Chairperson of Bangladesh’s human rights body calls for ‘strong investigation’ into reports of rights violations.
DHAKA, Bangladesh (AA) – Enforced disappearances, extrajudicial killings in the guise of crossfire, and torture in police custody have been tarnishing Bangladesh’s image both at home and abroad, said analysts and victims as Friday marks Human Rights Day.
“While the country is celebrating the golden jubilee of independence and victory and promoting itself as a developing nation from the category of least developed states, its image is being damaged due to reports of gross human rights violations,” Chowdhury Rafiqul Abrar, an international relations professor at Dhaka University and the chairman of Odhikar, a local rights watchdog, told Anadolu Agency.
Citing frequent reports by international rights defenders as well as resolutions granted by the UN against rights violations in Bangladesh, Abrar urged the government to honor people’s right to freedom of expression and safety.
The New York-based international rights watchdog Human Rights Watch (HRW) in a report published Thursday said it had documented 86 cases of victims in Bangladesh “who were forcibly disappeared since 2009 when the Sheikh Hasina-led government took office, and who remain missing.”
The NGO urged Bangladeshi authorities to provide information on the whereabouts of their relatives “disappeared by security forces”.
It also expressed concern over the repeated denial by authorities of the involvement of security forces in the illegal practice.
According to a local legal aid and human rights organization, Ain o Salish Kendra (Center for Law and Mediation), at least 437 people were victims of extrajudicial killings in the first 10 months of this year.
– Unknown whereabouts of brother
Mohammad Chowdhury Alam, a city councilor in the capital Dhaka who was also the central committee leader of the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), was abducted in 2010.
“We have applied to all concerned departments, including various law enforcement agencies, to trace my brother. But there has been no result until now,” Alam’s brother, Mohammad Khurshid Alam Mintu, told Anadolu Agency.
Alluding to Bangladesh’s elite police force, the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), Mintu said: “We believe that some force under the patronization of the government has kidnapped my brother. Otherwise, he was supposed to be detected by police by now.”
Speaking by phone, he urged the government to disclose the whereabouts of his brother and appear him before a court if he committed any offences.
“Please at least hand over the dead body of my brother if he has already been killed or show us his grave so we can visit his burial site and pray for him,” Mintu said.
Speaking to Anadolu Agency, Sanjida Islam, the sister of opposition activist Sajedul Islam Sumon, said a police team forcefully took her brother along with seven others from Dhaka on Dec. 4, 2013.
“Since then, we have been continuously contacting the RAB, and we filed a petition with the high court and the UN to put pressure for the release of my brother,” Sanjida said.
She claimed that there were no criminal records against Sumon during his detention.
“He was a mid-level leader of the opposition party and was very active in political activities. That is why by the direction of the government, the RAB picked up and disappeared my brother.”
Referring to the current political intolerance in Bangladesh, Sanjida added: “Before the Jan. 5, 2014, national election, many incidents of enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings took place in Bangladesh to undermine the opposition political force. We even counted 22 BNP leaders and activists having disappeared in just two weeks.”
– Stabbed in eyes by police
A vegetable vendor, Mohammad Shahjalal, was picked up by police from the southwestern Khulna district on July 17, 2017, just on suspicion.
“Police demanded 150,000 (Bangladeshi) Taka ($1,746) from my family. But my family provided 10,000 Taka (US$116) as we had no more money at the time,” Shahjalal said, adding that despite no case against him, police tortured the man in custody.
The police, he claimed, pulled him from their van and stabbed him in his eyes with a knife.
“At one stage, they pierced both my eyes, and since then, I have been blind. They darkened my whole world just for a bribe.”
Meanwhile, calling the RAB a “notorious abuser” of human rights, the HRW called on senior UN officials, donors and trade partners to step up measures to support holding senior members of the Bangladeshi security forces accountable and prevent future abuses.
“Nobody believes the Bangladeshi government’s lies about enforced disappearances by its security forces,” said Brad Adams, HRW Asia director. “The question now is what donors and the UN are going to do about it.”
Brushing aside the HRW report, Md. Kamruzzaman, assistant inspector general of Bangladeshi police’s media and public relations, told Anadolu Agency that the law enforcers never do anything breaking the law.
“If any report of allegation or breach of law reaches to us, we solve it through judicial enquiry,” he said.
In reply to a query about extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances allegedly conducted by police, he said that police always follow rules during any criminal drives.
“In case of any accidental incident of death during our drive, we also investigate departmentally and take immediate measures,” he said, adding that maintaining law and order for public safety is the main task of police.
In October 2020, 10 US senators issued a bipartisan letter, calling for sanctions against top RAB officials for extrajudicial executions, enforced disappearances and torture.
Speaking to Anadolu Agency, Nasima Begum, the chairperson of Bangladesh’s National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), said the body recommended the government conduct a “strong investigation” over the reports of human rights violations, including enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings.
“We have already submitted a guideline to the government to ensure that whenever law enforcers operate any anti-crime drive, they must follow the conditions as per law (to avoid rights violations),” Begum added.
She dubbed the theme of this year’s Human Rights Day – Reducing inequalities, advancing human rights – “befitting,” strongly opposing extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances.
Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, at a recent news conference in Dhaka, said that the government is committed to stopping extrajudicial killings.
“Whenever any such incident happens accidentally, we instantly probe it,” she said.