Traumatic incidents of enforced disappearances must stop
Tears of the bereaved eloquently denote overwhelming grief of despair after normal death of a dear one. Memories of loved ones persist which is not easy to reconcile. Bodily pain can be allayed and toned down but not mental trauma of sadness following a near and dear one’s death. But the dear ones of those who had been victims of enforced disappearance suffer a severe psychological trauma. A mother’s love is unique, special and incomparable. A Hebrew proverb says, “God could not be everywhere and therefore he made mothers.” To the brokenhearted mother of a son disappeared more than three years ago — such as Saleha Begum, 65 — the agony is beyond comparison.
“Let me see my son before I die”, pleads the mother of a man missing for 3 years; and families undergoing similar ordeal gathered at the Jatiya Press Club to tell their pathetic experiences of anguish on 27 April 2019. “I am growing old. I am becoming sick… I want to see my son for one last time before I die.” The voice of Saleha Begum was cracking repeatedly as she sought to know the whereabouts of her son Moazzem Hossain Topu was allegedly picked up by plainclothes men from the capital’s Bashundhara area in 2016 when he was just 28.
“Already 1,186 days have passed. Shocked, his father died in a heart attack. I met the prime minister four times and the Home Minister 36 times. But there has been no progress,” said a frustrated Saleha. Between January 2009, when the Awami League government took office, and 2018, at least 507 people have fallen victims to enforced disappearance, according to the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH). Of them, 62 people were later found dead while 286 returned alive. The whereabouts of 159 is still unknown, the Paris-based rights body said.
Missing Michael Chakma’s sister Shuvadra Chakma, and his co-worker Monty Chakma, were in tears as they tried to speak during a discussion organised by the Committee for the Protection of Fundamental Rights at the Jatiya Press Club (JPC). Family members of 25 victims of enforced disappearances joined the programme.
In the first three months of this year (2019), at least 12 people simply vanished in telltale signs of enforced disappearance. The figure was 92 last year. Seeking answers, family members of 25 victims gathered at the JPC. The Committee for the Protection of Fundamental Rights organised the event.
Every unpunished murder takes away something from the security of every man’s life, so said a thinker. It was indeed consoling when a couple of years back the High Court (HC) took note of custodial death, and stressed in absolutely categorical terms that it would show zero tolerance to death in custody and warned that the government would face severe consequences for any recurrence of custodial deaths. Press report said, the court issued the warning during the hearing in a contempt of court proceedings drawn against the Chittagong Metropolitan Police commissioner for his failure to appear in court with a report on the death of a security guard in the custody of the Kotwali police, allegedly from torture.
Extrajudicial killings continued by the RAB and other law enforcement agencies despite a High Court order for the authorities concerned on December 14, 2009 not to kill any more people in ‘crossfire’ or ‘encounter’ until it hears the rule it issued suo moto on the government in this regard earlier. It is a common sight of a victim of custodial death: his lifeless body lies on the floor of a morgue with bloody discharge oozing from ear and festering wound from below the knees and other parts of the corpse. The usual scenario, asd per media reports, is like this: a person is picked up by lawmen and nothing more is heard about him.
Out in the Subcontinent, and for that matter what is now Bangladesh, the much despised British colonialists committed all brutalities under the sun, but ensured that arrested persons be tried and punished under due process of law — as was the case of Sher Ali, the assassin of Viceroy Lord Mayo, who was tried, found guilty and executed. It is advisable that the Awami League high command respects the rule of law and heeds the extrajudicial killing victims’ shrieks and wails of the bereaved members of their families.
The police, other law enforcement agencies and even the Home Minister cannot tell the whereabouts of 159 victims of alleged enforced disappearance. These wretched people are among over 500 persons who have disappeared from January 2009 and December 2018 about whom nothing is known where they are or whether they are still alive. “Sixty-eight have been found dead. And since January 2019, 12 people have vanished under circumstances that fit the description of enforced disappearance.” Of those that have returned, most have been found to have suffered from shock and selective amnesia— they can neither remember the circumstances of their abduction or of their release, or the period in the interregnum, said the Daily Star. This abhorrent phenomenon has continued concurrently with extrajudicial killings with extremely disconcerting regularity. Deplorably, these have seen incremental recurrences year on year over the last two decades, and very little has been done to arrest their increasing trend.
Regrettably, the accounts of the family members of the victims in almost all cases point to the agencies as being the perpetrators. Are there clandestine groups inside the country which whiskaway people from their homes or, as in some cases, from the road in broad daylight with complete impunity? If it is so, does it prove the efficiency of the law enforcing agencies? Set up 41 years ago, the Nobel Peace Prize winner international non-governmental organization Human Rights Watch (HRW) as well as other global rights bodies has repeatedly asked the government to adopt remedial measures.