‘Culture of impunity encourages enforced disappearance’

 ‘Culture of impunity encourages enforced disappearance’

Adiba Islam Hridi breaks into tears while asking for her father Parvez Hossain, to be returned. Mayer Daak, a platform of the families of the people who fell victim to enforced disappearance, organised an event where relatives of disappeared people joined at Shahbagh intersection, Dhaka on 29 August 2020

Some sort of culture of fear has spread in Bangladesh through enforced disappearance in a bid to muzzle voices of the leaders and activists of the opposition parties, the dissenters and the media, human rights activists have said.

The culture of widespread impunity has encouraged the culture of enforced disappearance.

There is no alternative to ensure accountability of the accused by investigating the related incidents to stop this practice of enforced disappearance.

Speakers made these observations in a virtual discussion on ‘Enforced Disappearance in Bangladesh’ organised by Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission of the US Congress. The Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission defends, promotes and advocates internationally recognised human rights norms.

James P. McGovern, a member of the United States House of Representatives from the Democratic Party, and Christopher H. Smith of United States Representative from the Republican Party organised the virtual discussion on Tuesday. Both of them are the co-chairs of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission.

The speakers put emphasis on the role of the international community to ensure accountability to stop enforced disappearance. Especially, they spoke about imposing targeted sanctions on the senior officials of Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) as its name was found involved with the incidents of enforced disappearance.

On the day before this discussion, Bangladesh ambassador to Washington wrote a letter to James P. McGovern and Christopher H. Smith highlighting the Bangladesh government’s stance on enforced disappearance.

The ambassador wrote that tarnishing the image and achievements of the government was a matter of concern by describing all the incidents of missing people as enforced disappearance.

As through the incidents of reappearing “the victims of the incidents” prove that the allegations of “so called enforced disappearance” are false, the ambassador argued.

He also said some miscreants are involved with abduction in disguise of the law enforcement agencies including RAB. Such criminal acts are being run to tarnish the credibility and professional efficiency of the law enforcement agencies, the Bangladesh ambassador added.

The Congress members listened to the speeches of different rights bodies’ representatives in the virtual discussion.

Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch (HRW) said the Bangladesh authorities sent a letter to the Lantos Commission ahead of the discussion and thus clarified the stance of the Bangladesh government on enforced disappearance. Many people apprehend that the government has no intention to be accountable to this.

“In our report we documented 86 cases where those forcibly disappeared are still missing. Many of the victims were critics, political opponents of the ruling Awami League government… Awami League leaders and Bangladeshi authorities often mock victims and routinely obstruct investigations making clear that the government has no intention of meaningfully addressing enforced disappearances by security forces… These 86 people that we speak of are still outside the protection of the law,” she said.

The HRW official said when there are so many allegations raised against RAB, impunity encourages the enforced disappearance. The question is whether RAB goes out of control.

Meenakshi Ganguly also said governments around the world have been facing criticisms about handling the Covid-19 situation. “But we are worried seeing the condition of writer Mushtaq Ahmed and cartoonist Ahmed Kishore for expressing their opinions about it.”

Joining the discussion, noted photographer Shahidul Alam said, why is not a single case (of enforced disappearance) being investigated? More astonishing is those who are picked up by security agencies become silent after returning.

As a result, there is no scope for freedom of expression. One has to take a lot of risks for speaking up. A large number of people are under the threat during the rule of such an oppressive government. It becomes tough to get rid of the situation when there is no free and fair election and no scope of accountability in parliament. Fair and free election is the only way to get rid of the situation, he Shahidul Alam.

Asian Human Rights Commission liaison officer Ashrafuzzaman said the dissenters are being muffled by allowing RAB to continue granting it impunity. Because, it is not hard to understand the situation when someone is being rewarded for making arrests and enforced disappearance.

BNP leader Sajudul Islam Sumon’s sister Sanjida Islam demanded whereabouts of all the people who are victims of enforced disappearance. All of the people involved with enforced disappearance should be brought under accountability.

Democrat Congresswoman from Texas Sheila Jackson Lee asked how the US could help the civil society in getting rid of the situation. What could be done about the appointment of accused in the peacekeeping activities?, she asked.

In answer to this, Angelita Baeyens, vice president of US-based rights organisation Robert S Kennedy Human Rights, said the US can use its veto power during the appointment of accused as peacekeepers. The US can also impose sanction against targeted officials on charges of violating human rights.

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