Webinar Report on “Where are They? Enforced Disappearances in Bangladesh”

25 March 2022
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Enforced Disappearance has become widespread in Bangladesh over the last decade. There were instances where involvement of state agency was found to be   the cause of such incidents. Understanding the terrible outcome of this human rights violation, Centre for Governance Studies has conducted a research study where it analyzed the cases of Enforced Disappearances took place between January, 2019 to December, 2021. In order to highlight this findings of the study, the Center for Governance Studies organized a webinar, titled “Where are They? Enforced Disappearances in Bangladesh"; on upcoming Monday 21st March, 2022 at 10.00 A.M. 

The keynote was on a study conducted by the Centre for Governance Studies where the principal investigator was Professor Dr. Ali Riaz, Distinguished Professor of political science at Illinois State University, USA, and a member of the Centre for Governance Studies advisory board. Other participants of the webinar included Dr. Badiul Alam Majumdar, Secretary, Citizens for Good Governance, Advocate Syeda Rizwana Hasan, Chief Executive, Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association (BELA), Dr. Asif Nazrul, Professor of Law, University of Dhaka, Md. Nur Khan, Secretary-General, Ain o Salish Kendra (ASK).

The program was moderated by CGS Executive Director, Zillur Rahman.

Dr. Ali Riaz gave the keynote presentation during the webinar. In his presentation, he cited various facts and figures uncovered in the research conducted by CGS, where there is proof that the government has at various times either tried to deny or justify the acts of enforced disappearance in Bangladesh. He also demonstrated that enforced disappearance is not new in Bangladesh, with case history dating back to 1972. “Various national and international human rights organizations have complained for more than a decade on issues regarding enforced disappearance but there is a culture of denial within the current government,” he added. 

The allegations of enforced disappearances have been documented by different national and international human rights groups for more than a decade. The US sanction and renewed call from the United Nations Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances added urgency to explore the nature and scope of these alleged incidents, he explained.

According to Dr. Riaz, enforced disappearance has three elements; depriving the person of freedom against his will; the involvement of public officials, at least with their knowledge; to denial or concealing the freedom of the person who has disappeared. While talking about the historical background of enforced disappearances in Bangladesh, he said, between 1972 and 1975, during the Awami League regime, there were cases of disappearances and deaths of activists of the opposition parties, especially the Jatiya Samatantrik Dal (JSD). He also briefly touched on the issue,  during the reign of the army, especially during the rule of General Ziaur Rahman (1975-1981), many became allegedly untraceable after various failed coups. Many people have gone missing since the start of the army operation in the Chattogram Hill Tracts in 1977 and the intensification of the activities of the insurgent group called the Shanti Bahini.

While demonstrating data from different human rights organizations, he said, Enforced Disappearance didn’t become systematic, regular, and widespread until 2010. The number has increased over time, the scope of incidents has expanded and citizens of various walks of life have become victims, he also pointed out. According to the professor enforced disappearances shouldn’t be judged by numbers only; each disappearance incident pushes one’s family towards an uncertain future. 

Dr. Ali Riaz concluded by giving recommendations on how to alleviate the matter. He suggested ensuring proper investigation into every enforced disappearance incident. Additionally, he proposed to constitute an investigation team with the government personnel and representatives of national, international human rights organizations, and civil society in this regard. He urged the government to sign the 1992 Convention on the Protection of all Persons from Enforced Disappearances. The professor also emphasized amending the law relating to law enforcement agencies and reconstitute the National Human Rights Commission, comprising representatives of human rights organizations, journalists, and the legal profession. 

Badiul Alam Majumdar stated that Enforced disappearances in Bangladesh are being carried out on purpose for political reasons. The government would be able to maintain unilateral elections by instilling terror in its citizens. Human rights violations, like disappearances and extrajudicial killings, he said, are occurring. He went on to say that one of the causes for the rise in the number of disappearances in the nation is a lack of quality governance. Corruption is widespread throughout the country yet again. Politicians and government officials are utilizing law enforcement to enforce disappearance as a cloak for business interests to hide personal corruption and ambitions. 

Advocate Syeda Rizwana Hasan stated that in our nation, the vanishing process is entirely political. "It's a strategy for maintaining power by instilling fear in the public," she explained. She furthermore said that the government had maintained power by denying elections by suppressing anti-people sentiments through disappearances. The government is blatantly abusing law enforcement for its gain. As a result, the general public connection with law enforcement is worsening. The protector is becoming the eater, as she indicated, and according to the constitution, where the people are the source of all power, rendering the people helpless will not be beneficial for the country's future. She hopes that law enforcement organizations would become more people-friendly by putting an end to human rights violations like abductions.

Regarding the research paper presented, Dr. Asif Nazrul, stated that as the number of such incidents escalated before the election, the pre-election and post-election conditions may be investigated by extending the study's duration. He also suggested going for a more in-depth analysis of the current research. He said that despite internal and international pressure, the number of disappearances has not declined in recent years. On the contrary, since the US sanctions, the number of disappearances has decreased dramatically. He said that because the government did not care about the people, the effects were much more severe. On the contrary, as a result of the US embargo, the government has decreased the number of disappearances to the danger of personal damage. He backed the US Alliance for Democracy but stressed the importance of keeping some independence. 

Md. Nur Khan stated that the decrease in disappearances does not indicate the end of the problem. The pattern of disappearances, he claims, is pretty evident. During the election, there was an area-based vanishing competition even before 2019. Out of terror, the majority of individuals who have returned following their abduction refuse to open their mouths. He claims that just a few people have spoken since their return and that their descriptions suggest that the nation has hidden prisons where people are held in hiding. He went on to say that the kidnappings were not only carried out by people dressed in white, but also by police enforcement officers. Even though there is sufficient proof, including CCTV footage of these occurrences, the responsible authorities denied it after the incident. He believes that unless everyone speaks up now about this issue, similar terrible incidences will continue to occur in the future. In light of the upcoming elections, he predicted that occurrences such as abductions and extrajudicial killings will escalate as a result of the emergence of militants at this time. In this sense, he asked everyone to be cautious.

Full Webinar Link (YouTube): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jFckEQ0o7lA&t=141s