Foreign minister AK Momen said that it was not the UN, but certain organisations of the UN that gave them a list. It was later seen that many of these listed people had drowned in the Mediterranean.

This was something new that the foreign minister had come up with. However, he hasn’t as yet said how many of those claimed to be victims of enforced disappearance have been discovered among those who drowned at sea. No one of Mayer Dak has managed to find out whose sons, husbands or brothers the government has located. For the last few years they have been pleading to know whether their loved ones were dead or alive. We haven’t heard the UN Human Rights Commission or its expert teams getting any such information in reply to their questions. So can we not justifiably ask when this information will be made public?

Was there not been a sneer in the foreign minister’s tone towards the UN Human Rights Commission and its expert team when he made this dramatic claim? Why is he reluctant to reply to the questions posed by what he refers to as “certain organisations of the UN”? Even last December the report of the working group on enforced disappearances said other than of one incident in Bangladesh back in 1996, they have not received an answer to any of their queries.

The day that the statement protesting against the comments of the foreign minister appeared in the newspapers, news came in that two bodies of the seven Bangladeshis who had died of cold in the Mediterranean, would be arriving in the country next week. The vessels which had capsized killing those seven, had 287 passengers, 273 of whom were Bangladeshi. If the foreign minister has information about those on the list of enforced disappearance being among those in this recent accident, let that be made public too.

Will the foreign minister apologise to the grieving families if the names of those on the human rights organisations’ list of enforced disappearances, who the government maintains have died in the Mediterranean, are not published? Not only are his comments painful to the families of enforced disappearance victims, but also painful to the migrants crossing the oceans in search of livelihood. None of these persons who died in the Mediterranean were there for fun or any luxury cruise. As the government’s vision and strategy of development failed to provide them with a means of living, they left their home and families in search of work. What effective action has the government taken to prevent its citizens to embark on this perilous route across the Mediterranean?

Three European news agencies, France Medias Monde, Deutsche Welle and the Italian press agency ANSA, in a recently published joint report, said last year 8667 Bangladeshis entered Europe though illegal means. Quoting the European border agency Frontex, the report said that 7574 of them went to Europe across the central Mediterranean route and 604 across the eastern Mediterranean route. Another 437 entered though the Balkan region. All of them favoured Italy as their destination and each paid about 4000 to 6000 euro for the migration journey. It is the government’s responsibility to search for every Bangladeshi lost in the Mediterranean and even if the bodies are not found, to publish their identity and last location. It is totally unacceptable to use them politically to create excuses and cover up the enforced disappearances, rather than to make an effort to identify them.

In order to prove his point, the foreign minister used the example of Haris Chowdhury, the BNP leader fugitive in the 21 August grenade attack case, whose daughter reported his death. But the fact is that no one had claimed that Haris Chowdhury was a victim of enforced disappearance. Referring to Bangladesh not being invited to President Biden’s democracy summit last December, he said that the US had invited relatively weaker democracies to attend the summit and that was why Bangladesh was not on the list of invitees. I had written at the time how impressed we were at his creativity! But now I must say, he has managed to master the technique of Donald Trump, the former president of the country in which he lived for almost three decades, of adroitly creating alternative truth.

Home minister Asaduzzaman Khan, as before, said that, “We always maintain that our security forces are not involved in enforced disappearances. Whenever anyone disappears, we soon find him in the same spot. They go onto hiding for various reasons and this is passed off as enforced disappearance. There is no enforced disappearance in Bangladesh.” The home minister’s words are nothing but a repetition of what the government has been churning out for the past decade or so.

This controversy and criticism would come to an end if the home minister published a list of how many of the 86 persons, appearing on the Human Rights Watch 2019 list of enforced disappearances, had been found, when they had been found and where. The question is, when he claims that they find the persons who have disappeared within a short time, they why isn’t the identity of these persons officially published?

Many senior persons in the government claim that there is no such thing as enforced disappearance in Bangladesh. They perhaps take this stand as Bangladesh has not as yet ratified the UN Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance. But even if it has not signed this convention, it is not easy to conceal human rights violations from the rest of the world and that can never be acceptable. We must also keep in mind that the convention also mentions protection of the relations of the enforced disappearance victims or the complainant individuals or organisations, against threats and harassment. The violation of this too will do further damage to the image of the country.

* 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

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