Enforced Disappearances in Bangladesh: A Shame for Humanity Everywhere

Documentary Script

A dark era of recent abductions and enforced disappearances in Bangladesh started in 2009. 

Since then-

Children are in tears for their fathers. 

Wives have been crying for years for their husbands. 

Parents’ eyes are still longing to see their sons once more.

Bangladesh’s law enforcers took these people away. Nobody knows where they are. Some secret investigation reports from international media, such as Deutsche Welle, suggest that the abducted individuals are being held in a secret detention centre known as ‘Aynaghar’, House of Horror, operated by the Bangladesh Defense Forces Intelligence. International calls for investigations by the United Nations have been repeatedly denied. The current unelected dictator of Bangladesh has ignored numerous requests from United Nations and international human rights organisations.

Located in South Asia, Bangladesh is home to almost 200 million people. After British colonial rule, it was a part of Pakistan for twenty-four years until a brutal war in 1971 led to its independence. Unfortunately, the struggle for equality, human dignity and social justice did not end there. 

People’s hope for a democratic and fair system was shattered immediately after independence. The first government, led by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, established a one-party dictatorship. For the first time, thousands of people were victims of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances. The most notable cases were the abduction of Dr Azharuddin, Zahir Raihan, and Aftabuddin. Dr Azharuddin was an elected MNA from Awami League in 1970 and was later nominated to contest election against Sheikh Mujib from the Bhola electorate in 1973. He was abducted before the election. Zahir Raihan was a renowned intellectual, writer, and filmmaker. Their whereabouts remain unknown until today. Aftabuddin was the Executive Editor of a national newspaper, “Gonokontho,” and fortunately, he managed to return after being abducted.

Not only abductions but massive corruption and state-sponsored crimes also became rampant. This situation continued until Sheikh Mujib was assassinated by a group of military officers in 1975 due to an intra-party conflict. These military officers were his followers and freedom fighters. 

With Mujib’s death, killing and abduction stopped temporarily. However, successive governments never investigated those human rights violations, and no perpetrators were brought to justice. As a result, a culture of blanket impunity still exists in Bangladesh. 

In 1991, the end of a military dictatorship created opportunities for democratic practices in the country. Sheikh Hasina, the daughter of Sheikh Mujib, took part in the democratic process. She repented publicly, cried, sought forgiveness for all the past crimes of her party and her father and requested people to vote for her. 

Coming into power in 2009, she started building on her father’s legacy of undermining the democratic process and destroying democratic institutions. Enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings have become her tactics to suppress opposition and silence dissidents in Bangladesh.

Most notable cases of abductions during Sheikh Hasina’s rule were – Prominent politician Ilias Ali;  Brigadier General Amaan Azmi;  Barrister Arman;  Trade union leader Aminul Islam;  Ward commissioner Chowdhury Alam,  Student leader Mohammad Sohel;  University student Al Muqaddas and Mohammad Wali Ullah.

Bangladesh is now known as the world capital of enforced disappearance. The Rapid Action Battalion, Police, and Detective Branch didn’t only abduct opposition political leaders; they also went after ordinary citizens and even young students. As time passed, more and more people were kidnapped and lost forever. International human rights groups have kept track to some extent and found that 619 were victims of enforced disappearance from January 2009 to June 2022. However, the actual number is undoubtedly much bigger.

It’s hard to know the exact count because families are always being watched in person and online. Intimidation and threats have become a regular part of their daily lives. For many years, they were told their beloved ones would never return or even another family member would be abducted if they went public with such a complaint. This threat makes it hard for them to speak up against the people and the state machinery that took their loved ones. If someone raises their voice from outside the country, their family members inside the country face arrests and torture. 

You may wonder why the victims are so scared. Can’t they go to the judiciary for help? The answer is a big NO. For the victims to get justice, the criminal justice institutions must be competent, professional and independent from political influence. Sadly, these things are missing in Bangladesh under Sheikh Hasina’s rule. All judges have been selected and appointed based on their loyalty to her. 

Sheikh Hasina has transformed criminal justice institutions, the police force, defence and government departments into her own instruments of oppression. The officials who are supposed to help general people, like the Attorney General’s Office and judges, consistently and publicly support and assist the criminals instead. The Sheikh Hasina regime rewards perpetrators with prestigious positions, promotions and awards. Injustice, impunity, inhumane and degrading treatment are now commonplace in Bangladesh. The victims’ cry for justice remains unanswered. The doors to justice in domestic jurisdiction remain closed shut. 

Millions of Bangladeshi people now beg for intervention from the international community and humanitarian authorities. On 10th December 2021, the United States Treasury Department sanctioned the Rapid Action Battalion, the elite paramilitary force of Bangladesh, including its seven high-ranking officers, for serious human rights violations. This sanction brought some hope to the victims’ families. However, enforced disappearance in Bangladesh did not stop, and the suppressed cry for justice still continues. 

Enforced disappearance is a crime against humanity; it must not go unpunished. Let justice prevail! Stand with the victims of enforced disappearance in Bangladesh! Be the voice for the silenced and lost people!

Research and compilation by: 

Mohammad Ashrafuzzaman

Dr Faroque Amin

Directed by:

Shibly Sohail

Produced and Authorised by:

Dr Mahmudur Rahman

South Asian Policy Initiative 

Scroll to Top