A Written Submission to the 36th Regular Session of the United Nations’ Human Rights Council by the Asian Legal Resource Centre
The Asian Legal Resource Centre (ALRC) wishes to update the United Nations Human Rights Council about the situation of Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances in Bangladesh. Enforced Disappearances are increasing alarmingly in Bangladesh since Sheikh Hasina has been Prime Minister in January 2009. The victims’ families and the eye-witnesses have consistently accused the law-enforcement agencies including the Police and the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) for the incidents of enforced disappearances.
Bangladesh continues disregarding the calls of the United Nations Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances (WGEID) and the Human Rights Committee for halting enforced disappearances. Instead, the government defends this ‘crime against humanity’ by mere denials and guaranteeing impunity to the perpetrators. The country’s law-enforcement agencies have been committing this crime consistently for last eight years. The justice institutions are reluctant and incapable of providing redress to the victims.
The incidents of enforced disappearances are increasing alarmingly. At least, 388 people have been victims of enforced disappearances between January 2009 and July 2017. In 2016, the law-enforcement agencies allegedly disappeared 91 people. In the first seven months of 2017, at least 60 people were disappeared. These statistics represent a partial picture of the reality while many families do not dare to speak out amidst intimidation, threats, and surveillance by the law-enforcement agencies. At least, 113 of the victims of disappearances belong to the opposition political parties.
Human rights defenders associated with the ALRC documented that the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), the Police and the Detective Branch (DB) of Police are the main agencies that abduct and disappear people, according to the families of the victims and eyewitnesses. Plain clothed members claiming to be officials of the government have also found involved in abduction and disappearances.
The victims’ families struggle to survive facing intimidation and threats by the law-enforcement agencies. They do not get access to the complaint mechanism, which is under the control of the police. The police, the RAB, and the DB Police consistently deny their involvement in each of the individual cases of disappearances. Such denials are made directly to the relatives to the victims, the journalists, and human rights defenders.
The acts of enforced disappearances get direct supports from the Ministry of Home Affairs, the Ministry of Law, and the Prime Minister. All these high profile portfolio-holders consistently deny the allegations of enforced disappearances being committed by the law-enforcement agencies . The ministers and Prime Minister do not limit to mere denials. By making fun over the alleged disappearance of opposition leader Salahuddin Ahmed the Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has made sure that the government does not have any intention of investigating the alleged disappearances as long as she is in office. It indicates that the incumbent government has adopted a policy of disappearing the citizens and this policy is being systematically implemented with impunity.
The prevalent context, with governmental poses immense challenges on the attempts of seeking redress for enforced disappearances. The case of Sheikh Mokhlesur Rahman a.k.a. Johny, a homeopathic doctor of Satkhira district town reflects the struggles of the families of the disappeared in Bangladesh. The Satkhira Sadar police, led by Sub Inspector Himel Hossain, picked up Mokhlesur at around 9:00 PM on 4 August 2016 from the New Market of Satkhira district town. The police raided Mokhlesur’s house after that midnight without any Search Warrant. His wife Ms. Jesmine Nahar and father Sheikh Abdur Rashid found Mokhlesur detained in the police cell of the Satkhira Sadar police on the following day, 5 August. The police arbitrarily detained him without producing before a Magistrate, defying the laws of the land. The police even did not make any formal record about the arrest and detention of Mokhlesur despite having legal obligation to do so. From August 5 to 7 the family served food to Mokhlesur by bribing the police, who do not provide food to a detainee. On 8 August, the family found Mokhlesur missing in the police cell. The police did not produce him before any Court or sent to any prison. The police officers denied disclosing the whereabouts of Mokhlesur when the family enquired about him. Instead of telling the whereabouts, the police officers continuously insisted the family of Mokhlesur not to reveal any information to the media regarding his arbitrary detention and disappearance. The police also refused to register any complaint or General Diary (GD) Entry regarding the arrest, detention and subsequent disappearance of him. The victim’s wife repeatedly attempted to register a GD Entry for months and got refused by the police officers. When all the efforts went in vain, in March 2017, Jesmine Nahar held a press conference and exposed the matter in public. She also filed a Habeas Corpus Writ before the High Court Division of the Supreme Court of Bangladesh. In May 2017, a Division Bench heard the writ and ordered a judicial probe into the matter. Upon the High Court’s order the Chief Judicial Magistrate of Satkhira district assigned Mr. Habibullah Mahmud, a Senior Judicial Magistrate, to probe into the matter. The Police officers lied before the Magistrate during the investigation while the eyewitnesses and former co-detainees who stayed in the same police cell with Mokhlesur confirmed that Mokhlesur was detained for days in the Satkhira Sadar police station. The judicial probe report is submitted to the relevant High Court Bench, which has not yet taken any stern action against the police officers.
The judicial probe on Mokhlesur’s disappearance is the first ever publicly known investigation in any case of alleged disappearances in last eight years in Bangladesh.
The ALRC and its partners have documented several cases where the families had approached to the judiciary to seek legal redress. Regrettably, there has been no assertive remedy provided to the litigants who filed Habeas Corpus cases before the High Court Division of the Supreme Court of Bangladesh. Extreme form of politicised recruitments in the higher judiciary has been one of the reasons behind the unavailability of assertive judicial action in the cases of enforced disappearances, extrajudicial executions and other gross violation of human rights.
The UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances (WGEID) and the Human Rights Council need to understand Bangladesh’s human rights problems that are directly related to political power grabbing strategies. Perpetuating undeserving political power by Bangladesh’s incumbent Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and collapsed justice institution to promote such political desire are the key reasons behind the systemic enforced disappearances and other severe forms of human rights abuses. The Special Procedures, including the WGEID, needs to send further reminders to Bangladesh for their visit requests. The international community needs to accept that restoration of democracy in Bangladesh can only open the opportunity to stop enforced disappearances and other gross violation of human rights. That should be coupled with rebuilding the justice institutions for the purpose of upholding the rule of law, which is not in existence at the moment.