Saturday, May 10, 2014

On forced disappearances, kidnappings and extrajudicial killings

Posted: 08 May, 2014
On forced disappearances, kidnappings and extrajudicial killings
M. Serajul Islam
 On forced disappearances, kidnappings and extrajudicial killings
The people of Narayanganj observed a dawn-to-dusk hartal at the call of the district bar association on May 04 protesting the abduction and killing of Advocate Chandan Kumar Sarkar and six others.

Awami League leader Suranjit Sengupta has hinted at reality concerning the "forced disappearances", kidnappings and extrajudicial killings when he pointed at a government within the government (GWG) for these acts that have become a national nightmare the like of which the country has not faced since liberation. Naryanganj has brought the nation face-to-face with the nightmare when seven, mostly Awami Leaguers, were kidnapped and their bodies were recovered, three days later, from the Sitalakhayya River.

The seven deaths in Naryanganj resulted from internecine conflict in the ruling party. One group has accused another for the dastardly acts. They also accused the law-enforcement agencies of involvement. A ruling party's MP, a key figure in the conflict, has stated in a public meeting his intentions to take the law into his hands and deliver mafia-style justice. The State Minister for Home did not seem concerned. The Prime Minister blamed the "forced disappearances", extra judicial deaths and kidnappings upon the BNP/Jamaat that no one believed because they are the major victims although now even the ruling party is in the net because the GWG has become a power unto itself.

Four decades ago, Nirmal Sen had demanded the right to die a normal death. That was during the first Awami League (AL) government when extra-judicial killings of communists/extremists were widespread. The government was oblivious to the deaths and many suspected the hands of the dreaded Rakhi Bahini in the extra-judicial killings that led Nirmal Sen to demand that right.

People had thought that Nirmal Sen's demand had gone into the pages of history, forgotten. Unfortunately, when RAB appeared in the country's history during the last BNP (Bangladesh Nationalist Party) government, the right to a normal death appeared in a vicious and sinister way. Alleged hard-core criminals were taken into RAB/police custody only to be found dead subsequently in so-called crossfires. No one questioned that the story by the authorities was monotonously the same and absurdly unbelievable; that while being moved between two places, the partners in crime of those incarcerated had tried to rescue them and in the shoot-out by both sides that occurred, those incarcerated had died. The police/RAB never suffered even a minor injury in those deadly so-called crossfires!

The people rejoiced at those un-natural deaths, satisfied that those killed were, as the authorities claimed, hardened criminals and therefore did not deserve to die naturally and society was better off without them. A Frankenstein was created. No one, except the families/friends of those killed and a few here and there, mostly human rights groups, were bothered. Those that created the government within the government were confident that they would be in control while using the GWG to kill the bad people whom they were unable to punish because of loopholes in the law and society would benefit. The GWG was in trouble towards the final stages of the BNP government. The Awami League wanted it abolished. The GWG was lucky because the military-backed Caretaker government saw its value for its own interests. It thus strengthened the GWG's institutional framework by bringing its other intelligence agencies within the GWG's network and entrusted to it direct political role to contain and punish those that opposed the government, without any accountability.

The AL found the GWG extremely useful to its political objectives and entrusted it with more important political roles. It gave to the GWG the task to go after the BNP/Jamaat without any fear or concern about the law. With a carte blanche, the GWG introduced a new element in the country's politics, that of "forced disappearances". Political opponents of the ruling party simply started to vanish into the thin air. The "enforced disappearances" were explained by the AL-led government in the same wishy-washy way the BNP had explained the deaths of the alleged criminals in the alleged crossfires. The GWG thus became stronger and more powerful, aided and abetted by the government. The people were ambivalent and dismissed the "forced disappearances" that was accompanied by widespread kidnappings and deaths as a political game that would not affect them.

Meanwhile, on January 05, the elections were held in which the people, except for a few, were not required to vote. The AL-led government claimed it was legal. It retracted on its promise to hold another national election with all the political parties to let the people choose the government. Instead it gave the green signal to the GWG to ensure that the opposition would be silenced. Opposition activists started to disappear in unprecedented number. Bodies of BNP/Jamaat activists appeared on roadside ditches in place of the alleged dreaded criminals. The role of the GWG became more prominent during the upazila elections when the last semblance of democratic rule and values were thrown to the wind.

The AL-led government meanwhile claimed that it would not leave power even a day before it completed its five-years term. Some in fact claimed much more - that the AL would never be out of power. It expected to win over the people, the quality of the January 05 elections notwithstanding, with good work across the wide spectrum of governance and development. It dropped many from Cabinet and from parliament who had earned bad names for the party. Unfortunately, the AL-led government has failed to achieve anything to encourage the people to overlook the January 05 elections for its good deeds. The government's failure to win the people with good deeds has pushed it deeper into the lap of the GWG. Why else would the State Minister for Home admit he had come to know of the RAW agents taking away an ISI agent from Dhaka Airport to New Delhi from the media and that the principal accused in the Naryanganj killings had disappeared while under surveillance of the law-enforcement agencies?

The statistics of the GWG's power are chilling. There have been hundreds who have disappeared and hundreds have been killed outside the law.  Not one case has come before the law and proved. Kidnappings have become widespread and extensive and now has become a panic in every part of the country and not restricted to just the political circles and to the opposition parties. A fear psychosis has taken hold in the people. The so-called elected government has now become powerless to help the people overcome their fear that is as real as reality can be. Many relatives of the victims are, believe it or not, dealing with the GWG afraid if they went to the government, the victims would be killed.

The present situation in Bangladesh brings to memory the "death squads" in South and Latin America, for example, in Chile under Augustus Pinochet. Those countries paid heavy price to return to democratic rails. Millions of lives were sacrificed in 1971 for a democratic Bangladesh. Therefore Bangladesh does not deserve the fate of Chile. There is still time to bring the country back from the cold without paying the heavy price that South/Latin American countries paid.

The way out is not in the hands of the BNP. It is largely in the hands of the people who must come together as they did in 1971. The AL has a major role in this regard because it is the cause of the country's current predicament. It must therefore pave the way for holding an inclusive election so that the people can choose their government. This is the only antidote to GWG (government within government) that is destroying the democratic foundations of the country.

The writer is a retired career Ambassador. His email id is

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