"Law enforcement agencies are run with taxpayers' money. Why won't they be answerable to us? Why won't there be any accountability?"
Sanjida Islam raised these questions during a conference at the Jatiya Press Club auditorium, where about 100 families of victims gathered to observe the UN's International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances yesterday.
"If the Rab can find out an infant, why can't they find our children?" asked Ruhul Amin, referring to the elite force's drive to rescue a baby stolen from Dhaka Medical College Hospital on August 21.
Sanjida's brother Sajedul Islam Suman and Ruhul's son MA Adnan, both BNP activists, are among the eight youths picked up by the Rab from different parts of the capital on the night of December 4 last year.
They are still missing.
"What is the meaning of the independence that we won at the expense of a lot of blood?" asked Kazi Abdul Matin, a freedom fighter whose son Kazi Rakibul Hasan Shaon is another disappearance victim.
Shaon, a Jubo League leader, was allegedly detained by Rab-11 in Comilla on March 29 along with six other ruling party activists. He is still without trace, though the other six were handed over to Comilla Kotwali Police Station later that day and their pictures were published in a local daily the following day.
"The minister told me there were no cases against my son,” said Matin, who is also an ex-military man, referring to a meeting with the state minister for home. “Then why was he detained by Rab?”
Some 24 speakers at the programme, organised by the rights platform Moulik Adhikar Surokkhya Committee, recounted how their closed ones were allegedly abducted and sometimes killed by law enforcers.
Most of the families complained of harassment and non-cooperation by police and Rab when they tried to trace the missing ones and file general diaries or cases against law enforcers.
Mehedi Hasan, younger brother of Shahnoor Alam, who was allegedly picked up in Comilla on April 29, has been getting threats for trying to file a case.
"They called me the day before yesterday and said my family members and I would be killed if I didn't stop trying to file a case against Rab."
Mehedi added that police and a lower court judge also created barriers to filing the case and the family had to seek the High Court's intervention.
Shahnoor reportedly died of torture in Rab-14 custody on May 6.
The family of Tushar Islam Tipu doesn't even know what has happened to him -- if he is dead or alive.
His sister Nazma Parvin showed a letter which asked the authorities concerned to take legal action against five Rab members, after it was proved that Tipu had been detained by them on July 22, 2008.
The letter was issued by the home ministry on November 2012.
"But we still do not know the whereabouts of my brother. If they have killed him, they should at least return the body," she said. The family also does not know if any action was taken against the Rab men yet.
Eminent jurist Kamal Hossain demanded that all probe reports on enforced disappearances be published.
"It is not a matter of BNP or AL. No one can gain politically through this," he said, adding that killings and enforced disappearances were the diseases that afflicted the law enforcement agencies as well as the legal system.
Terming the Rab a Frankenstein, jurist Shahdeen Malik, who chaired the programme, warned that the government and senior politicians too might fall prey to it.
"If we do not get justice in this country, we will go to international courts if needed," he said.
According to the rights body Ain o Salish Kendra, as many as 229 people allegedly fell victim to forced disappearances from 2010 to 2013.
And between January and June this year, 74 people were picked up, 16 of them traced and 23 bodies found.
The fate of the rest is unknown.