they received information from eyewitnesses that a few uniformed and armed RAB men carried out the abduction from House No. 414, Road No. 4, and Block-I of Bashundhara. Eyewitnesses further stated that two vehicles with RAB-1 written on the sides were seen waiting near a house under-construction.

Relatives of the disappeared victims appealed to the executive and judicial authorities to locate their dear-ones and obtain justice. They have received official denials, experienced negligence plus further intimidation. Several press conferences, protest rallies and human chains demanding the return of the disappeared have been dealt with by repeated threats to the relatives and subsequent surveillance by State agents. According to information gathered by human rights defenders, from January to November 2015, 59 people were forcibly disappeared in Bangladesh. The pattern suggests that enforced disappearances are being systematically used by the State as a tool to silence and weaken their political opponents.

The justice institutions of Bangladesh must face the question as to what role they have been playing to stop the recurrence of enforced disappearances and extrajudicial executions. They need to check the pattern of abductions, the inaction on the part of law enforcement and the profiles of the victims of disappearances. Failure to hold accused agencies and executive authorities responsible will only increase public distrust of justice institutions.

Bangladesh’s situation has become extremely repressive. The government does not allow opposition parties and dissidents to speak out against its undemocratic and anti-human rights actions. The rights to freedom of expression, assembly and association are being curtailed by applying draconian laws. Human rights defenders face diversified challenges if they take up cases of enforced disappearances. Human rights and civil society organisations that criticise the government face the following reprisals: continued intimidation, threats, surveillance and harassment by intelligence and law-enforcement agencies plus blockage of their bank accounts with no reasonable grounds.

The Government of Bangladesh has the ultimate responsibility for all the disappearances in the country. They have the obligation to answer to their citizens and to the international community for the alleged cases of disappearances. As a party to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC), which defines ‘enforced disappearance’ as a crime against humanity, Bangladesh is bound to being accountable. The government’s failure to ensure justice could make all the perpetrators liable to prosecution by the ICC for these crimes.