Bangladesh should support UN's offer of independent commission: HRW
Bangladesh authorities should accept the UN's offer to support an independent commission of inquiry into enforced disappearances, Human Rights Watch said yesterday, on the eve of today's International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances.
In an article posted on the its website, HRW said the authorities repeatedly deny that Bangladesh security forces have committed enforced disappearances, and repeat claims that those missing are in hiding.
According to Bangladeshi human rights monitors, security forces have committed over 600 enforced disappearances since 2009. While some people were later released, produced in court, or said to have died during an armed exchange with security forces, nearly 100 people remain missing, HRW said.
The government has refused to take up the offer from the United Nations to help establish a specialised mechanism to investigate allegations of enforced disappearances in line with international standards, the article said.
"Bangladesh authorities are fooling nobody by continuing to deny the reality of enforced disappearances, and instead are prolonging the suffering of families who are desperate to know the whereabouts of their loved ones," said Julia Bleckner, senior Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch.
"The government should show genuine commitment to addressing abuses by cooperating with the UN to open an independent commission of inquiry into enforced disappearances," she said.
"I can't express how painful it's for me to wait every moment with the hope that one day my father will come to me and I will embrace him as others do," the HRW article quoted 12-year-old Adiba Islam Ridhe as saying at a recent demonstration. "But it has been 10 years and there is no end to my waiting."
Her father, Parvez Hossain, an activist with the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party was forcibly disappeared on December 2, 2013, when Adiba was 2, HRW said.
As with dozens of others, Hossain's whereabouts remain unknown, the article added.
On December 10, 2021, the US government designated Global Magnitsky human rights sanctions against Bangladesh's Rapid Action Battalion and top commanders implicated in abuses, particularly enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings.Yet, instead of independently and transparently investigating allegations of enforced disappearances, Bangladesh authorities harass and intimidate victims' families, it said.
Families say that authorities repeatedly interrogate them about the whereabouts of their relatives despite missing person complaints lodged with the police.
Officials threaten and pressure families to withdraw or revise their police reports to remove any evidence implicating security forces in the disappearance, the report said.
Families also reported authorities showing up at their homes and forcing them to sign false statements that their family member was not forcibly disappeared and that they had intentionally misled the police.
HRW also said that ruling party supporters and authorities obstruct diplomats from meeting with victims' families.
The article cited the example of US Ambassador Peter Haas, in December last year, ending a meeting with victims' families due to security concerns when ruling party supporters tried to force their way in.
Government authorities responded by defending the ruling party supporters and suggesting that the ambassador should not have held the meeting, the report said.
"The government has repeatedly ignored calls by donor governments, the UN, human rights organisations, and civil society to meaningfully address enforced disappearances by its security forces," HRW said.
Bangladesh is party to all core UN human rights treaties except for the treaty on enforced disappearances. During her visit in August 2022, the then UN high commissioner for human rights, Michelle Bachelet, urged the Bangladesh government to accede to the convention and invite the UN Working Group on Enforced Disappearances to visit Bangladesh to "show a commitment to decisively address this issue".
"If the Bangladesh government is serious about lifting the human rights sanctions placed on its abusive forces, it should take concrete steps toward accountability," Bleckner said. "Accountability starts with admitting that enforced disappearances are taking place and transparently and independently investigating allegations."