‘People go missing in Bangladesh for three reasons’

UN high commissioner for human rights Michelle Bachelet and home minister Asaduzzaman Khan.
Prothom Alo

The government has told United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet that people go ‘missing’ in Bangladesh for three reasons.

Firstly, to escape punishment after getting involved in crimes committed against the state. Secondly, if someone incurs loss in business. And thirdly, for familial reasons.

Michelle Bachelet held a meeting with home minister Asaduzzaman Khan at the secretariat on Sunday afternoon. At the time, those three reasons were mentioned in a video presentation displayed on behalf of the ministry before her.

When asked, the home minister told Prothom Alo, “They raised questions on the issue of going ‘missing’. We clearly said, those who had committed crimes, fled away fearing to face trial.”

The minister also said the fact that law enforcement agencies are not spared either for committing crimes has also been highlighted in the video presentation. The UN high commissioner for human rights asked many questions regarding Chittagong Hill Tracts as well.

Ministry sources said Michelle Bachelet asked information on 76 victims of enforced disappearance. On behalf of the government it was said in the meeting that the list of 76 enforced disappearance victims, provided by the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances of the United Nations Human Rights Council includes the name of an Indian citizen.

The name is Sanaima Rajkuman. He was in Indian jail and got released on 9 November, 2019. Including this Indian citizen, 10 of the alleged enforced disappearance victims are in their homes. Among the other 66 people, police sought to help in locating 10 people but didn’t receive response from their relatives. Meanwhile, 28 of the remaining 56 have 1 to 13 cases filed against them. All of them are absconding. And, 28 left cases are being investigated.

Home ministry sources further said three video presentations were made before the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. The issues of attacks and cases filed against Awami League leaders and activists, common people and police during the regime of BNP-Jamaat coalition government were highlighted in those videos.

Alongside, the issue of Hefazat-e-Islam’s 2013 attack in Motijheel was presented there too. The data on people dying and going missing centering the gathering of Hefazat-e-Islam, presented by human rights organisation ‘Odhikar’ is incorrect, was also there in the video presentation.

The UN high commissioner for human rights has also been informed that law enforcing agencies have dug up the truth by challenging the missing people’s list provided by Odhikar.

The meeting sources said the UN Human Rights Council also asked about the reasons for not renewing human rights organisation Odhikar’s registration.

The home ministry said in this regard, there were various allegations against Odhikar including not disclosing information of foreign donations to the NGO bureau. The ministry said Odhikar didn’t apply for registration renewal.

In reply to questions about, if there are no incidents of enforced disappearance in the country, then why would the relatives demand to the government for the return of enforced disappearance victims year after year and why would the enforced disappearance day be observed, the home minister told newspersons at the secretariat in the afternoon that these are done with an ulterior motive.

Those, who observe these days, are well aware of the missing persons’ hideouts. If someone disappears on purpose, it takes quite a long time to find them out. If the law enforcement agencies detain someone, they present the person before the court within 24 hours, the home minister claimed.

However, human rights activists claimed the home minister’s statement on enforced disappearance to be false. ‘Mayer Daak’, an organisation of the relatives of enforced disappearance victims said the same as well.

Human rights activist Nur Khan said to Prothom Alo what the UN high commissioner for human rights has been told about enforced disappearances on behalf of the government is ludicrous. The government isn’t paying attention to the issue and trying to hide the truth in this way.

In about the last 15 years, more than 500 people have been the victims of enforced disappearance in the country, many of whom have returned.

However, some returned as dead. And the descriptions given by the ones returning alive, provide enough logical reasons to suspect that trained forces are involved in these incidents of enforced disappearance. In addition, from the accounts given by witnesses, present during people being picked up, makes it quite easy to understand who are involved in these occurrences, he added.

Human rights activist Nur Khan believes it is necessary for each and every incident of enforced disappearance to be investigated. He further said it is the duty of the state to review these incidents through the formation of a free investigation commission.

*This report appeared in the print and online edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten in English by Nourin Ahmed Monisha