One year ago, on the afternoon of April 9, 2019, Michael Chakma, an indigenous rights activist who campaigned against military abuses in Bangladesh’s Chittagong Hill Tracts, left his home in Narayanganj saying that he would be back around 10 p.m. He has never returned.
Activists and Michael’s family believe he was forcibly disappeared. However, the government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wazed has not just ignored appeals from Michael Chakma’s family, but also ignored inquiries from the High Court, the National Human Rights Commission, and the United Nations Committee against Torture. On May 21, in response to a writ petition by Michael’s sister, the High Court ordered the Home Ministry to submit a report within five weeks. There has been no response except for the Inspector General of Police reportedly stating that they “could not find anybody named Michael Chakma in any prisons in Bangladesh.”
Silence is a disturbing yet familiar response from authorities for families of the forcibly disappeared. The family of Kalpana Chakma, an indigenous rights activist who disappeared nearly 24 years ago, still await answers. As do relatives of labor activist Aminul Islam, who was abducted, tortured, and killed eight years ago this month. The families of Mir Ahmad Bin Quasem, Sajedul Islam Sumon, Adnan Chowdhury, Abdullahil Amaan Azmi, and many others hope their loved ones will be released and returned.
These violations continue. Journalist Shafiqul Islam Kajol went missing nearly one month ago after he was accusedof defamation by a prominent lawmaker under the draconian Digital Security Act (DSA). Police allegedly refused to file a missing person case until they were directed to do so by the High Court, and have made little progress in locating him. “When I reach out, there is never any update of where my father might be,” his son Monorom Polok said. “I don’t want any answers to questions of where he has been, what happened to him, I just want him back healthy.”
Bangladesh should uphold its international obligations, investigate enforced disappearances, prosecute perpetrators, and stop inflicting pain on the families of the disappeared.