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Bangladesh urged to hold law enforcement accountable for enforced disappearances

  • Published at 01:32 pm August 29th, 2020

‘All disappeared people held in state custody should be safely returned to their families’

Twelve separate organizations, which dedicate their efforts to protect human rights, have called on the government of Bangladesh to hold law enforcement agencies accountable for enforced disappearances in the country.

Bangladesh security forces and law enforcement agencies continuously commit enforced disappearances with impunity, targeting journalists, activists, and government critics, the 12 human rights groups said on Friday, ahead of  International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances.

The 12 organizations are Advocates for Human Rights, Anti-Death Penalty Asia Network, Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances, Asian Human Rights Commission, Asian Network for Free Elections, Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development, International Federation for Human Rights, Human Rights Watch, Mayer Daak, Odhikar, Robert F Kennedy Human Rights, and World Organisation Against Torture.

The groups remembered the victims of enforced disappearances and stood in solidarity with the families of people who have been forcibly disappeared in Bangladesh and across the world, said a joint statement issued by the organizations. 

From January 1, 2009, to July 31, 2020, at least 572 people have reportedly been forcibly disappeared by security forces and law enforcement agencies in Bangladesh. While some were eventually released, shown arrested, or discovered killed by security forces and law enforcement agencies in so-called “crossfire” encounters, the whereabouts of many of them remain unknown, the organizations said.

Enforced disappearance — the deprivation of liberty by agents of the state and cover-up of the fate or whereabouts of the person in custody — is strictly prohibited under international law. Despite consistent and credible evidence of such occurrences, the government of Bangladesh continues to deny its unlawful practice of enforced disappearances. 

Enforced disappearance is part of the ruling party’s ongoing crackdown on freedom of speech. Disappearance, or threats of disappearance, are used to silence critics and repress the opposition.

Victims and their families are met with repeated obstacles to legal redress, including police’s refusal to file cases, and threats to drop cases. This problem is compounded for members of the opposition and those who criticize the government and the ruling party.

Meanwhile, law enforcement enjoys a culture of impunity, perpetuated by the ruling party’s refusal to acknowledge the occurrence of enforced disappearances or hold security forces accountable.

Although enforced disappearances have taken place earlier, this practice has increased exponentially since the Awami League-led coalition took office in 2009, the groups said.

Even the Covid-19 pandemic could not stop enforced disappearances. At the same time, the economic hardship caused by the pandemic has had a negative impact on the mental, social, and physical well-being of families of the disappeared, and on their ability to look for their loved ones. 

Enforced disappearances are grave violations of international law. When committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack on a civilian population, they are crimes against humanity.

Bangladesh is a member of the United Nations Human Rights Council. The council should bring a resolution calling for an independent investigation into all allegations of enforced disappearances, torture, and extrajudicial killings committed by law enforcement and intelligence agencies in Bangladesh.

Above all, all disappeared people held in state custody should be safely returned to their families and those responsible for their disappearance should be held accountable, the groups said.

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