Enforced disappearances and extrajudicial executions are on the rise amidst the political crisis in Bangladesh. At least nine people including two women have been disappeared, and seven men extrajudicially murdered between 5 January and 27 January 2015. Personnel from the Detective Branch (DB) of Police, the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), and the Joint Forces (which is comprised of Police, RAB, and the Border Guards Bangladesh officers) detained these sixteen citizens, resulting in their disappearance and extrajudicial execution.
The seven victims of extrajudicial execution remained disappeared for several days, in some cases weeks, before their corpses were discovered. The law-enforcement agencies on their part have cited “unidentified terrorists killed in gunfights” after these executions. Apart from the aforementioned nine, the Asian Human Rights Commission has learned that seven others, who were picked up by law enforcement personnel in January, and whose whereabouts remained undisclosed for several days, have been sent to prison in fabricated cases.
Among those who still remain disappeared are Mr. Al-Amin Kabir (35), Mrs. Beauty Begum (32), and Ms. Moushumi Begum (30). The Joint Forces picked up Beauty’s husband, Mr. Al-Amin Kabir, on 14 January from their family home at Chithli Dokkhinpara, Mithapukur Police Station, Rangpur District. An hour after Al-Amin’s arrest, local police picked up Beauty and Moushumi. Al-Amin was brutally tortured in public at the time of his arrest. The couple and the domestic helper’s whereabouts remain unknown.
About one week ago, Al-Amin’s two minor children and his mother Mrs. Matoara Begum went to the RAB camp in Rangpur City. The RAB officials formally denied the arrest and detention of Al-Amin, Beauty, and Moushumi. However, one officer asked the children to “Go home! Your parents are staying inside”. In the last two weeks, these three persons have not been produced before any Bangladesh court. Their relatives fear for their life and dignity.
Bangladesh’s law-enforcement agencies have the reputation of raping females in their custody. And, the law-enforcement agencies have been detaining female family members while they fail to trace a male family member. Female relatives of opposition activists are facing this pattern of detention in Bangladesh today. Such arbitrary detention of women and their disappearance has created extreme fear in society. The detained and disappeared women do not have any record of involvement in any crime, according to their relatives.
The incidents of disappearance and extrajudicial executions are taking place amidst strong defiance from ranking political and law-enforcement officials. On 25 January, the Director General of RAB, Benazir Ahmed, said that there is no extrajudicial killing in Bangladesh.
“Why arms have been given to the law-enforcement agencies? Is it [arms] to play Ha-Du-Du [Kabadi] or Dangguli [Tip-cat]? What to do with arms? It’s dangerous thing; it kills! The law-enforcement agencies and police are given arms to kill people. If there is any public safety problem arises, they [police] will fire. Then, what happens? Some people can definitely die! An organised group is trying to create disturbance in the country. We are trying to establish peace with the help of the people.”
The remarks of the RAB DG, who previously served in the UN Peacekeeping Mission in Bosnia and Kosovo, communicate a chilling message to the Bangladeshi people. Benazir not only trashes the rule of law framework but also argues that whoever possesses guns has the right to kill at will. Such attitudes, held by highest officers of the land, have made Bangladesh a place where extrajudicial executions have become common public vocabulary.
The spree of enforced disappearances and extrajudicial executions might well prove to be the ultimate undoing of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who holds the office of the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Ministry of Defence. It is she who holds command responsibility under international law. Bangladesh is a party to the Rome Statute. The government’s failure to stop extrajudicial executions and enforced disappearances will have ramifications, for those responsible for these crimes, in the near future.