THE call that victims and families of the victims of enforced disappearance, extrajudicial killing and custodial torture put at a programme in front of the National Press Club in Dhaka on Tuesday seeking an end to such crimes is a point to ponder. The programme, attended by about 30 victims and their families banded under a platform called Mayer Dak, or mother’s call, is a reminder that such crimes against humanity continue apace, without the authorities concerned making any significant move to stop the incidents. Mid-November media reports show that 273 people, suspected of being involved in trading in narcotics, were killed in the drive against drug substances that began in the middle of May. The victims are reported to have died either in gangland infighting or in ‘gunfight’ with the law enforcement agencies. While the law enforcers prefer to cloak the incidents in narratives that people these days hardly buy into as the way the victims are killed raises question about the veracity of the narratives. Early October reports also show that the number of victims of enforced disappearances doubled in September, with 30 going missing, compared with 28 who went missing in January–August.
The Asian Legal Resource Centre in its report, submitted to the UN Human Rights Council in view of its September session, says that 432 people fell victim to enforced disappearances between January 2009 and July 2018. The report also says that a fourth of the victims, reported to have been picked up by personnel of various security and law enforcement agencies, land in police custody long after they went missing while others remain traceless. The luckiest of the victims landing in jail could walk out of confinement but they all maintained an eerie silence about the incidents. The police at the same time are reported to be reluctant at recording any case about the involuntary disappearances. And even if the police do record cases, they almost never roll down to investigation as the police, till then, are reported to have investigated only one such case in the preceding 10 years. The victims, rights defenders and legal experts all put the spate of enforced disappearance down to impunity, coupled with political blessings, that the perpetrators enjoy. The narratives of incidents of both extrajudicial killing and enforced disappearances in almost all the cases being similar and the reported presence of law enforcers, in uniforms and in plain clothes, in many of them have lent credence to the popular perception of the involvement of law enforcement agencies in the incidents.
The government showing unwillingness to resolve the issues only tends to consolidate the public opinion about the perpetrators. The government must resolve the mystery of enforced disappearances, set right the incidents of extrajudicial killing and end torture in custody. All these incidents harm the rule of law and hamper justice dispensation. The government must set about independent investigation of each of the cases of enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killing, preferably by setting up a judicial commission, to deterrently stop the practice. Political parties contesting the next general elections should also have the agenda to criminalise enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killing.
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