Getting justice for the victims of enforced disappearance and extrajudicial killings is a far cry in the country as the existing legal system shields the lawbreakers instead of protecting the victim families, said human rights defenders and lawmakers at a webinar on Thursday.
In many cases, family members of the disappeared file lawsuits with the courts but they never get justice despite enough evidence, observed Nur Khan Liton, general secretary of the rights body Ain o Salish Kendra.
"As I can remember, two BNP leaders including a former lawmaker in Cumilla got disappeared and their families filed cases, and produced witnesses before the court but the proceedings are on hold for unknown reasons," he told the online seminar styled "Enforced disappearances and the state's responsibility", organised by the Center for Governance Studies (CGS).
Syeda Rizwana Hasan, chief executive of the Bangladesh Environment Lawyers Association (BELA), blamed the system, pointing out that whoever raised their voice against enforced disappearance and other transgressions of law enforcers were harassed in the past.
"A lawyer who recorded video of the abduction of the victims of the sensational seven murders was harassed and was forced to hand over the video clips. The lawyers who stood for the victims in court against RAB were also harassed several times."
A culture of "shoot the messenger" has prevailed in the country, she claimed, adding, "In this culture how would you come forward and seek justice and be a whistleblower?"
Hossain Zillur Rahman, executive director of the CGS who moderated the webinar, cited reports of various human rights organisations and said 31 people were forcibly disappeared in the year 2020 while total number of enforced disappearances between 2009 and 2020 was 587.
Ashim Kumar Ukil, a lawmaker representing the ruling Awami League, said no matter how one terms it – enforced disappearance or extrajudicial killing – such violations of human rights are not acceptable in any means.
He, however, said these abnormal processes are introduced when the normal course of politics and democracy is disrupted.
"The more democracy will be strong, these kinds of disappearances will decrease," he added.
Addressing the event, BNP lawmaker Harunur Rashid said those who are missing are not getting the opportunity to seek legal recourse as per the law.
"As I can remember, a day labourer of my constituency was picked up by police members following the 2018 parliamentary elections and found dead afterwards. The irony is, the victim's brothers, brother-in-law were made accused in the case filed in this connection even though one of them was with him (MP Harun) at the parliament on the day when the murder took place."
The UN committee on enforced disappearance has been trying to come to Bangladesh to investigate the matter but they were denied several times, which is absurd, he maintained.
Shahdeen Malik, a senior advocate of Bangladesh Supreme Court, however, said the perpetrators of extrajudicial killings would be brought to justice even after 30 years if not today.
Latin America's human rights abuses of the 1960s are being trialled now, he mentioned.
CGS President Manzoor Ahmed Chowdhury said all enforced disappearances and murders are not political. A lot of things are happening for money but politicians are not acknowledging this, he added.