Families of missing Bangladeshis dream of getting back loved ones with UN intervention

On International Day of Victims of Enforced Disappearances, victims’ families call for commission under UN to probe cases.

Families of missing Bangladeshis dream of getting back loved ones with UN intervention

The families of hundreds of victims of enforced disappearances in Bangladesh dream of getting back their loved ones with UN intervention after failing to make any progress with local authorities despite years of efforts.

“My brother along with seven others was forcibly picked up by the RAB (Rapid Action Battalion) from the Bashundhara Residential Area in Dhaka on Dec. 4, 2013. To date, we have no trace of them,” Afroza Islam Akhi, the sister of enforced disappearance victim Sajedul Islam Sumon, told Anadolu Agency on the International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances, which is observed globally on Aug. 30.

Akhi alleged that before the Jan. 5, 2014 national elections in Bangladesh under the ruling Awami League party, a series of enforced disappearances occurred.

“Five cars with RAB-1 stickers picked up my brother and seven others. Since then, we’ve been continuously contacting the force. Unfortunately, we haven’t had any positive results,” she added.

Akhi, also one of the founders of Mayer Daak (Mother’s Call), a platform for families of the victims of enforced disappearance, said their main goals are to stop the illegal practice, ensure that the perpetrators of the crime are brought to trial and locate and return all who are still missing.

List of 619 missing people sent to UN

Mayer Daak handed over a list of 619 people who have been missing since 2009 when the Awami League came to power to UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet during her recent visit to Bangladesh.

“Of those enforced disappearances, only a few returned but have remained mysteriously silent,” Akhi said, adding that the main purpose of the government was to create panic among the opposition voices.

In August 2021, the international rights watchdog Human Rights Watch published a list of 86 victims in Bangladesh who were forcibly disappeared.

Chowdhury Alam, a leader of the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) in the capital Dhaka, was reportedly picked up by members of the Detective Branch, a specialized unit of the Bangladesh police, on June 25, 2010, from the Indira Road area.

“I don’t know where he has been kept or what happened to him. Shouldn’t I deserve to know his whereabouts in more than a decade as a citizen of this country?” his wife, Hasina Chowdhury, told Anadolu Agency.

She also asked that if her husband had been murdered, his body be returned so they could bury him.

Referring to the deplorable condition of her family, the mother of four alleged that the government had confiscated their bank accounts and other properties.

“What a miserable life we are leading now. Who will listen to us? No one. We have filed our petition to the Almighty Allah. He will ensure justice,” Chowdhury said.

She added that her son and brother-in-law were among those who met the UN rights chief in Dhaka and all of them urged the UN to put due pressure on the Bangladeshi government so that all enforced disappearance victims are released immediately.

Government rejects claims

Bangladeshi authorities, however, denied that the law enforcement agencies were involved in enforced disappearances.

Following a meeting with UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet in Dhaka on Aug. 14, the Foreign Ministry issued a statement saying the government has made numerous efforts, including updating the domestic legal framework, raising awareness, and sensitizing implementing agencies, "to protect and promote human rights of the people."

The statement added, quoting Law Minister Anisul Huq, that "Bangladesh is working towards establishing a social order where human rights are guaranteed."

The Law Minister also underscored the need for further international support for human rights training, according to the statement.

During a separate meeting with Bachelet, Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan described how Bangladesh has suffered from political violence and terrorism in the past, and how the government has ensured safety and security in the face of all these challenges.

The Foreign Ministry had claimed the day before that the human rights situation in Bangladesh was better than in many other countries.

It said: “Bangladesh has been closely working with the UN in the field of human rights. (… ) Also mentionable is the fact that no one is getting killed either in shopping malls, schools or worship places in Bangladesh.”

The statement added: “The Government of Bangladesh firmly believes that politicization of the human rights agenda never helps in promoting and protecting human rights of the people.”

Impartial commission

However, Md Nur Khan, chief adviser at local rights watchdog the Human Rights Support Society, claimed that enforced disappearances occur frequently in Bangladesh and that most people have no doubt about law enforcement agencies involved in the crime.

"Human rights defenders have long demanded a credible and impartial investigation. Unfortunately, there is no visible state initiative on the issue," Khan told Anadolu Agency.

He added that the UN rights chief had advised Bangladesh to form an independent and impartial commission to investigate all reported cases of enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings and said the UN was ready to provide any technical support.

“The public feels that the investigation of such rights violations should be done properly and in a credible manner,” Khan said.

He said the enforced disappearances, as well as extrajudicial killings, have been reportedly committed by members of law enforcement agencies for many years, but to date, the government has failed to prove any visible development in a proper investigation.

Khan claimed that people have no confidence in the law enforcement agencies and those who are ruling the country, so an independent and impartial commission under the UN should be formed immediately.

Bangladeshi authorities, however, denied the charges of enforced disappearances by law enforcers.

Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan said at a public function in Dhaka in February this year that the country's law enforcement agencies were not involved in enforced disappearances.

Speaking to Anadolu Agency over the phone, the home minister claimed that some vested quarters staying abroad were trying to tarnish the image of the country by spreading propaganda, including on enforced disappearances.

He also said that there are instances when people voluntarily went into hiding over various family affairs and later appeared.