Enforced disappearance in Bangladesh to suppress opposition: UN working group

File photo

There are allegations that the law enforcement and intelligence agencies in Bangladesh have been using enforced disappearance as a weapon targeting the political opposition and dissenters, said the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances (WGEID) of the United Nations Human Rights Council.

The Working Group further said it has got credible information about the allegations of enforced disappearance.

These were told in a report prepared after 125th session of WGEID of the UN Human Rights Council. The session was held between 20 and 29 September.

The Working Group updated the report on enforced disappearance on 6 December and sent that to the countries where incidents of enforced disappearance have been reported. The report also mentioned about investigating the allegations of enforced disappearance and various steps, including advices, taken by the Working Group.

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Speaking to Prothom Alo, a source from Bangladesh’s Permanent Mission in Geneva on Friday said generally the Working Group’s sessions take place behind closed doors. But they informed the Bangladesh Mission the content of the 6 December report as it mentioned about Bangladesh. Bangladesh mission in Geneva has sent the report to Dhaka to decide the next course of actions.

The relatives of the victims of enforced disappearance organises a human chain in front of National Press Club, Dhaka, on 28 May 2021
Prothom Alo

The WGEID has reviewed the previous and newly reported incidents of enforced disappearance in different countries in three sessions this year. Outside of this, they also reviewed a few other allegations as well. The WGEID completed the review based on information acquired from different NGOs, relatives of the victims of enforced disappearance and interview with government and the UN representatives.

The updated WGEID report, published on the website of UNHRC on 6 December, said 13 allegations of enforced disappearance between 22 May and 29 September this year were taken into consideration for taking emergency steps. Among them, one of the incidents was reported in Bangladesh.

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The report said as part of the emergency step, it informed the Bangladesh government about the incident of enforced disappearance of Md Mahmud Hasan alias Mufti Maulana Mahmudul Hasan Gunbi by a team of Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) on 6 July.

The banners say 'return the victims of enforced disappearance'
Prothom Alo

However, in a press briefing on 16 July, RAB claimed it arrested Mahmudul Hasan Gunbi, spiritual leader of banned militant organisation Ansar Al Islam, in the previous night from Dhaka. It was told that he was an accused in a case filed under anti-terrorism act for planning to carry out an attack at the Jatiya Sangsad (parliament).

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The Working Group has got information from different sources about violation of Declaration on the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance and Bangladesh’s hindering about implementing the declaration.

The report further said the Working Group raised the allegation to the authorities in Bangladesh at different times and wanted to visit Bangladesh but as of now it has not got any response from 12 March 2013, which is more disconcerting. The Working Group said it should be remembered that all of the allegations are involved with different law enforcement agencies. The allegation is that those agencies have time and again used and have been using enforced disappearance as a weapon targeting especially the political opposition and dissenters.

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The WGEID said according to information it gained from different sources, law enforcement agencies were involved with the enforced disappearance of around 600 people since 2009. The sources are sure that alongside Bangladesh, RAB that acts under the home ministry are actively involved with the incidents of enforced disappearance.

Relative of one of the victims delivers a speech
Prothom Alo

According to information the WGEID got, the incidents of violation of human rights soared before the elections in 2014 and 2018 as enforced disappearance is used as a weapon against the political opposition and any criticism.

The sources mentioned how surveillance (physical surveillance; phone tapping; identifying international mobile subscriber identity; using GPS-based social network monitoring system softwares; and tracking social media by tracking WiFi interceptors) is used for enforced disappearance as part of repression against the opposition. The surveillance has increased during the pandemic. Those who criticised the government for its handling the Covid-19 situation were also targeted.

The Working Group was also informed that the relatives of the victims of enforced disappearance were threatened so that no investigation is launched into the incidents. There are allegations that the families of the victims of enforced disappearance had to pay money on false promise of releasing them or their medical treatment.

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The sources also informed the UN Working Group that there are allegations the police officials decline to register any allegation of enforced disappearance or register it only when involvement of any law enforcement agencies are removed from the allegations. When the allegations are registered, final reports are submitted apparently without any investigation. Such is done even in cases where the court has directed to investigate the incidents.

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The role of police’s internal investigation and National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) and other related organisations were emphasised for finding the victims of enforced disappearance, investigate into the incidents and bringing the accused people under accountability. But there are allegations about the failure of these methods as well to redress the grievances.