BANGLADESH: Failure to prevent disappearance is injustice to families

February 18, 2013

Language(s): English only

Twenty second session, Agenda Item 3, Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearance

A written statement submitted by the Asian Legal Resource Centre (ALRC), a non-governmental organisation with general consultative status

BANGLADESH: Failure to prevent disappearance is injustice to families

1. Bangladesh is a member of the Human Rights Council since 2006. In the voluntary pledges made by Bangladesh, it has asserted that “[a]t the national level, Bangladesh, a democratic and pluralistic polity, is fully committed to the principles of good governance, democracy, rule of law and promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedom of all her citizens, with particular attention to the rights of women, children and minorities.” Bangladesh has further pledged that it “will fully cooperate with the Council in its work of promotion and protection of all human rights through dialogue, cooperation and capacity building”.

2. However, in the past six years, Bangladesh’s domestic performance, in guarantying the promises to its citizens has remained questionable. The ALRC has documented cases that negate Bangladesh’s commitment to protection, promotion and fulfilment of human rights to its citizens and promoting the concept globally. One of the concerns that organisations like the ALRC have been constantly trying to monitor in Bangladesh is enforced disappearances, and the demonstrated failure of the state in providing adequate remedies to the victims of this grotesque human rights abuse, and the state’s failure to prevent such instances so far.

3. Contrary to the state’s obligation under international human rights law and the domestic law of Bangladesh, the number of enforced disappearances in Bangladesh has been increasing during the past three years. In fact the state does not maintain or have clear idea of the number of disappearances that have happened in Bangladesh during the past three years. This is also due to the fact that the state does not exercise a reasonable control over its agencies, engaged in human rights abuses, and has any measures in place to prevent it. The agencies include inter alia, the police, paramilitary units particularly the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) and other intelligence agencies working under the influence or directly controlled by the armed forces of Bangladesh. Additionally deep-rooted corruption in Bangladesh facilitates and encourages, state officers to abduct people for ransom or to be paid by private entities to undertake disappearances, often followed by extrajudicial executions.

4. The executive government endorses these illegal activities by the state agencies, by its inaction. The courts in Bangladesh are equally unable to address this issue, due to the fact that the judiciary is also not immune to corruption, whereas on the other hand, the judges in Bangladesh of all ranks are also under threat from the state agencies. So much so, today, in Bangladesh, it is a common saying that if a person falls apart from another, either person could arrange for a disappearance or encounter of the other. It is also a practice that the ALRC has observed in Bangladesh that when writs of Habeas Corpus is brought before the court, the Office of the Attorney General of Bangladesh, routinely defend the law-enforcement agencies, than cooperating with the court to enforce the writ.

5. Bangladesh, is a party to the ICCPR. Articles 2 and 6 of the ICCPR obligates Bangladesh to ensure the right to life of its people, and to ensure prompt and effective reparation when violations occur. The ICCPR also require the contracting state party to bring its domestic legislations in conformity to the ICCPR.

6. In addition, Article 32 of the Constitution of Bangladesh protects the fundamental right to life and liberty, where it guarantees, “no person shall be deprived of life or personal liberty, save in accordance with law.” Yet, in reality, this is not implemented in Bangladesh and the rights are negated by state agencies operating with impunity.

7. ALRC’s sister organisation, the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC), has documented and globally reported, that in Bangladesh abduction and disappearance caused by the state agencies are on the increase. In most of the cases, at the time of abduction, state agents arrive at the scene in plainclothes. None of the police stations in the country register a proper complaint regarding allegations of abduction, particularly when the law-enforcing agencies are named in the complaints. Instead, all the agencies, in chorus, deny their involvement in the alleged abductions. Human rights defenders in Bangladesh who attempt to assist the victims in such cases face extreme forms of repression by the state agencies.

8. Recently, the AHRC has interviewed a number of families who alleged that their relatives have been abducted and consequently have disappeared and their whereabouts not known. The victim families allege that their relatives have disappeared after plain-clothed, armed men, claiming to be from the RAB, picked them up. In one case, criminals abducted a person named Mohammad Imam Hossain Badal, for ransom. The RAB subsequently rescued Badal. However, they refused to handover Badal to his family and demanded BDT 100,000.00 (USD 1,300.00) from the family to release Badal from custody. The family could only pay 40 percent of the ransom, that too after selling their land. However the RAB denied releasing Badal. Concerned for Badal’s safety the family approached the local police once again seeking their intervention in the case. The police refused to act on the complaint and refused to register it. Later, the RAB allowed Badal; to meet his parents the RAB-2 office in Dhaka on three occasions – between March 14 to 16, 2012. This was the last the family has heard about Badal. Since then Badal is reported to have disappeared. Seeking intervention in the case, the ALRC has communicated the case to the UN Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearance.

9. In another incident, the RAB abducted Mr. Md. Nazrul Islam, a farmer. The RAB took Islam from his farm under the jurisdiction of Kamarkhand police station in Siraigani district on the afternoon of 13 June 2012. Several persons, including members of Mr. Islam’s family witnessed RAB-12 officers picking up the victim. On the same evening relatives approached the RAB-12 camp, but were denied access to the compound. RAB denied their involvement in abducting Islam. Islam remains missing since then.

10. Those victims who were lucky to return alive from undisclosed detention centers run by the RAB, are extremely frightened to report a complaint since they fear for the safety of their relatives and for themselves when human rights defenders approach them. In each case they have requested not to be named publicly. The pattern noticed is that all of the victims were picked up by plain-clothed and armed men, introduced as officers of the RAB or of the Police. At the time of arrest, they were handcuffed and blindfolded. They were taken into custody by the agents and detained for several months without bail, or being produced before a court or formally charged with any offence or informed about the reason why they are detained. During their detention, which often ranges from four to eight months, they are subjected to brute form of torture. After detention they are driven a few hundred miles away from their place and dropped off in isolated rural areas during the dark of night, still blindfolded. In some cases the local police arrests the person initially and the families informed to pick the person up from police custody.

11. To restate the situation, relatives of the abducted persons are primarily prevented of exercising their right to register a complaint regarding the abductions. On the other hand the abductors introduce themselves as officers of the RAB or as state officers. It appears that these abductions are undertaken either at the instructions from higher authorities, or to create an illegal, but authoritative aura of legitimacy for such abductions. Not in a single case documented and reported to the ALRC so far, the arresting agencies have followed the Criminal Procedure Code that mandates the arresting agency to inform the person arrested, the reason for arrest, to produce the person before a local court within 24 hours or to allow the person to contact a lawyer. The abductors usually are heavily armed and driving vehicles without registration numbers or license plates. Not in a single case there has been an investigation. In defense the authorities say that there are no complaints about the incident with the local police.

12. Failing to take any visible action to investigate cases of enforced disappearance, the government has taken a diversionary tactic. It regularly harass and intimidate journalists, threaten to close down the media–all for asking questions to the Home Minister regarding disappearance of persons. Several journalists have received threats by telephone from high-ranking officers from the RAB and other intelligence agencies.

13. Deprivation of life continues unabated as Bangladesh’s judiciary, including the Supreme Court, has utterly failed to ensure any legal remedy for the victims or their families in cases of enforced disappearance.

14. Neither the government nor the judiciary is visibly engaged in discharging their constitutional mandate. People’s rights to life, liberty and security are endangered by state-agents and they are denied all forms of legal remedy. This retains impunity that runs deep in the system. The political elite in the country supports this, with their culture of excusing state agencies, of whatever they do. In that they promote and patronize state-sponsored lawlessness.

15. Bangladesh urgently requires thorough reforms to its criminal justice system. Complaint mechanisms must be open and free from all forms of refusal and resistance to register complaints and complainants must be protected from threats and intimidation. Criminal investigations into allegations of human rights abuses by state-agents must be performed by an independent and efficient agency. There should be an independent, a-political, permanent and accountable prosecutorial authority. The country’s judiciary should be recalibrated to deliver justice, independently, and to be free from discriminatory practices and corruption.

16. Bangladesh has repeatedly failed to ensure the requisite cooperation with the Council’s Special Procedures. This fails to justify its membership in the Council, let alone the possibility of it presiding any sessions in the Council. Only a few thematic mandates have been allowed to conduct country visits, and these have not included the mandates on the independence of judges and lawyers, on extra-judicial killings or on the freedom of expression, all of which have had placed requests pending for several years.

17. The ALRC notes with regret that the Council has failed to discuss or take any credible action concerning the wide-ranging human rights violations taking place in Bangladesh. While at the same time there is demonstrated lack of interest and political to address human rights abuses at the domestic level despite the severity and scale of the violations taking place. The government’s efforts to silence its critics domestically have no doubt contributed to this fact and this will only be accentuated if the Council’s passivity is turned into complicity by allowing the country to continue the ongoing violations like enforced disappearance.

About ALRC

The Asian Legal Resource Centre (ALRC) works towards the radical rethinking & fundamental redesigning of justice institutions in Asia, to ensure relief and redress for victims of human rights violations, as per Common Article 2 of the International Conventions. Sister organisation to the Asian Human Rights Commission, the ALRC is based in Hong Kong & holds general consultative status with the Economic & Social Council of the United Nations.

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