The UN recently published a report on enforced disappearance, including a list of names that has gained considerable attention and stirred debate both nationally and globally. The debate continued when reputed human rights activist Advocate Sultana Kamal pointed out the errors in the UN report. This was followed by demeaning remarks from the BNP leader Ruhul Kabir Rizvi, who questioned Sultana Kamal’s credibility and impartiality. The debate finally reached its peak when Asian Human Rights Commission accused Bangladesh of launching a “hate campaign” against the UN experts as renowned intellectuals identified the discrepancy of the UN report, Professor Dr Mizanur Rahman, former Chairman of the National Human Rights Commission, writes.
Asian Human Rights Commission in its vague statement alleged that the media in Bangladesh, which they referred to as “pro-government”, and allies of the government are engaging in a campaign to tarnish the UN working group’s reputation and question their sincerity on a grave issue like enforced disappearance. What the Commission has, however, failed to consider is that it was not an attempt to vilify any human rights body, rather the intention was to simply pinpoint the inconsistency and inaccuracy of the data coming from an institution like the UN which has always been at the forefront of defending human rights across the globe, he writes.
To give voice to human rights – a world that is full of complexity, the institution has not limited itself to mere campaigning but instead has adopted mechanisms to ensure the accountability of perpetrators where necessary through its wide range of mechanisms. This endeavour to secure human rights, even globally, in one sense, also means that the UN is bestowed with the sheer responsibility of “being sedulous and attentive” while dealing with a serious matter like human rights violation. What we have, however, seen in the recent UN report is a slip from what is expected from the institution. The report, while calling on Bangladesh to stop enforced disappearances, heavily relies on information provided by a single source which in turn leads to questions about its credibility and loss of public faith. The glaring inconsistency in the report owing to its over-reliance on local sources, especially from an NGO with a dubious track record that itself has been accused of publishing a “distorted report” in the past, is unfortunate and unexpected, the ex-NHRC chairman adds.
Accordingly, it runs counter to the values and principles of the UN in collecting data, that is, ensuring transparency, impartiality, and high quality. Instead of following its ethical obligation in assessing data, the UN working group has counted on an NGO that promotes, as is evident in the present case, tendentious remarks, bias and inflammatory claims and resultantly fed the report with data that are inconsistent, lack adequate cross reference and apparently not verified at all, he observes.
For instance, the list of involuntary disappearances in the UN report contained an expelled army officer named Hasinur Rahman who in fact came back home in 2019 and has been active on different social media platforms since his return. Hasinur was court-martialed for violating Army service conduct rules. Moreover, among the 76 enforced disappearance cases listed by the UN, at least 10 appear to be living with their families in Bangladesh. On top of that, there are at least 28 names against whom criminal charges have been brought. This indicates a possibility that they might be absconding to evade arrest. Apart from that, the UN report on enforced disappearances has included a person with the charges of arson, narcotics trafficking and murder who is at his home now and trying to get bail from the courts. These are just some examples among the plethora of other questionable data and reporting in the UN report. For a serious issue like enforced disappearance, such lack of rigour and diligence towards data can create confusion and division among the general public, Dr Mizanur writes.
Intellectuals and activists like Sultana Kamal, who have worked for decades on the issues of enforced disappearance are well aware of the ramifications of unreliable reporting of these serious human rights issues, and they have correctly pointed out the errors that the UN report published. Asian Human Rights Commission translating these justified concerns into the language of hatred is slanderous and disrespectful, at best. Furthermore, summarily calling Bangladeshi media “pro-government” also calls into question AHRC’s own intentions and impairs the values of freedom of the press, he says.
It should be remembered that Bangladesh was born on the precipice of grave violations of human rights. A nine-month-long bloody war was fought for equality, human dignity and social justice for all. Of course, everything is not perfect here, and we have to go a long way to be recognized as a fully human rights-compliant state. However, the murderers of Bangabandhu and his family members were brought to book, and crimes against humanity committed during the 1971 war of liberation have been tried. These examples go to show that Bangladesh is going back to the track of basic human and constitutional rights of due process and rule of law. With regard to the initiatives adopted by the government on enforced disappearance, Bangladesh has been praised by the UN Working Group for its contribution towards crucial cases concerning involuntary disappearances. Human rights defenders should not shy away from acknowledging the positive undertaking done by the government, he suggests.
Unfortunately, identifying inaccurate information has been labelled as a “hate campaign”. In this era of information technology, sensitive data could be manipulated and misused. The AHRC should be aware of these serious consequences, but their allegations of the “hate campaign” against Bangladesh itself seem to be a conspiratorial campaign against a sovereign state. There are many examples all around the world where so-called human rights violations have been weaponized. It would not be unreasonable to think that human rights defenders like the AHRC have a hidden agenda to malign the government and are also trying to incite violence and put the law-and-order situation in danger, he writes.
Not a single incident of human rights violation should go unpunished. The government must investigate it and bring the offenders to book. We dream of a Bangladesh where the rule of law and human rights that have been enshrined in our constitution shall be respected fully by all the stakeholders, he says. For this, it might be necessary at times to put pressure on the government, but verily, not in the slanderous manner the AHRC has chosen.
The article was originally published in UNB