Bangladesh: Government must investigate all cases of enforced disappearance, stop acts of retaliation, hold perpetrators accountable, and ensure the security of victims’ families



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Melbourne/ Hong Kong/ Manila/ Kuala Lumpur/ Bangkok/ Dhaka/ Geneva/ Paris/ Washington, D.C.; 25 May 2023: We, the undersigned organisations, are seriously concerned over the unabated enforced disappearances in Bangladesh amid the denial of access to justice for the victims. We also express our deep concern regarding the plight of the victims’ families, lack of accountability for such violations, and lack of due process and judicial safeguards to the victims and their families.

Enforced disappearances are a crime against humanity as defined in the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, to which Bangladesh is a party. Enforced disappearances undermine the rights to life, freedom of speech, freedom of thought and conscience, freedom of religion, and freedom of association. Enforced disappearances are a tool of state oppression. Victims of enforced disappearance are often tortured and fear for their lives at all times as they are placed outside the protection of the law. The families of the disappeared suffer immeasurable loss, not only psychologically as they endure the trauma of having to grieve without healing and closure, but also socio-culturally and economically.

The incumbent government of Bangladesh has systematically utilized law enforcement agencies and security forces to use enforced disappearance as a tool to suppress political opposition and silence dissent. Since the Awami League came to power in 2009, acts of enforced disappearance have become widespread, and such crimes continue to take place with blatant impunity. Regrettably no visible action has been taken by the government to cease this practice and hold perpetrators accountable.

Enforced disappearances continue to occur in the country despite a reduction in numbers since the US government imposed sanctions on the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) and seven of its former and current top officials for alleged gross human rights violations in December 2021. Harassment and intimidation by the government of family members of the disappeared victims continue despite repeated calls by United Nations (UN) human rights experts and international human rights organizations to immediately stop retaliation against the families of the disappeared victims and human rights defenders. Instead of taking steps towards accountability, the authorities have launched a campaign of threats and intimidation against families of victims of enforced disappearances and human rights defenders.

Odhikar documented 21 cases of enforced disappearance in 2022 and eight more cases in the first three months of 2023. Documented incidents show that recently disappeared individuals have been missing for shorter time periods before being produced by law enforcement officials, arrested, and charged with offenses, including charges of terrorism under the Anti-Terrorism Act, 2009.

The UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances (WGEID) has repeatedly urged the Bangladeshi