THE Asian Legal Resources Centre report, which it submitted to the UN Human Rights Council in view of its 39th session in September 10–28 in Switzerland, comes with concerns, for Bangladesh and its citizens, as the report says that at least 432 people fell victims to enforced disappearances between January 2009 and July 2018. The report says that a fourth of the people, reported to have been picked up by personnel of various security and law enforcement forces, long after they had gone missing, landed in police custody and framed in cases. The luckiest of them who could walk out of confinement or jail maintain an eerie silence about the incidents. The police are reported to be reluctant at recording any case about the incidents of involuntary disappearance. If the police do record cases, they almost never roll into investigation as the police are reported to have investigated only one case of involuntary disappearance in the past 10 years. This is worrying as the way the incidents of enforced disappearance evolve suggests, largely and in most of the cases, the hand of state actors behind them although there could be cases, especially in the absence of the government’s political will to look into the incidents seriously, where non-state actors could be involved.
While all such incidents — with state actors, mostly, and non-state actors, in a probable few cases, playing behind — constitute an affront to the rule of law and a breach of laws and the constitution, they also expose citizens to a fearful situation as anybody, personnel of law enforcement and security agencies or private individuals impersonating as law enforcement and security officials, could pick up any citizen. The government as the manager of the state appears hardly serious about legal redress in such cases, which further lends credence to the public perception that state actors are behind most of such incidents. Such a huge number of people going missing also casts shadows on law enforcement. This all, in turn, tarnishes the image of Bangladesh, as a state, to the community of states. The government should immediately look deeply into the cases of involuntary disappearance and resolve the mystery as its inaction only consolidates an impunity that breeds further such incidents. It should stop the incidents by making a law to set up an independent tribunal to deal with the cases of involuntary disappearance with powers to investigate any individual or organisation suspected to be behind the crimes and take action against anyone engaged in such dangerous practice. Any government in action in this connection would plunge the nation into lawlessness.
The government, under the circumstances, must step back from, and stop, the incidents of involuntary disappearances, whether by state or non-state actors. It must also find out the people who have so far been missing in such incidents and hold to justice anyone found to be engaged in the crime of enforced disappearances. The government must resort to legal means to criminalise and sustainably stop enforced disappearances. The government needs to do it, at any cost, to protect the citizens.
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