HRW calls for UN resolution to investigate disappearances

Sathia Kumar

Bangladesh should accept the UN’s offer to support an impartial commission of inquiry into the case of enforced disappearances.

Bangladesh should accept the UN’s offer to support an impartial commission of inquiry into the case of enforced disappearances.

The international human rights organization Human Rights Watch called for this in a report published on its website on the occasion of the International Day of Enforced Disappearances on Tuesday.

The Bengali meaning of the title they have given in English is — Bangladesh: Enforced Disappearances Investigation to be Opened. Must cooperate with UN investigation. (Missing) families have been waiting for answers for a long time.

It is said that the authorities have always denied the allegation of enforced disappearance by the security guards. On the contrary, they ridiculously claim that those people are hiding.

According to Bangladeshi human rights monitors, at least 600 people have been forcibly disappeared by security forces since 2009. Some people were later released, taken to court or said to have been killed in gunfights with security forces. About 100 people are still missing. The United Nations has offered assistance in establishing a specialized mechanism to investigate allegations of enforced disappearances according to international standards.

Julia Bleckner, senior Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch, said Bangladesh authorities are not fooling anyone by continuing to deny the reality of enforced disappearances. On the contrary, they are prolonging the suffering of the families of the missing persons. These families do not know where their loved ones are. The government should show genuine commitment to the United Nations opening an impartial commission of inquiry to investigate enforced disappearances to address these tortures.

At a recent protest, 12-year-old Adiba Islam Ridi said, “Every moment I hope that my father will come back and hug me like everyone else.” I can’t express how much it hurts. Already 10 years have passed. But my wait is not over.

His father Parvez Hossain was an activist of Bangladesh Nationalist Party BNP. When Adiba was 2 years old, his father was forcibly disappeared on 2 December 2013. That day Parvez Hossain and three other BNP workers were walking to an amusement park to meet friends. At that time a white van appeared and picked them up. After the four were picked up, one said he saw them in security custody at the office of the police’s detective branch. But the authorities refused to detain them. The whereabouts of Parvez Hussain, like dozens of other people, is still unknown.

On December 10, 2021, the United States imposed sanctions against RAB and some of its top commanders under the Global Magnitsky Convention on Human Rights. They are allegedly involved in law violations, particularly enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings.

Human Rights Watch also stated that, so far, Bangladeshi authorities have been harassing and intimidating victims’ families instead of conducting impartial and transparent investigations into allegations of enforced disappearances. The families have reported their loved ones missing to the police, they said. Despite this, the authorities repeatedly questioned them about the whereabouts of their loved ones. The families were threatened and pressured by the officials to withdraw the complaint or to ‘revise’ the incident in the police report. Through this, an attempt is made to erase the evidence of the security forces being involved in the disappearances.

The families also say authorities visited their homes and forced them to sign false statements. The statements said their family members were not forcibly disappeared and were deliberately hiding to mislead the police.

Human Rights Watch also said that diplomats were repeatedly prevented from meeting with families of victims of enforced disappearances by supporters of the ruling party and authorities. In this case, the incident of December 14, 2022 has been highlighted as an example. On that day, US Ambassador to Bangladesh Peter Haas met with the families of the victims. But the supporters of the ruling party tried to forcefully enter there. This raises security concerns. As a result, he ended the meeting. The government is speaking on behalf of supporters of the ruling party and they say the ambassador should not have held such a meeting.

Donor governments, the United Nations, human rights organizations and civil society have repeatedly called on the government to find a meaningful solution to the problem of enforced disappearances at the hands of security guards. But the government is ignoring those calls.

According to Human Rights Watch, Bangladesh is a signatory to all basic UN human rights treaties except enforced disappearances. United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michel Bachelet visited Bangladesh in August 2022. He urged Bangladesh to join this convention. To invite the United Nations Working Group on Enforced Disappearances to visit Bangladesh to demonstrate commitment to a decisive solution to this problem.

Bleckner said that if the government of Bangladesh is serious about lifting the ban on human rights violations against torturers, then they should take strong steps towards accountability.

Accountability begins with the recognition of enforced disappearances, transparent and impartial investigation of allegations.

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