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From our Member Odhikar, Bangladesh – Peoples’ Mobilization Needed to End Enforced Disappearances

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A Joint Statement by the Asian Human Rights Commission, the Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances, and Odhikar, on the International Week of the Disappeared.

Hong Kong/Dhaka/Manila; 25 May 2017: Enforced disappearance is universally recognized as a ‘crime against humanity’ under International Law. This crime is widespread across the world. Every year, on the last week of May, the world commemorates the International Week of the Disappeared (IWD). It remembers and pays tribute to the disappeared victims. But it is a painful reminder to families who wait for information on the whereabouts of their loved ones who have disappeared. And disappeared persons are waiting to be freed from their unknown places of detention where they are kept. The observance was first initiated by the Latin American Federation of Associations for Relatives of Disappeared-Detainees (FEDEFAM) in 1981. In turn it was adopted by families of the disappeared all across the world.

The incumbent government of Bangladesh is taking an extremely repressive course of action. It is targeting opposition political parties and dissidents who are speaking out against the government’s anti-democratic and anti-human rights activities. Incidents of enforced disappearance are expanding rapidly. The UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances (WGEID) urged the Government of Bangladesh to take action to stop enforced disappearances in the country. The government, instead of taking measures against this heinous crime, is categorically denying the fact that such incidents are taking place in Bangladesh. According to information gathered by Odhikar, from January to April 2017, a total number of 30 persons have been disappeared. They were picked up by men claiming to be members of law enforcement agencies. Victims were mainly pro-opposition political activists, people having alternative opinions or student activists.

The families of the disappeared and witnesses claim that members of Law Enforcement Agencies arrest and take away victims who then can no longer be found. In some cases, law enforcement agencies deny that they had picked up the persons concerned. Days or months later, the disappeared persons are produced before the public by the police or other law-enforcement agencies; or handed over to a police station that produces them in a Court. Such cases establish the fact that law-enforcement agencies have been committing enforced disappearances in Bangladesh. Not only are they accompanied with the most brutal forms of torture, but with the complete knowledge and approval of the present government.

The State of Bangladesh is causing serious damage to its society by cultivating multiple forms of socio-economic and psychological crises. Often women and children of the disappeared persons suffer various socio-economic problems. Wives of the disappeared men remain as half-widows and face manifold difficulties. They cannot decide on the future of their personal lives. Do they determine to go for remarriage and settle the custody of children born from the disappeared men? Given the realities of every day life, obtaining the lawful share or inheritance of property owned by the disappeared husband or his family becomes more tricky. Children of disappeared men are traumatized by the absence of their fathers. Plus, they face tremendous financial hardships. And their psychological grief keeps rising without adequate care from health professionals.

The United Nations Human Rights Committee, Session 119 in March 2017, during its concluding observations on its review of Bangladesh expressed the three following concerns: the reported high rate of enforced disappearances, extra-judicial killings and the excessive use of force by State security forces. Two further considerations were that domestic laws do not effectively criminalize enforced disappearances, and that the State does not acknowledge the fact that enforced disappearances occur. The Committee explicitly urged the Bangladeshi authority to criminalize enforced disappearances and incorporate it into its Domestic Law. Regrettably, Bangladesh Government continues to disrespect the international human rights experts’ recommendations by keeping up the practice of disappearances.

The International Week of the Disappeared needs to be utilized. It can be an occasion for exploring the depth of the problems that trigger a crime like enforced disappearances in Bangladesh. A way out from such an ongoing crime against humanity needs to be pursued. Each and every Bangladeshi citizen has an undeniable responsibility. Their collective voices must be actively raised to end the institutionalized practice of arbitrary deprivation of life through enforced disappearances and extra-judicial executions.

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC), the Asian Federation against Involuntary Disappearances (AFAD), and Odhikar express solidarity with all the families of the disappeared in Bangladesh and world-wide. These Human Rights Organizations pledge continued support for affected families in their struggles. They seek to compel the State to assume responsibility for returning their loved ones to them with justice, to assuage their sufferings. Given the day to day life in Bangladesh, to establish the Rule of Law and justice, peoples’ mobilization and resistance can effectively help to prevent all human rights violations, particularly enforced disappearances.

The International Community should accept the obligation to bring up the crime of enforced disappearances to the International Criminal Justice System. Their involvement can be justified as domestic solutions are neither accessible nor affordable in Bangladesh because of a collapsed Judicial System.