The Bangladesh Government should take urgent steps to confirm the whereabouts and the release of men held by its security authorities outside the authority of the courts, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a letter to Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on Saturday.
Enforced disappearances have emerged as a key and pressing concern in Bangladesh, particularly since the period leading up to the January 2014 national elections.
Over 80 cases of secret detentions and enforced disappearances were reported in 2017, with seven of them killed later in so-called “gunfights.”At least 17 of them are still missing.
“Secret detentions and disappearances have become a terrifying prospect for Bangladeshis, who fear that any criticism or political affiliation can lead to a knock on the door from the ‘administration,'” said Brad Adams, Asia director at HRW.
“As she nears the end of her third term in office, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina should intervene personally to help families who are desperately looking for answers, and establish an independent authority to investigate and resolve this widespread problem,” Adams added.
Some of these disappearances appear to be politically motivated, with several members of opposition parties or their relatives still missing. However, the government has promised repeatedly to investigate all allegations of human rights violations thoroughly and impartially. The issue was raised at the last United Nations Universal Periodic Review of the country’s human rights situation in April 2013. But reports of new cases still continue.
“During HRW investigations into disappearances, witnesses confirmed the involvement of law enforcement agencies. In some cases, security personnel who carried out the detentions said that they were from the administration. In other cases, family members and witnesses identified those responsible as members of the detective branch or the elite Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) of the police, or from the Directorate General of Forces Intelligence (DGFI) of the military,” the HRW letter said.
“Bangladesh should ratify the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearances soon”, it added.
“In addition to the establishment of an independent authority, the Bangladesh Government should invite relevant UN special mandate holders to conduct their own investigations. These teams should all be given free and unfettered access to all detention sites and access to all victims and their families,” Adams said.