The UN report listing “victims of enforced disappearances” in Bangladesh is replete with inaccuracies, with the leading academics and right activists raising questions over the shoddy job. The fact that two separatist insurgents, both back in India, figured in the UN list says a lot about the report.
Dismayed over such “sloppy” work, experts in Bangladesh have raised questions over the global body’s over-reliance on some local non-government organisations (NGOs), who are close to or even run by the Opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) workers. The BNP, for its part, has a blatant record of faking cases of human rights as validated through media reports and accounts from the country’s known rights activists.
Bangladesh’s best known rights activist and lawyer Sultana Kamal said in an interview that the “BNP has a history of faking cases of human rights”, and called for “legal action against the party”.
“The fake human rights abuse cases by the BNP has already damaged their image significantly”, said Sultana Kamal in an interview with India Today.
Meanwhile, the sensational case of the re-appearance of an aged woman, Rahima Begum, has also raised doubts about the UN report. Rahima Begum went into hiding on August 27 and was later found by police on September 24. This case brings into question the authenticity of claims about enforced disappearances made by some Bangladesh rights groups whose findings seem to influence the UN Working Group’s report and the action of some foreign governments.
Moriom Mannan, daughter of Rahima, first identified the picture of a dead body as that of her mother before the media. When Moriom was contacted by the police, she again identified her as her mother.”The whole concept of evidence seeking has been opened to question,” said a lawyer, Shahnaz Parvin Dolly.
Professor Imtiaz Ahmed, who teaches international relations at Dhaka University, says the fake disappearance cases actually tend to discredit the entire rights issue scenario in Bangladesh.
“After including fake cases in their list, the entire UN report is called into question. And the groups who are responsible are actually damaging the cause of human rights in Bangladesh, “Prof Imtiaz Ahmed said in an interview with the country’s leading outlet Somoy TV.
However, Imtiaz Ahmed, who once headed the Centre for Genocide Studies at Dhaka University, strongly pitched for strict action on enforced disappearances and said such cases should be brought down to zero.
Now a careful look at the UN list has further pointed out many more glaring errors. The most startling instance smacking of double standards is the inclusion of sacked military official Hasinur Rahman in the UN list.
Hasinur was found to violate his Army service conduct rules by staying in touch with outlawed radical outfits like Hizbut Tahrir, according to media reports published back in 2012. The Hizbut Tahrir deems all westerners as ‘Murtad’ (apostate), staunchly advocates introduction of Sharia, like in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan, and seeks to end education rights for girls, something that Bengali women who make up half the country’s population are opposed to.
Hasinur was court-martialled, but is now happily attending talk-shows online, advocating for the BNP. PM Sheikh Hasina, ever since she returned to power in Jan 2009, has prioritised insulating the Bangladesh Army from radical influences or political influence. PM Sheikh Hasina’s efforts have paid off, as is evident from the increasing role of the Bangladesh Army in UN Peacekeeping operations.
CASES UNDER PREVIOUS GOVERNMENTS
Inclusion of cases of disappearances that took place long before the Awami League came to power has also raised questions over the intent of the list, especially because this UN Report on ‘Enforced Disappearances ‘ seems to be a key document used by the US when it decided to issue sanctions against seven officers of the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), including outgoing police chief Benazir Ahmed.
Kalpana Chakma, an activist in Chittagong Hill Tracts, went missing in June, 1996, days before the Awami League was voted back to power. According to reports, on 12 June 1996, at 1 am, a few hours before the general elections, six or seven army men in plainclothes forced their way into Kalpana’s house and abducted her.
Barisal Chhatra League’s former cultural secretary, Mohammad Shafiqullah Monayem, went missing on December 1, 2007, long before the Awami League came to power. He disappeared when the country was ruled by a military-backed caretaker system that reportedly enjoyed support from western countries. In fact, Shafik happened to be a leader of the Awami League-backed student front.
On May 25, 2008, Md Hasan Khan, who went missing during the same tenure of the army-backed caretaker government, also featured on the list.
“Of course, the current government needs to find out the whereabouts of those that went missing under previous regimes, but without mounting equal pressure on those very regimes responsible for such disappearances leaves a big question mark over the intention of such a group,” said a Bangladeshi advocate.
UN LIST INCLUDES ARSONISTS, DRUG PEDDLERS
According to Bangladeshi media, at least 10 of those in the UN group’s list of 76 enforced disappearances were staying with their families in Bangladesh. But there are at least 28 names on the UN list that have criminal charges against them.
One person who was shown as “disappeared” was found to have embarked on “a solitary mission seeking divine blessings from some shrines”. Moreover, some of those on the UN list are not any innocent dissenters picked up by law enforcement agencies, but those who are absconding because they are wanted by the police in connection with serious crimes like murder and arson.
Another BNP activist, accused of fire-bombing public vehicles, has been absconding since February 2015 to evade the police dragnet. Between 2013 and 2015, the BNP and the Jamaat e Islami cadres firebombed hundreds of public vehicles, leading to dozens of deaths and severe burn injuries, according to national and international outlets. The police registered cases against those accused and most of them absconded to evade arrest.
Interestingly, another person who has been charged in several cases, like narcotics trafficking, arson and murder, is also listed in the UN Working Group report on ‘Enforced Disappearances ‘. But according to sources, he has been staying in his home now after getting bail from the courts.
“To list all these absconders accused of serious crimes as victims of enforced disappearances is a travesty of justice. That the UN Working Group has bought into the preposterous narrative of some local NGOs like Odhikar is shameful,” said the advocate.
“There are hundreds of absconders evading justice in the US or any other country. Can we dub them as victims of enforced disappearances? If that is not possible in the US, how does it become possible in Bangladesh?” she questioned.
“If you start listing absconders fleeing justice as victims and deliberately overlook grave crimes they have committed, are you helping the cause of justice? The answer is an empathic no,” she added.
RIGHTS GROUPS’ SHADY TRACK RECORDS
The list containing 76 persons handed over by the United Nations’ Human Rights Council’s Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances bears striking resemblance to similar lists first floated by local NGOs like Odhikar and then recycled by US-based Human Rights Watch and UK-based Amnesty International.
The UN Report seems to have bought into these lists, overlooking grave factual errors.
In an interview with Shomoy TV, Professor Imtiaz Ahmed said, “How can an UN group just blindly accept the reports of biased local organisations which are headed by known opposition elements?”
Odhikar is headed by Adilur Rahman Khan Shuvro, a former deputy attorney general during the 2001-2006 BNP-JAMAAT government.
Recently, the organisation lost its license for non compliance with government regulations. Back in 2013, when law enforcers flushed out Hefazat-e-Islam rioters who ran amok in the capital, Odhikar came out with a fact-finding report, “Assembly of Hefazat-e Islam Bangladesh and Human Rights Violation”.
It was a composition of half-truths, biased and one-sided presentation of what happened on May 5 and in the early hours of May 6 in the capital, according to an analysis by a leading Bangladesh daily.
Replete with imaginary death figures, the report drew flak from all the leading national outlets, while one daily termed it as “filled with imaginary figures”. Notably, some of those who were cited as “missing activists” were found giving quotes to the media. The inaccuracies did not end there. The report altered the geography of the nation as independent investigations found no village called Nimai Kachari in Bagmara where Odhikar claimed to have found “dead people”.
“It is not wise or proper for any responsible organisation, let alone the UN to rely completely on the list provided by any organisation without verifying the contents with credible sources, particularly in terms of numbers and veracity of the cases, otherwise it undermines the gravity of the issue”, observed longtime rights activist, Sultana Kamal.
However, she also sounded caution, “It must also be kept in mind that mistake in the number or figures in a list do not automatically dismiss the issues in question or does not mean the complaints are totally wrong.”
Sultana Kamal also blamed some Western rights bodies for double standards, saying they opposed the 1971 war crimes trials when it was necessary to try perpetrators of the Liberation War genocide.
“The Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International’s role regarding the trial of the war criminals was not fair. Also them not being vocal against war crimes committed in 1971 and not supporting Bangladesh’s demand for global recognition of the genocide is no doubt disappointing,” Sultana Kamal told India Today.
BNP CHIEF PRESENTED FAULTY FIGURES
Titled as “Sorry Khaleda”, one of Bangladesh’s leading media outlets earlier exposed how BNP leaders, including its chief Begum Zia, attempted to mislead the country with exaggerated figures of what it called “missing activists and leaders”.
Independent media reports investigated the high death figures in nine districts presented by the BNP chief Khaleda Zia and found them incorrect, exaggerated, and false.
Khaleda, on February 4, 2014, had claimed that law enforcers and Awami League men had killed 242 BNP-led alliance men in 34 districts across the country. She, however, gave the names of only five of the victims (two cases of killing and three of forced disappearance).
Upon cross-checking with local BNP leaders in the nine districts, newspapers found that there had been only 17 deaths during the period, as against 152 claimed by Khaleda.