India Today interviewed Bangladeshi human rights activist and lawyer Sultana Kamal The story of the so-called ‘enforced disappearances’ in the country.
Here’s the full interview:
Question 1: Is it fair for organizations like the UN to fully trust some Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) who have earned criticism for exaggerating death figures such as Odhikar, Hefazad publication of 2013, Shalba Chatter case?
Answer: It is neither wise nor proper to rely entirely on the list provided by any responsible body, let alone the UN, without verifying it with credible sources, especially in terms of the number and scale of cases. Otherwise, it undermines the seriousness of the problem.
It should also be noted that a mistake in a number or figure in a list does not automatically rule out the issues in question or mean that the complaints are completely untrue.
I feel that the role of HRW and Amnesty International in prosecuting war criminals is not justified. Also, they did not speak out against the war crimes committed in 1971. And there is no doubt that universal recognition of the genocide has disappointed human rights organizations. However, it is true that organizations working on human rights issues should pay more attention to evaluating the sources of their information, but that does not mean that the concern raised by the UN should not be taken seriously. The suffering, grief and fear in the minds of the victims should be addressed with care and respect.
Question 2: Bangladesh has a bloody past. After the assassination of the father of the nation in 1975, at least 19 coups took place under General Ziaar, the country’s first military dictator and founder of the BNP. There was a similar trend under General Ershad; Then between 2001 and 2006 gross human rights were violated under Begum Zia. Also, violence has been unleashed by the BNP-Jamaat alliance since 2013. The Awami imposed sanctions on the Lega and did not put equal pressure on the opposition coalition for their crimes. Do you see this as a reasonable approach?
Answer: Well, I don’t think that the fact that other criminals in the past were not pressed for their crimes should be used as an excuse to overlook or accept crimes in the present. The sanction was granted to an institution that has continued to violate human rights norms despite repeated protests and demands by concerned groups, including civil society, to stop such atrocities. The crimes of current offenders do not go away just because others have not been banned in the past.
Question 3: The BNP has a record of fake cases of human rights abuses previously exposed by the Daily Star and other outlets in the country.
Answer: Yes, legal proceedings can be initiated against them anywhere. BNP’s bogus human rights abuses have already damaged their image significantly.
Question 4: Based on the track record of both parties — under Sheikh Hasina or the BNP, do you think Bangladesh is safer on rights issues?
Answer: AL’s commitment to an egalitarian, communal and just society is commendable. However, some of these commitments have not been implemented. Based on my long experience as a human rights activist, I can only speak on the basis of evidence.
Regardless of regimes and political parties, enforced disappearances have been a growing and persistent institutional problem in Bangladesh to suppress political activity and dissent. The State has a clear responsibility to protect citizens in the face of such threats to their security, liberty and freedom. A proper and effective investigation of these cases requires the cooperation of civil society organizations, activists, media and the government.
— Ends —