Bangladeshi dissident: ‘EU must help end enforced disappearances’

Adilur Rahman Khan

Adilur Rahman Khan, a leading lawyer and human rights activist in Bangladesh, is now facing the possibility of a lengthy jail term for “defaming the state”.

Adilur Rahman Khan is secretary of Odhikar, which means ‘Rights’. He spoke to EURACTIV’s Matthew Tempest during the Civil Society Organisations Forum organised on 17-18 March under the aegis of the European Commission’s DG International Cooperation and Development (DG DEVCO).

Khan spoke to Matthew Tempest on the sidelines of the EU’s Civil Society Organisations Forum.

What is Odhikar, exactly?

We founded this organisation in 1994, and since then we have been campaigning on human rights like enforced disappearances, extra-judicial killings, custodial torture, media freedom, violence against women and for our work today.

And you yourself are currently facing criminal charges…?

Yes, I have been charged along with the head of Odhikar, with publishing reports that are detrimental to the state interest.

The trial started, then we got a ‘stay’ order and bail, now the matter has come up for a hearing at the appellate division, and this hearing will take place next week, and I have to be back in court.

And what could be the sentence, if you’re found guilty?

The appeal is that the stay should be vacated. If the appeal is successful, the trial should start again. And the consequences we’ll have to face, like many hundreds and thousands of people are facing the consequences of the state repression.

Bangladesh is facing a repressive situation right now. People who are speaking out against the repression, journalists writing about repression and human rights violations, the political opponents who are protesting, are all targets.

Bangladesh is one country where ‘enforced disappearances’ is high in numbers.

Well, give me an idea of some of those numbers, in terms of imprisonment, enforced disappearances…

Enforced disappearances. Since 2009, it’s about 300. Extra-judicial killings, it’s about 1,200. Thousands and thousands of people are tortured everyday.

They have developed a new technique against political opponents – they shoot at their legs, so the have their legs amputated. The victims become immobilised. It is the most repressive situation we have since the liberation.

And, just to clarify, this has been happening under both parties? (the opposition Bangladesh National Party and the ruling Awami League)?

The current government since 2009 has imposed the extreme repression, but the BNP didn’t have good human rights record.

So we have been campaigning against human rights violations by all the regimes. It doesn’t mean the current government is only committing violations, the previous government also did. But under the current government, repression has also become the worst of all the regimes.

And despite these human rights abuses, Bangladesh got elected…

…to the UN Human Rights Council. Despite these massive human rights violations. Because knowledge about the lack of democracy, lack of freedom of expression, the human rights situation in Bangladesh, has not come to the people who are the actors. That’s why its important, because the situation is exploding. It’s becoming so bad that the people can’t take it anymore.

So we want a restoration of democracy, a restoration of voting rights of the people,  rule of law and human rights established.

That’s why human rights defenders are campaigning, and they’re becoming targets of the government. Nonetheless, this is our country and we must continue our struggle for justice.

What about the European Union? Why are you here today in Brussels?

I am here for the European Union Civic Society Forum on the 17th and 18th, to speak about our situation in Bangladesh on a panel about ‘shrinking space’.

In fact, in Bangladesh, we have no space! It’s no longer ‘shrinking’. People who complain can be relocated to a different country. But human rights defenders in organisations that are also persecuted – for the persecuted organisations there is no policy.

And we want to have a policy, so that the work these organisations have done so far in mobilising people, gathering them together and campaigning for justice should continue. Otherwise, if the relocation goes on, then the work is lost.

And I noted that the European Parliament last November passed a very critical resolution on Bangladesh, on press freedoms and human rights. What would you like to see happen next?

That should be translated into action. Article 1 of the EU-Bangladesh agreement talks about human rights. So bypassing Article 1, and talking about trade only, will not help the people of Bangladesh.

Article One should be implemented to give us space, freedom of expression, and association, which will help the families of the disappeared, the families of enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings to seek justice, and also its important to work on activating the justice delivery system, which is not working right now.

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