Bangladesh

Authorities owe answers for ongoing abductions and secret killings

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The incident of abductions of persons followed by secret killings in Bangladesh has been a matter of serious concern for everyone. People having different backgrounds, including lawyers, university students, small businessmen and pro-opposition political activists, are being abducted by plain-clothed armed men from the streets, market places and even from their respective offices or homes. In almost all cases the abductors claim to be the agents of the country's law-enforcement agencies and security forces although their identification is always impossible in the given context. After a period of time ranging from a few days to weeks dead bodies are found at different locations posing further burdens on the relatives to identify as to whether any of the bodies belong to their missing loved ones. Several others still remain disappeared in the midst of either denial or silence and inaction of the relevant authorities of the country.

In a democracy, the government has the undeniable obligation to ensure the protection of the people who are living in its territory regardless of their political or even national identity. Particularly, the Constitution of Bangladesh enshrines the safeguard of the right to life and liberty of everyone with a guarantee of having equal protection of law.

Bangladesh, as a long-standing member of the Human Rights Council of the United Nations and also a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), has a further obligation to protect its own people within the country, on the one hand and explain before the international community the reasons the authorities have for failing to fulfil their fundamental responsibilities of protecting the citizens and what measures have been initiated to stop the recurrence of the deprivation of human life through another or several other methods, on the other.

In reality, the authorities of Bangladesh, including the top ranking officials of the law-enforcing agencies and security forces and the persons having powerful political portfolios constantly blame either the 'criminal gangs' or the 'opposition political parties' for the ongoing abductions and secret killings in the country. The authorities appear to believe that simply by denying, and, or, remaining silent about the abduction and killing they are fulfilling their duties. This is a frustratingly wrong position and, indeed, highly regrettable.

As a matter of fact, no one can deny that the members of the law-enforcing agencies regularly arrest people without asserting reasonable grounds for the arrest and producing a warrant of arrest before making the arrest. They do not show any valid legal document at the time of arrest and in many cases this may be considered as abduction. As long as the State agents continue to arrest people without a proper warrant of arrest, and without giving a proper explanation to the arrestees or their relatives at the time of arrest followed by immediate access to the lawyers of their choice it opens the way for 'criminal gangs' or non-state actors to use the same technique.

The government has a fundamental obligation to address the problem instead of blaming others or maintaining silence that ultimately indicates the impaired capacity of the government itself. The government of Bangladesh, if it is not a mere worthless political entity, must respond to the questions of the people regarding the ongoing incidents of abductions followed by secret killings immediately, and nobody wants repetitions of rhetorical statements as an answer.

As an urgent priority, the government should take strongest possible measures for stopping the law-enforcing agencies arresting persons without a warrant of arrest to an extent that the people in general fully believe that the Police or the Rapid Action Battalion never arrest or abduct in plain cloths without reasonable grounds. Once such belief is established in the minds of the public, by pushing the police and other State agencies to abide by the law of the land strictly, none will dare to copy similar methods in future. With equal importance to the above, all the incidents of abduction and secret killing deserve immediate investigation, preferably by competent judicial officials as the police and RAB have already lost credibility for their constant actions beyond the purview of the law, which will help the nation to learn the truth regarding the crimes. The investigation reports should not be shelved, as it usually happens in Bangladesh, for the very sake of transparency and accountability of the authorities to their taxpayers. And, of course, the perpetrators must be prosecuted through a fair trial system.

The AHRC urges the civil society of Bangladesh to increase pressures on the governmental authorities for addressing the problems related to the incidents of abduction and secret killings as an urgent priority. All that is needed in Bangladesh is to compel the governmental authorities to act within the framework of the basic notion of establishing justice to the people in general.

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Asian Human Rights Commission
About AHRC: The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organisation monitoring and lobbying human rights issues in Asia. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984