INT’L DAY OF VICTIMS OF ENFORCED DISAPPEARANCES: Deliverance from enforced disappearances

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Enforced disappearance has become an issue of concern for the citizens of Bangladesh. The Narayanganj incident was a watershed in this regard. It took place in broad daylight with the perpetrators donning their uniforms and using official vehicles. All their attempts to hide the facts failed. The River Sitalakkhya refused to be compliant in the act and revealed the truth to the world. Earlier on November 4, 2013, a group of eight people were forcibly disappeared from the Shahinbagh area of the capital city, again in broad daylight. Members of their families are convinced that members of what is officially acknowledged as the elite force — the Rapid Action Battalion — picked them up. While the families of victims of the Narayanganj incident were able to secure the remains of their loved ones that brought about a degree of solace in their mourning, families of the people involuntarily disappeared from Shahinbagh are still counting their days for the return of the victims. The Narayanganj incident was the culmination of a series of involuntary disappearances that people of various walks of life were subjected to in different parts of the country. Over the years, the rights organisation Odhikar has persevered in documenting individual cases of enforced disappearances. In recent months a number of public discussions organised by Odhikar and Maulik Odhikar Surakkha Committee (the committee to protect fundamental rights) as well as by the victim families have brought the issue of enforced disappearances in the public domain. The cases gathered present an eerie pattern. In most instances, groups of people claiming to be members of the law enforcement agencies picked up the victims without producing any warrant. In some cases, they wore uniforms of the law enforcement agencies; in others, they came in civilian clothes. Often they used white vans (microbus) or motorcycles without number plates, in a few instances with vehicles clearly marked of a particular state agency. In almost all cases, members of the families and their neighbours claimed that they had little doubt that those who took away the victims belonged to the state agencies. Those picked up were taken to destinations unknown to the families. When close relatives approached the local police stations and RAB offices, the agencies denied their involvement. The victims names did not appear in the list of detainees. In many instances the police stations refused to entertain cases that relatives wanted to lodge. Barring the Narayanganj case that stirred massive public furore of the locals, including the outraged legal fraternity inviting the High Court’s directive, little progress has been made in investigation in all other instances. In most cases, the victim families and their lawyers were dissatisfied with the investigation process and suffered from physical insecurity and intimidation from the powerful quarters. In some cases, where bodies of the victims were recovered, there were marks of grievous injury including bullet wounds. Buoyed by the impunity granted by the state, these acts of those responsible reflected the arrogance and contempt for due process of the law and accountability of state institutions. They made a mockery of the prevailing criminal justice system. Although disappearances as a phenomenon is generally tied to military dictatorships, the civil wars in Sri Lanka and the so-called counter-insurgency operations in Kashmir and north-eastern states of India have been accompanied by such dastardly acts of the respective armies and para-military forces. It is noteworthy that without having to endure a military dictatorship or a civil strife of any kind, the people of Bangladesh are confronted with the grotesque reality of disappearances. Their problem gets further compounded as those at the helm refuse to take cognisance of the reality of enforced disappearance. The insensitivity of the rulers to disappearance is no better reflected when they refused to take any visible action following reports in a reputed Bangla daily newspaper of bodies being found by fishermen in the River Meghna, some with bullet holes in the heads. Under such conditions of comprehensive impunity, the perpetrators not only go scot-free, they are encouraged to continue with such monstrous acts. It is in this context of state reticence to acknowledge and take steps, this article argues for a united people’s action against disappearance and extrajudicial killings. There is quite a bit of evidence of state complicity in involuntary disappearance; examples are plenty in at least condoning and abetting it. The refusal of the law enforcement agencies to take cases, in instances when they do, to investigate those lodged, their reluctance to identify, apprehend and prosecute the perpetrators and in some instances, propagating unfounded and damaging information about the victim, all make a strong case to establish state complicity. The failure to investigate and take action against the errant members of the forces by their superiors as well as those in positions of authority should also be deemed as abetment. It is the duty of all conscientious citizens to voice their concern about the state’s connivance in enforced disappearance. Time has come to demand national legislation that criminalises enforced disappearances. Demands should also be made to sign and ratify the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance. Today (August 30) has been dedicated by the United Nations as the Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearance. To commemorate it, a convention of the victim families against involuntary disappearance has been organised at the National Press Club by the Maulik Odhikar Surakkha Committee. Let this convention be the foundation of a broader movement to establish rights of those disappeared and members of their families including securing justice to ensure that perpetrators are punished. May it also be the occasion for those at the helm of various law enforcement agencies and the state to reflect and ponder whether the time has come to frame a fresh approach, one that adheres to the true spirit of the war of national liberation; that of upholding human dignity.

 

 

Source: New Age