Government must ensure justice for enforced disappearances

29/08/2015
Press release

The United Nations has declared August 30 as the International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances, to remember victims of enforced disappearance and the agony of their families. The Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances (AFAD), the Asian Legal Resource Centre (ALRC), and FIDH join the families of disappeared victims in Bangladesh and around the world to mark this day. Our organisations call for the return of all disappeared persons to their families, and demand that the government of Bangladesh fully investigate and seek justice for these crimes.

Enforced or involuntary disappearances have become a part of the public vocabulary in Bangladesh in recent years. Between January 2009 and 29 August 2015, human rights defenders documented 212 people who were forcibly disappeared in Bangladesh. These enforced disappearances are a violation of multiple human rights: arbitrary deprivation of the right to life; to freedoms of expression, thought, conscience, and religion; to freedom of exercising religious practices; to freedom of assembly and association; and to justice and reparations for victims and their families.

The families of victims and eyewitnesses claim that members of law enforcement agencies in Bangladesh are responsible for these disappearances. In many cases, abductors were dressed in uniforms and arrived in vehicles belonging to law enforcement agencies, and have identified themselves as belonging to law enforcement agencies such as the Rapid Action Battalion or the Detective Branch of the Bangladesh Police.

Families that have approached the High Court Division of the Supreme Court of Bangladesh to obtain redress and to locate their loved ones ostensibly disappeared by agents of the State complain that their cases have been neglected and stalled by judges and the State attorneys, including the Attorney General. This has resulted in total impunity for these violations, where different arms of the State including the Judiciary have perpetuated injustice and paved the way for State agents to continue disappearing people in Bangladesh. The pattern of abductions, the inaction on the part of law enforcement and the judiciary in response to cases filed, and the profiles of the victims of disappearances in Bangladesh all suggest that enforced disappearances are being used by the State as a tool to silence and weaken political opponents.

Enforced disappearances have devastating consequences on the families of the disappeared. Beyond the traumatic emotional effects, documentation shows that disappeared persons are often the breadwinners of their households and their families face serious financial problems following the disappearance. The wives of disappeared men face a particularly difficult situation: due to the lack of clarity on the whereabouts of their husbands, their social status remains in limbo since they are not recognised as ’widows’ nor as legally ’divorced’. The uncertainty surrounding an enforced disappearance is emotionally destabilizing and traumatic on the spouses, families, and especially children of victims of disappearances. Locally and globally, insufficient attention has been paid to the realities of the families of victims of enforced disappearance in Bangladesh.

Human rights defenders also face particular challenges when taking up cases of enforced disappearances in Bangladesh. They are subjected to intimidation and threats, including surveillance and harassment by State intelligence services, law-enforcement agencies, and political cadres of the ruling party.

The government of Bangladesh must take responsibility for ensuring accountability, truth, and justice for enforced disappearances in the country. Having ratified the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC), which defines ‘enforced disappearance’ as a crime against humanity, Bangladesh has legally recognized this as an international crime and is bound to ensure accountability. If the government of Bangladesh fails to ensure justice for these crimes, those who have perpetrated or planned and given orders to engage in enforced disappearances could be liable for prosecution before the ICC for these crimes. The international community must not be a silent spectator while the people of Bangladesh continue to fall victim to such terrible crimes.

The United Nations has declared August 30 as the International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances, to remember victims of enforced disappearance and the agony of their families. The Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances (AFAD), the Asian Legal Resource Centre (ALRC), and FIDH join the families of disappeared victims in Bangladesh and around the world to mark this day. Our organisations call for the return of all disappeared persons to their families, and demand that the government of Bangladesh fully investigate and seek justice for these crimes.

Read more
communique