ALMOST all who attended a public hearing in Dhaka on Saturday had a story to tell about enforced disappearances. Victims who returned themselves and families of other victims, killed or still missing, narrated their harrowing tales and ordeals of how people were picked up, purportedly by law enforcement agencies or any other groups not clearly known, off the roads or from their houses never to be heard from again. How victims are tortured, how some of them survived, hit with bullets, and returned, how some were killed and how some could never return, leaving the families haunted not knowing if the victims are alive or dead featured prominently at the hearing that Mayer Dak, or mother’s call, a platform of the families of the victims of enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killing, held at the National Press Club. About 90 families and victims that faced torture or attacks during the two consecutive tenures of the Awami League-led government were there with their tales and their demand for independent investigations of the cases. Political dissenters, as New Age reported on Sunday, came to be worst victims and politicians have fallen victim to the odious practice irrespective of their ideologies.
Some of the victims said that they sought legal redress but that process, too, became too slow. While the people who made their tales public at the hearing criticised civil society actors for not being sympathetic towards the sufferings of hundreds of people who somehow came to be affected by enforced disappearances or extrajudicial killing, they all along with politicians, academics and rights activists put the spate of enforced disappearances down to impunity, coupled with political blessings, that the perpetrators enjoy. While many believe that the law enforcement and security agencies have been behind the incidents of enforced disappearances, which might not be entirely true though, the problem that remains is that the government is not sincere enough to respond to the call the victims and their family for independent investigations of the cases and this only lends credence to the popular perception about the perpetrators. But someone somewhere knows, or should know, what have been the cases of disappearances of such a huge number of people, their being found dead, returning alive or remaining untraced, and, on their return, remaining silent. The government should immediately look deeply into the cases of disappearances and resolve the mystery and tell people about it as any kind of ambiguity in these cases would ultimately consolidate the impunity for the people who are behind enforced disappearances. Such a failure of the state not to know what happens to people who go missing could pave the way for an increase in the number of enforced disappearances.
The government, under the circumstances, must institute independent investigations of the cases to deterrently stop the practice. The government should also think of enacting a law to criminalise enforced or involuntary disappearances and of setting up an independent tribunal to deal enforced disappearance cases with powers to investigate any individual or organisation suspected to be behind such crimes and take action against anyone engaged in such dangerous practice.
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