While he said that the discussions with the US were confidential, it is not difficult to discern that the ways of Washington are not easy to understand and there is plenty of ambiguity. Everyone certainly recalls the US withdrawal of GSP facilities from our export products. Nine years ago we were given glimmers of hope every few days that the GSP facilities would be restored, but that never came about and we had to give up hope of it ever coming about. BGMEA could tell us what huge amounts of dollars were paid to lobbyists to get GSP back. The US could not be appeased even after complying to their demands and following the directives of two foreign platforms, Accord and Alliance, to restructure the garment factories and reform their the safety systems. They maintain that the issue of workers’ rights remains unresolved.
If the law enforcement agencies do not halt crimes of human rights violations, will the allegations against them end?
The topic of my discussion is actually a different part of the state minister’s statement, where he said that the allegations against RAB, of repressing and oppressing the opposition, are not true because many of the persons who have been killed are Awami League activists and supporters. He said that the Teknaf councilor who was allegedly a victim of extrajudicial killing, had been an Awami League man. During the anti-narcotics drive, many persons at different levels of Awami League leadership or workers involved with the organisation, had been killed. The US sanctions against RAB had made mention of the killing of the Teknaf councilor Ekramul, as an instance of human rights violations. It is alarming that attempts are being made to justify this killing as being part of an anti-narcotics drive, rather than disclosing what is being done to investigate this allegation.
Other than councilor Ekramul, he said that many of those who were killed by RAB were Awami League men at different levels in the organisation and lost their lives during the drive against drugs. What was he trying to prove here? His party is undoubtedly a huge one, but do they have no control whatsoever over their party leaders and activists? Were these men all suspects in the drug trade that they took up an undeclared policy to kill them without trial?
Has the state minister read the Human Rights Watch report? In their report, Decade of Disappearances, they listed the names and details of 86 persons along with evidence and eye-witness accounts. At least 10 persons on that list were identified as Awami League members. It is clear that while the allegations of enforced disappearances and killing were linked to suppressing the opposition, they did not restrict the matter of human rights violations to them alone, but made mention of leaders and activists of the ruling party too.
The foreign ministry’s active dissection of human rights violations is nothing new. Shahriar Alam was present along with the law minister at the meeting of the UN Committee against Torture held on the last two days of July 2019, where the state of human rights in Bangladesh came under review. I suddenly found out that I so happened to be staying in the same hotel as the state minister. That was the first time that I met him. At the meeting, the committee vice chairman Ms F Gaer mentioned the sound heard by Ekramul’s family over mobile phone of him being killed after being taken into custody in Cox’s Bazar. Surely the state minister has not forgotten that. In 2017 the UN Human Rights Council’s committee on enforced disappearance had asked about the allegations against RAB. No answers were yielded to that query at the 2019 meeting.
When the committee members persisted in their questions about the allegations of torture leveled against members of the law enforcement, law minister Anisul Haque spoke of the Narayanganj seven murder case trial. He mentioned that one of the accused in the case was the son-in-law of a former minister and that the death sentences in this case proved how committed the government was in such matters. His explanation did not satisfy the committee members. They wanted to know why no initiative was taken for an independent civil inquiry. The 126th meeting of the UN Human Rights Council’s working group on enforced disappearances to be held next week, will discuss various allegations of enforced disappearances in 24 countries, including Bangladesh. The papers prepared by the committee indicate they are to bring up 76 allegations of enforced disappearance in Bangladesh.
According to media reports, the foreign ministry has formed a special cell headed by a director general to look into the issue of human rights. The question is, if there is no independent, transparent and credible inquiry and trial of these allegations, what explanation will this cell present? If the law enforcement agencies do not halt crimes of human rights violations, will the allegations against them end? It is only natural that they are being accused of harassing and coercing the families of the victims of disappearance, now that they have been approaching them afresh from information after so long.
This is actually the task of the home ministry and the law ministry. Legal steps to form an independent inquiry commission depends on them. But they are either simply not bothered, or they do not have the ability to take effective measures. Diplomatic language is invariably ambiguous. It is never warranted that so much time and money be spent on misguided strategies due to such ambiguity.
* Kamal Ahmed is a senior journalist.
* This column appeared in the print and online edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten for the English edition by Ayesha Kabir