(Hong Kong) – The Chinese government should immediately abolish a secretive detention system used to coerce confessions from corruption suspects. The Communist Party-run system, known as shuanggui, has no basis under Chinese law but is a key component of President Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption campaign.

“President Xi has built his anti-corruption campaign on an abusive and illegal detention system,” said Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch. “Torturing suspects to confess won’t bring an end to corruption, but will end any confidence in China’s judicial system.”

The Chinese government should immediately abolish a secretive detention system used to coerce confessions from corruption suspects.

The 102-page report, “‘Special Measures’: Detention and Torture in Chinese Communist Party’s Shuanggui System,” details abuses against shuanggui detainees, including prolonged sleep deprivation, being forced into stress positions for extended periods of time, deprivation of water and food, and severe beatings. Detainees are also subject to solitary and incommunicado detention in unofficial detention facilities. After “confessing” to corruption, they are typically brought into the criminal justice system, convicted, and sentenced to often lengthy prison terms.

The report is based on 21 Human Rights Watch interviews with four former shuanggui detainees, as well as family members of detainees; 35 detailed accounts from detainees culled from over 200 Chinese media reports; and an analysis of 38 court verdicts from across the country. While there have been commentaries and analyses on the shuanggui system, the Human Rights Watch report is the first to contain firsthand accounts from detainees, as well as drawing on a wide variety of secondary, official sources.

Shuanggui not only further undermines China’s judiciary – it makes a mockery of it.

Sophie Richardson

China Director, Human Rights Watch

The Chinese Communist Party’s Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI) oversees the shuanggui system, to which all of the party’s 88 million members are subject. The CCDI and its lower-level offices, local Commissions for Discipline Inspection (CDIs), typically target government officials, but those detained also include bankers, university officials, and entertainment industry figures, among others. Bo Xilai, a former member of the party’s powerful Politburo, was reportedly held under shuanggui, where he said he confessed under “improper pressure” and was later sentenced to life in prison.

The start of a shuanggui investigation is often marked by an individual’s disappearance – family members are given no notification of the person’s detention or location, no information about the alleged infraction, or the length of detention. Detainees have no access to lawyers. Although there are time limits for shuanggui, CDI investigators can seek repeated extensions, permitting detainees to be held indefinitely, often until they confess. Shuanggui facilities are typically rooms in hostels with special features, such as padded walls or a lack of windows, to prevent suicides or escapes. Detainees are guarded round-the-clock by shifts of officials, often put together in an ad hoc fashion for this purpose, and subjected to interrogations by CDI officers.
 

© 2016 Human Rights Watch

A former shuanggui detainee told Human Rights Watch, “If you sit you have to sit for 12 hours straight, if you stand then you have to stand for 12 hours as well. My legs became swollen, and my buttocks were raw and started oozing pus.”

While President Xi has characterized the fight against corruption as a “matter of life and death” for the Communist Party, the same is true for shuanggui detainees: there have been at least 11 deaths in shuanggui custody reported by the media since 2010. In most cases, authorities claimed these were suicides, but family members often suspected mistreatment, and the lack of comprehensive, impartial investigations into these deaths deepens these suspicions. While former detainees reported that the harsh conditions in shuanggui prompted suicidal thoughts, they also said the constant surveillance and the room’s modifications, designed to prevent suicide attempts, made it difficult to put such thoughts into action.

Some CDIs, concerned about the reputational damage caused by deaths in custody, have partnered with hospitals and doctors to provide medical care for detainees whom the CDIs know will be subjected to torture and other ill-treatment.

CDIs are supposed to hand over evidence of crimes to the procuratorate, the state investigators and prosecutors who are responsible for investigating official crimes. Instead, Human Rights Watch found that procurators work together with CDI officers and participate directly in shuanggui. Such “joint investigations” extract confessions during shuanggui – where detainees have no procedural protections – and then use those confessions in formal legal proceedings. If in those proceedings detainees retract their confessions, claiming that they were made under duress, the procurators typically threaten to send them back to shuanggui. Judges commonly reject detainee objections in court on the grounds that shuanggui and its practices are outside of the scope of the judicial system.

“In shuanggui corruption cases, the courts function as rubber stamps, lending credibility to an utterly illegal Communist Party process,” Richardson said. “Shuanggui not only further undermines China’s judiciary – it makes a mockery of it.”

The shuanggui system has been a highly effective tool for Communist Party investigators: once they obtain a confession, there is little suspects can do to exonerate themselves. Acquittals are extremely rare, and, except in cases of detainee deaths, few investigators face punishments for abuses. Some interviewees told Human Rights Watch that those who tormented them and their families were promoted for their “effectiveness” in handling corruption cases.

China has a serious problem with corruption, but successfully combating it requires an independent judicial system, a free media, and robust protections for the rights of suspects, Human Rights Watch said. A crucial step is the abolition of shuanggui.

“Eradicating corruption won’t be possible so long as the shuanggui system exists,” Richardson said. “Every day this system threatens the lives of party members and underscores the abuses inherent in President Xi’s anti-corruption campaign.”
 

 

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

(Dakar, September 4, 2015) – The trial of the former Chadian dictator Hissène Habré on charges of crimes against humanity, war crimes, and torture will begin in earnest on September 7, 2015.

The long-awaited trial of Hissène Habré, was adjourned almost as soon as it was opened, as an outburst from the former dictator of Chad caused a scene in the courtroom.

When the landmark trial before the Extraordinary African Chambers in the Senegal court system formally opened on July 20, Habré had to be removed from court after an outburst. Habré’s lawyers then refused to appear and the trial was adjourned, giving new court-appointed lawyers time to study the case.  

“After 25 years of campaigning and 45 days waiting patiently, the survivors will finally get their day in court,” said Reed Brody, counsel at Human Rights Watch who has worked with the victims since 1999. “Hissène Habré may try to create more disturbances, but he does not get a veto on whether he should be tried, or if the victims get justice.”

Habré has refused to communicate with the court-appointed lawyers, and it is expected that he will try to have them taken off the case. The president of the court, Gberdao Gustave Kam, has made clear, however, that in keeping with Senegalese law and international practice, the lawyers are needed to safeguard the rights of the accused and the integrity of the proceedings.

Habre is accused of tens of thousands of political killings as well as systematic torture during his rule, from 1982 to 1990. The trial is the first in the world in which the courts of one country prosecute the former ruler of another for alleged human rights crimes.

Habré is standing trial before the Extraordinary African Chambers in the Senegal court system. The chambers were inaugurated by Senegal and the African Union in February 2013 to prosecute the “person or persons” most responsible for international crimes committed in Chad between 1982 and 1990, the period when Habré ruled Chad. Judge Kam, of Burkina Faso, president of the Trial Chamber, will hear the case along with two senior Senegalese judges.

The trial is expected to last two months, with about 100 witnesses and victims expected to testify.

“If I get a chance to look Hissène Habré in the face, I will do it without fear,” said Fatimé Sakine, 53, a secretary who was subjected to electroshocks and beatings during 15 months in prison from 1984 to 1986 and who is in Dakar for the trial. “I want to know why we were kept rotting, why so many of my friends were tortured and killed.”

“This case is a milestone in the fight to hold the perpetrators of atrocities accountable for their crimes, in Africa and in the world,” Brody said. “It's taken many years, and many twists and turns, but in the end a group of tenacious survivors have shown that it was possible to bring their dictator to justice.” 

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

(Dakar, July 17, 2015) – The trial of Chad’s former dictator Hissène Habré is a victory for the victims of his government. The trial began in Senegal on July 20, 2015, almost 25 years after he was overthrown.  

The trial of Chad’s former dictator Hissène Habré is a victory for the victims of his government. The trial will begin on July 20, 2015, almost 25 years after he was overthrown.

 
“The opening of Hissène Habré’s trial, 25 years after he fled Chad, is a tribute to the survivors of his brutal rule who never gave up fighting for justice,” said Reed Brody, counsel at Human Rights Watch who has worked with the victims since 1999. “This case warns despots everywhere that if they engage in atrocities they will never be out of the reach of their victims.”

Habré is charged with crimes against humanity, torture, and war crimes. The trial will be the first in the world in which the courts of one country prosecute the former ruler of another for alleged human rights crimes.

 
Habré will stand trial before the Extraordinary African Chambers in the Senegal court system. The chambers were inaugurated by Senegal and the African Union in February 2013 to prosecute the “person or persons” most responsible for international crimes committed in Chad between 1982 and 1990, the period when Habré ruled Chad. Judge Gberdao Gustave Kam of Burkina Faso, president of the Trial Chamber, will hear the case along with two senior Senegalese judges.

The trial is expected to last three months, with about 100 witnesses and victims expected to testify.

Habré, through his lawyers, has said that he does not want to appear in court. Under Senegalese law, however, the court president can require his appearance. 

“I have been waiting for this day since I walked out of prison almost 25 years ago, “ said Souleymane Guengueng, who nearly died of mistreatment and disease in Habré’s prisons, and later founded the Association of Victims of Crimes of the Regime of Hissène Habré (AVCRHH). “I want to look Hissène Habré in the face and ask him why I was kept rotting in jail for three years, why my friends were tortured and killed.”

Habré is accused of thousands of political killings and systematic torture. After he was deposed by the current president, Idriss Déby Itno, in 1990, Habré fled to Senegal. Habré was first arrested in Senegal in February 2000, but Senegal refused to prosecute him then or to extradite him to Belgium in 2005. It was only in 2012, when Macky Sall became president of Senegal and the International Court of Justice, acting on a suit by Belgium, ordered Senegal to prosecute or extradite Habré that progress was made toward the trial with the creation of the Extraordinary African Chambers. The chambers indicted Habré in July 2013 and placed him in pretrial custody. After a 19-month investigation, judges of the chambers found that there was sufficient evidence for Habré to face trial.

“This case is a milestone in the fight to hold the perpetrators of atrocities accountable for their crimes, in Africa and in the world,” Brody said. "It's taken many years, and many twists and turns, but in the end a group of tenacious survivors showed that even a dictator can be brought to justice." 

On March 25, a court in Chad convicted 20 top security agents of Habré’s government on torture and murder charges. 

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Popular Mobilization Force members on the frontline with the Islamic State in al-Fatha, northeast of Baiji, Iraq on October 18, 2015.

© 2015 Reuters

(Baghdad) – As the grim scene played out on my computer screen in Baghdad on July 12, my stomach sank.

I was watching a video clip of men in Iraqi army uniforms throwing a detainee off a cliff onto the banks of a river and opening fire on him. As he fell and landed next to another motionless body, I couldn’t help but think that this footage could breathe new life into the self-proclaimed Islamic State or ISIS or whatever ISIS 2.0 will be called now that its Iraqi “capital” has fallen. Such unchecked abuse, I thought, as Baghdad celebrated the liberation of Mosul on the streets below, would likely drive more enraged men into the hands of these extremists.

I first came across the clip, one of many depicting Iraqi forces committing abuses such as torture and execution, the day before on Facebook. It stood out because it featured a particularly disturbing form of execution and took place in a location that was far too familiar to me.

Within five minutes of its release, my colleague at Human Rights Watch who specializes in satellite imagery analysis, had identified the exact building and cliff in west Mosul where this video was filmed. What he saw in the images, which were spaced out over several days leading up to the date the video was circulated online, was Iraqi army vehicles present around the place from which the man in the footage had been thrown. This strongly suggests that the video is real and recent. The government has yet to properly comment.

Satellite imagery from July 12 showing the building and Tigris riverbank seen in a video posted of soldiers throwing a detainee off a cliff in west Mosul as well as military vehicles in the vicinity. 

© 2017 DigitalGlobe

If it is authentic, it wouldn’t be the first video of its kind to be released. Other videos of the Emergency Response Division of the Iraqi Ministry of Interior surfaced a few months ago and up until that point were perhaps the most disturbing abuse videos to come out of the battle to reclaim the fallen Iraqi city. But seeing this July 11 video emerge just after the prime minister declared victory over ISIS in Mosul, made me feel especially pessimistic about the future of Iraq and the potential defeat of ISIS. It was as if in the final phase of their campaign, Iraqi and United States-led coalition forces, who had launched the offensive months earlier, were saying, “Let’s get this over with as quickly as possible,” and disregarding respect for and commitment to the laws of war. Such a pervasive attitude will surely not go unnoticed and will likely backfire to embolden the future version of ISIS by drawing in more recruits.

In fact, despite celebrations in Iraq and media reports to the contrary, the recent defeat of ISIS in Mosul does not mean the end of ISIS. It means the end of an ISIS that controls territory. This is a blow to the so-called caliphate, but it’s also the beginning of a new phase, one that could be just as, if not more, frightening.

In the last few months as it’s lost ground in Mosul and its “capital” of Raqqa in Syria, ISIS has also been morphing quickly back into a traditional insurgent group, carrying out bombings in Iraq and Syria. A key part of why it will continue to attract recruits is exactly because of videos like the one I saw earlier this month. Such footage, which seemingly hypocritically showcases Iraqi soldiers using this battle to not only continue to abuse the civilian population, but also stoop to ISIS’ level when doing so, only further inflames the tensions ISIS thrives in.

While the first months of the Mosul offensive were relatively clean, this horrible video marked yet another instance of the government’s cruelty. Evidence of abuse by Iraqi troops from Mosul and from previous operations against ISIS in Iraq have, as I mentioned earlier, been seen before. Human Rights Watch has documented summary executions of suspected ISIS fighters, detention in inhumane conditions and collective punishment against family members of ISIS fighters, including home demolitions and forced deportations to “rehabilitation camps” at the hands of Iraq’s government. We have also documented the arbitrary detention of over 1,000 Sunnis displaced from the fighting around Mosul. But even this striking footage on the heels of Mosul’s liberation was an unfortunate wake-up call at a critical time for the country.

Worse, this video serves as a reminder of exploitation by the Iraqi government in years prior to ISIS. Since 2003, Iraqi forces and mostly Shia non-state and government armed groups have carried out abuses against the civilian population with complete impunity, mainly targeting Sunni Arabs. They have executed campaigns of arbitrary detention, enforced disappearance, torture, extrajudicial killings and forcible displacement. These experiences no doubt pushed young Sunni Arab men to join extremist groups in Iraq in the past. Families of those who have joined ISIS have told me this, and there’s no reason why the government’s ramped up abuse now will not continue to serve as a recruitment tool as ISIS seeks to reassert itself after its loss in Mosul.

Every Iraqi and coalition representative I’ve spoken with agrees that the battle against ISIS is not simply a military one, but also a political one to stem the push factors that most likely have encouraged young Sunni Arab men to turn to extremist groups. Part of this fight, perhaps more challenging than the military one, is to end the reign of impunity, and for Baghdad authorities to show the Iraqi public that they are investigating and holding their own forces and commanders accountable even while fighting back against ISIS.

But so far Human Rights Watch has not seen a single example of such accountability since 2014, including after grotesque videos of Iraqi officers from the Interior Ministry’s elite Emergency Response Division torturing and executing alleged ISIS affiliates and their family members were published in May. We heard from an adviser to Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi on July 14 that the government would announce action against the officers involved, but not for some time, because it would “interfere with the current congratulatory victory messages.”

This suggests to me that Abadi does not fully appreciate how damaging these abuses continue to be. The battle for Mosul is meant to be the final battle in Iraq against ISIS, yet it has opened the floodgates to the very abuses that Baghdad has met with silence for years. Right now, Abadi should represent not only his constituency who desire a military blow to ISIS, but also the more than 1 million civilians who have lived under ISIS control for the past three years. He should demonstrate as quickly as possible that he also has their interests at heart, is taking steps to end the abuses that have marginalized them, and reintegrate them into an Iraq that aims to reconcile communities and rejects calls for retribution.

Abadi’s window is closing fast. Videos like the one on July 11 have eaten away at the feelings of optimism I had for where things are heading in Iraq ― not only in Mosul. It demonstrated that the country, even at the highest levels of government, is determined to sow more seeds of resentment rather than address grievances.

If Baghdad doesn’t act now, we will not only fail to see an end to extremist groups in Iraq anytime soon, but we will also see the cycle of marginalization continue and an ISIS 2.0 unleash itself on the world.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Summary

The mayor said, “All thieves must be killed.” He said it was an order.

−Witness to the execution of Fulgence Rukundo on December 6, 2016

Rwandan security forces summarily executed at least 37 suspected petty offenders in Rwanda’s Western Province between July 2016 and March 2017. Soldiers arbitrarily arrested and shot most of the victims, in what appears to be an officially sanctioned strategy to execute suspected thieves, smugglers, and other petty offenders, instead of prosecuting them. These killings, carried out by and with the backing of state agents, are a blatant violation of both Rwandan law and international human rights law.

Human Rights Watch also documented four enforced disappearances of suspected petty offenders between April and December 2016. The victims’ families believe the security forces killed their loved ones, but their bodies have not been found. In two other incidents documented by Human Rights Watch, in August 2016 and April 2017, authorities encouraged local residents to kill suspected thieves, and they did in fact beat the victims to death.

This report documents serious violations committed by the security forces in Rubavu and Rutsiro districts in Rwanda’s Western Province, including extrajudicial executions, enforced disappearances, and threats against family members and other witnesses to the violations. The report is based on 119 interviews conducted between January and July 2017 with 119 family members, witnesses, government officials, and others knowledgeable about the arrests and executions. Human Rights Watch has received credible reports of at least six other extrajudicial executions that it is continuing to verify, including some cases allegedly committed as recently as June 2017, and some cases in Rusizi district (Western Province) and Musanze district (Northern Province).

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Most victims were accused of stealing items such as bananas, a cow, or a motorcycle. Others were suspected of smuggling marijuana, illegally crossing the border from the Democratic Republic of Congo into Rwanda, or of using illegal fishing nets. No effort was made to establish their guilt or bring them to justice. Instead of investigating the killings and enforced disappearances and providing information or assistance to the families, local authorities, including law enforcement officials, threatened some who dared to
ask questions.

Some victims were first arrested by civilian authorities who then took them to nearby military stations. Soldiers then executed the victims at or near the military base, sometimes after ill-treating them in detention. Witnesses who saw the bodies soon after the executions said they saw bullet wounds and injuries that seemed to have been caused by beatings or stabbings. One victim had been stabbed in the heart; another had a cord around his neck.

A man suspected of stealing a cow was arrested by local military and civilian officials and detained for a night in the local government office, where soldiers arrived and beat him and stabbed him in the leg with a knife. The next day, soldiers shot him dead. Soldiers forced another man to carry the remains of the cow he was accused of stealing on his back for more than five kilometers, with the cow’s head on his head. After presenting the victim to local residents, local officials, and the military during a public community meeting, soldiers then walked him to a nearby field and shot him dead. Another man was beaten to death for not turning up for community work he was required to perform.

Members of the military or the police killed at least 11 men on Lake Kivu in Rubavu and Rutsiro districts for using illegal nets known as kaningini while night fishing. There were survivors who described how they had jumped out of their fishing canoes and swam away from the approaching military or police boats. Those left behind in the canoes were shot dead by the officers.

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In some cases, other security forces such as the Inkeragutabara, an auxiliary force of the Rwandan army, and the District Administration Security Support Organ (DASSO), a local defense force that supports the police, were involved in the executions.

These killings were not isolated events, but appear to be part of an official strategy. In most of the cases documented by Human Rights Watch, local military and civilian authorities told residents after the execution, often during public meetings, that they were following “new orders” or a “new law” stating that all thieves and other criminals in the region would be arrested and executed. In several cases authorities cited the identity of a recent victim and justified his or her killing based on the fact that he or she was a suspected criminal.

These killings, some of which occurred in front of multiple witnesses, are rarely discussed in Rwanda. Given the strict restrictions on independent media and civil society in Rwanda, no local media outlets have reported about the killings documented in this report, and local human rights groups are too afraid to publish any information on such issues.

In December 2016, a coalition of opposition political parties published a press release on several cases of extrajudicial killings in northwestern Rwanda, including some of the cases documented by Human Rights Watch. Soon after publication, the police in Kigali summoned opposition leader Boniface Twagirimana for interrogation on January 12, 18, and 19, 2017, and accused him of spreading unfounded rumors. He was not charged with any offense.

On July 5, 2017, Human Rights Watch wrote to Johnston Busingye, minister of justice, with copies delivered to the ministers of defense, local government and the head of the police, asking for further information on cases outlined in this report and requesting a meeting. The letter is reproduced in Appendix IV of this report and was not answered.

On July 5 and 6, 2017, Human Rights Watch met with five local authorities, including the mayor of Rubavu district and authorities in Nyamyumba sector, Nyundo sector, and Rukoko cell in Rubavu district and the executive secretary in Boneza sector, Rutsiro district. These authorities denied that killings of thieves or criminals had taken place, but one did say that people who illegally crossed the border had been killed for failing to stop when ordered to do so by soldiers, and that this was for security reasons.

A sign welcoming visitors to Boneza, a sector in Rwanda’s Rutsiro district. Rwandan security forces killed at least 9 fishermen in Boneza, for using illegal fishing nets between September 2016 and March 2017. The bottom line of the welcome sign says in Kinyarwanda: “Do good things and do them quickly.” 

© 2017 Human Rights Watch

The Rwandan government should ensure an immediate end to the summary executions of suspected criminals by security forces. They should also ensure that thorough, impartial investigations into these serious violations are conducted, including to establish how and with whom any policy originated; and that those responsible for the violations be held accountable. Victims’ families should be compensated for the unlawful killings.

The Rwandan government should also respect the presumption of innocence, ensure anyone accused of a crime receives a fair trial, and enforce without exception an absolute prohibition on criminal punishment for anyone not convicted in a court of law.

Recommendations

To the Government of Rwanda

  • Investigate and prosecute as appropriate, in fair and credible trials, individuals from the Rwanda Defence Force, the Rwanda National Police, and other law enforcement agencies, such as the DASSO and the Inkeragutabara, responsible for extrajudicial executions, including officers who may bear command responsibility, and any civilian authorities who are implicated in the killings and may bear responsibility;
  • Ensure that all criminal suspects are lawfully detained in recognized places of detention, have prompt access to a lawyer, and are brought promptly after their arrest before an independent judge. If there is credible evidence against the accused, they should be promptly charged with an offense and prosecuted in fair, credible trials or else released;
  • Pending disciplinary action or criminal prosecution, suspend with pay officers suspected to be implicated in extrajudicial executions, including those from the Rwanda Defence Force, the Rwanda National Police, and other law enforcement agencies, such as the DASSO and the Inkeragutabara. Those found to be implicated in extrajudicial executions should be removed from their posts in addition to any other criminal sanctions imposed by an independent tribunal;
  • Publicly reiterate to officers of the Rwanda Defence Force, the Rwanda National Police, and other law enforcement agencies, such as the DASSO and the Inkeragutabara, that they have an obligation to protect the lives of all persons in Rwanda. Ensure that officers have been trained in and adhere to international human rights law, in particular the rights to life, bodily integrity, liberty, security, and fair trial. The Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials, that provide authoritative guidance on international legal standards in this regard, prohibit law enforcement officials from using intentional lethal force except when strictly unavoidable in order to protect life;
  • Ensure that all security agents, members of the judiciary, and administrative officials fully respect the right of all Rwandans to the presumption of innocence;
  • Ensure that the domestic legal system provides for the conduct of prompt, thorough and effective investigations in line with the standards in the Revised United Nations Manual on the Effective Prevention and Investigation of Extralegal, Arbitrary and Summary Executions (the Minnesota Protocol).

To Rwanda’s International Donors and Other Governments

  • Publicly and privately urge the Rwandan government to take concrete steps to investigate, arrest, and prosecute those responsible for extrajudicial killings described in this report, including those bearing command responsibility. Monitor the progress of these steps regularly;
  • Publicly and privately denounce extrajudicial killings committed by any member of the military or law enforcement;
  • Ensure support to Rwanda’s security forces—including training, logistics, and other material support—does not go to units or commanders who are implicated in extrajudicial executions and ensure that human rights training and support to investigations and prosecutions of security agent abuses are central components of reform efforts.

To the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions

  • Request a formal visit to Rwanda to investigate cases outlined in this report
    and others.

To the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights

  • In accordance with the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, conduct an immediate investigation into the cases outlined in this report and others;
  • Urge the government of Rwanda to attend the forthcoming 61st ordinary session of the African Commission to ensure consideration of its combined 11th, 12th and 13th periodic report as well as consideration of the cases outlined in this report.

To the United Nations Department of Peacekeeping Operations

  • Carefully vet officers and personnel from the Rwanda Defence Force and the Rwanda National Police currently serving in United Nations peacekeeping missions to ensure none are implicated in extrajudicial executions in Rwanda;
  • Repatriate from United Nations peacekeeping missions any Rwandan soldier, police, or other personnel found to be implicated in extrajudicial executions
    in Rwanda.

Methodology

This report is based on research conducted in Rwanda between January and July 2017. Human Rights Watch interviewed 119 witnesses to the killings, family members and friends of victims, government officials, and others knowledgeable about the arrests and executions. The names of victims are provided throughout this report. However, for security reasons, the names of witnesses and relatives interviewed by Human Rights Watch are not included in the report, and other identifying information has also been withheld.

Some initial interviews were conducted over the phone. These interviews were followed up in person between March and June. Most interviews were conducted in Musanze, Rubavu and Rutsiro districts, in Kinyarwanda with an interpreter. All interviews were conducted individually and privately. Human Rights Watch explained to each interviewee the purpose of the interview, its voluntary nature, the way in which the interview would be used, and the fact that no compensation would be provided.

Human Rights Watch wrote the minister of justice, with copies delivered to the minister of defense, the minister of local government, and the national police commander, with an overview of Human Rights Watch’s research findings and the details of specific cases documented in this report (see Appendices I, II, III, and IV). Human Rights Watch received no response to its request for a meeting to discuss these research findings or to specific questions about the government’s response to the violations documented here. In July, Human Rights Watch met with five local authorities in Rubavu and Rutsiro districts. Their response is reflected in section III.

This report focuses specifically on extrajudicial executions and other violations in Rubavu and Rutsiro districts, in Western Province, between April 2016 and April 2017. Human Rights Watch has received credible reports of additional cases that allegedly occurred closer to the publication of this report, as well as cases in other areas of Rwanda, including Musanze district, in Northern Province, and Rusizi district, in Western Province. Human Rights Watch is working to confirm these cases, and they are not covered in this report.

I.Background

Since the genocide that devastated the country and claimed more than half a million lives in 1994, Rwanda has made great strides in rebuilding its infrastructure, developing its economy, and delivering public services. But civil and political rights remain severely curtailed, and freedom of expression is tightly restricted.

The death penalty was outlawed in Rwanda in 2007. Before that, it was used sparingly by the state. The death penalty was carried out in connection with genocide trials in 1998 when 22 people were publicly executed, many after summary trials and some without legal assistance.[1]

Extrajudicial killings, that is the killing of a person by governmental authorities without the sanction of any judicial proceeding or legal process, also occurred. For example, in November 2006, police shot and killed three men suspected of killing a gacaca judge[2] the evening of their arrest.[3] In 2007, Human Rights Watch published a report on police killings of at least 20 detainees, many of which appeared to have been extrajudicial executions.[4] In its annual report on Human Rights Practices in Rwanda, the US State Department expressed concern about the killings of five members of the Muslim community in 2016.[5]

Attacks on political dissenters have also occurred, both inside and outside of the country. Since 1996 some Rwandans have been killed outside of the country after they criticized the Rwandan government, the ruling party, the Rwandan Patriotic Front, or President Paul Kagame.[6] Others were murdered, attacked, threatened, or died in unclear circumstances inside the country.[7]

Civilians have also been held unlawfully in unofficial detention centers, including in military custody. In 2014, Human Rights Watch documented how at least 23 people were detained incommunicado for several weeks at Camp Kami, a military camp on the outskirts of Kigali.[8] The detainees were later tried by a civilian court for security-related offenses and alleged collaboration with armed groups. A court in Rubavu acquitted some of them and ordered their release. Some former detainees told Human Rights Watch they were tortured while held at Kami.[9]

Human Rights Watch has also documented a broader pattern of human rights violations against poor people, including petty criminals. Over the years, many such people have been unlawfully detained in so-called “transit centers,” where they faced beatings and other forms of ill-treatment.[10] Human Rights Watch documented the death of one individual just after leaving one such transit center, in Gikondo, Kigali, and received information about similar cases in Mudende transit center, in Rubavu district. Most officials involved in such violations, mainly police, have enjoyed absolute impunity.[11]

II.Extrajudicial Executions

The conduct of members of the Rwandan military, police and other state security actors in northwestern Rwanda has been as ruthless as it has been illegal. Human Rights Watch has documented 37 extrajudicial executions of suspected petty offenders in Rutsiro and Rubavu districts between July 2016 and March 2017, two of whom were women.[12] Human Rights Watch has also documented four enforced disappearances, between April and December 2016, and two cases of individuals who were beaten to death by local residents acting on the encouragement of local authorities, in August 2016 and April 2017. The victims included suspected thieves, smugglers, and people caught or accused of using illegal fishing nets. Some of the family members and friends of victims admitted that the victims had been involved in petty crimes, while others said they were innocent and had been wrongly accused. The killings and enforced disappearances appear to have been part of a broader strategy to spread fear, enforce order, and deter any resistance to government orders or policies.

Government Strategy

Over 40 people interviewed by Human Rights Watch said they had participated in community meetings in Rubavu and Rutsiro districts where military officers or local government officials declared that thieves would be arrested and killed. Local authorities in Rwanda, including law enforcement officials, hold regular community meetings at the village, cell, and sector level. These meetings in general are not mandatory, but several residents told Human Rights Watch they felt pressured to attend. The meetings are not on a fixed schedule, but there is at least one per month after umuganda, mandatory community work held the last Saturday of every month. Participation at the meeting after umuganda is obligatory. Some of these local meetings were called after residents had complained about the high crime rate in their villages.

Several people told Human Rights Watch that they thought a “law” had been adopted stipulating that all thieves and other criminals would be killed, referring to multiple statements made by military and local government officials about the killings of petty criminals.

These warnings at local meetings that authorities would no longer tolerate illegal activity—such as theft, fishing with illegal nets, or smuggling goods across the border—began in early 2016. The cases documented by Human Rights Watch of extrajudicial executions and enforced disappearances of suspected petty offenders by the Rwanda Defence Forces, the Rwanda National Police, DASSO[13], and the Inkeragutabara[14] began in April 2016.

One resident from the Kavolo cell[15] in Rubavu district told Human Rights Watch that local authorities delivered warnings in routine meetings: “In 2016, the authorities started saying things in meetings like, ‘We will kill people we catch stealing.’ It was usually the military officers who said this at cell and sector meetings.”[16]

On April 26, 2017, Major General Alexis Kagame, the military commander of the third division, which covers the Western Province, participated in a public meeting in Gisenyi in which he said that people who illegally crossed the border between Rwanda and Congo fell into three categories: those who smuggle goods into the country and want to avoid tax, thus robbing the country of its development; those who smuggle drugs into the country and want to kill the youth; and those who have links to the FDLR (the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, a largely Rwandan Hutu armed group, based in eastern Congo) and wish to destabilize the country.[17] Kagame said that people in these groups were “enemies of the country” and he called on citizens to protect the country from these enemies. Kagame promised close collaboration between the population and the army to safeguard security.[18] The mayor of Rubavu district, Jeremie Sinamenye, also participated in the meeting.

A participant at another public meeting on November 1, 2016, in Karongi district, organized by the Rwanda Governance Board and attended by many local leaders from the Western Province, told Human Rights Watch that Kagame said that all thieves would be killed.[19]

A resident of the Rukoko cell in Rubavu district, near the border with Congo, described how soldiers stood up “without fear” during village meetings, telling local residents: “We will kill anyone who crosses the border illegally.” The civilian authorities “just agree,” he added; “they can’t contradict the military.”[20]

Jean de Dieu Habiyaremye was arrested in late November 2016 and executed two days later.

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Some witnesses spoke of lists that local officials established to identify those who should be killed. Two residents of Munanira cell, Rubavu district, told Human Rights Watch that military and civilian authorities organized a meeting in their village four days before the execution of Innocent Nshimiyimana, who was killed in neighboring Kiraga cell. The officer in charge of the local military post at that time said during the meeting, “Every thief has to be shot,” according to one of the witnesses.[21] The officer also said that the security services had established a list of all thieves to be eliminated, according to the other witness.[22] A resident of Nyabirasi sector, Rutsiro district, who saw the bodies of Jean de Dieu Habiyaremye and Pierre Hakizimana—two suspected thieves killed by security forces in November 2016—said he saw soldiers with a list that they showed to village leaders to tell them which individuals should be targeted.[23]

A resident of Kanama sector in Rubavu district told Human Rights Watch: “During meetings in our region, the authorities said that the thieves will be killed. I was then afraid that I could be beaten because I’m a family member of [one of the victims].” The resident added that, in February 2017, a meeting was organized in his village by military and local government officials. The officials ordered all thieves to come forward and ask for clemency, and then said: “If you steal again, we will kill you.” Several people who were apparently innocent stood up and asked for pardon, in fear of being killed if they did not do so, the witness said.[24]

Along the shores of Lake Kivu, similar warnings have been made about the use of illegal fishing nets (known in Kinyarwanda as kaningini). One resident of Bushaka cell in Rutsiro district told Human Rights Watch, “In local meetings, the authorities tell us to turn in local thieves. But they also talk about the [fishing] nets. They say the kaningini are not allowed. They say those caught with this net will be dealt with by the authorities.”[25] Another resident from Bushaka cell said that the authorities’ warnings about the nets have become more serious since 2016. “Before they told us not to use them and that we would be fined if we did,” he said. “But now, the authorities tell us during the meetings: ‘Whoever is caught with a kaningini net will have problems with us.’”[26] Another witness to a meeting in Bushaka cell told Human Rights Watch, “The soldiers told us at one meeting in 2016, ‘You have been thieves for a long time now. We forbid you from going into the lake with these nets. You want to steal all of our fish for yourselves? If you refuse to listen to us we will kill you.”[27] The kaningini net has smaller holes than a legal net and can catch more fish. However, it can also catch young fish and therefore contributes to diminishing the fish stock, which is why it is considered illegal.

In some cases, local military or civilian officials accused the victims of collaborating with or sharing intelligence with the FDLR. A participant in a community meeting in Mutovu cell in Rubavu district told Human Rights Watch that a local government official had said that everyone who goes to Congo without passing through the regular border crossing would be killed, and that there is a high probability they would have gone to Congo to collaborate with the FDLR.[28] Other witnesses told Human Rights Watch about community meetings where residents were accused of sending their children to Congo to join the rebels.[29]

Extrajudicial executions were also used after the fact to serve as a warning to community members. In most of the cases documented by Human Rights Watch, local military and civilian authorities told residents after the execution, often during public meetings, that the suspected petty offender had been killed and that all other thieves and other criminals in the region would be arrested and executed.

On the same day as Emmanuel Nzitakuze’s funeral in Tangabo cell in Rutsiro district, local security and civilian authorities held a community meeting. Soldiers had killed Nzitakuze after accusing him of stealing a motorcycle on January 11, 2017. The meeting was held near the place where Nzitakuze was killed in neighboring Haniro cell, and a police officer leading the meeting described the killing as an example of what could happen when people steal, according to a witness. Residents present at the meeting told Human Rights Watch that they were not aware that Nzitakuze was a thief, as it was the first time they heard he had stolen anything. But, one witness said, “the military authority is very strong. You cannot criticize anything in front of the military.”[30]

A resident of Busuku cell in Rutsiro district told Human Rights Watch that authorities often cite the execution of François Buhagarike, who was killed between October 19 and 20, 2016. “The authorities talk about his case in meetings. They say, ‘Someone who supports thieves will also have problems with us. Those caught stealing will be killed, like François. To anyone who knew François, if you steal, you will also be killed.’ All this was said by the military so it must be taken seriously. At the meetings, they intimidate us. They say, ‘We have guns and bullets, not stones.’”[31]

Approximately one week after the killing of Amulani Bazangirabate, who had been accused of using illegal fishing nets, the head of the Bushaka cell held a meeting with local residents at his office. According to a participant at the meeting, he told those gathered that “people should not go out in the water at night alone,” and that “all fishermen need to be in associations in order to use correct nets. For example, Amulani and these other students were fishing illegally. They were killed because they used an illegal net.”[32]

Amulani Bazangirabate was executed in late December 2016.

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In most of the cases documented by Human Rights Watch, the victims were immediately buried by their families, without any medical examination. Several family members told Human Rights Watch that government officials forced them to do so. In some cases, police or family members brought bodies to a nearby hospital. An autopsy was conducted in a few cases, but family members received no information about the results and questioned the independence of the medical staff.

In many cases documented by Human Rights Watch, local civilian authorities were also involved in the extrajudicial executions, by alerting the military about suspected thieves, accompanying the police or military during the arrests of the victims, or by publicly expressing support for the killings. In one case, however, a village leader publicly opposed beatings by the military. The military responded that he should not have called them to intervene if he did not want the thief executed. They then shot and killed the victim, in front of the village leader. In the same case, the executive secretary of the sector also questioned the killings by the military. He lost his job a few days later. It is unclear whether this was related to his opposition to the extralegal execution; many local officials in the Western Province lost their job during the period covered by this report.

Extrajudicial Executions

Following is a selection of accounts from witnesses and people close to the victims killed by state security forces in Rubavu and Rutsiro districts. For a list of all the cases documented by Human Rights Watch, including the names of victims, the date and location of the extralegal execution, the security force responsible, and the offense the victim was accused of, see Appendix I. Details on the cases of enforced disappearances and individuals who were killed by local residents acting on encouragement from local authorities are included separately in Appendices II and III.

Bugarura island in Boneza sector, Rutsiro district. Rwandan security forces killed at least three fishermen from the island between September and December 2016. Another is missing and presumed dead. The men were killed because they were using illegal fishing nets. 

© 2017 Human Rights Watch

Jean Damascène Ntiriburakaryo, killed July 30, 2016

Ntiriburakaryo, approximately 44-years-old, was beaten to death by soldiers in Bubaji village, in Rubavu district, after missing umuganda, or mandatory community work. Ntiriburakaryo had stayed home to slaughter a goat. A resident of Bubaji told Human Rights Watch that when he and others heard that Ntiriburakaryo had been killed, they went to his home. As they arrived, they encountered the soldiers who had killed Ntiriburakaryo. “One of the officers showed regret for having killed Jean,” he said. “But he said they had no choice but to beat him seriously because he was against the state’s programs. He said: ‘This will give you a good example to never rebel against the state.’”[33]

Jean Kanyesoko, killed August 2, 2016

Jean Kanyesoko was executed on August 2, 2016

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Soldiers killed Kanyesoko, 64 and a father of five, after he was caught stealing sugar cane near Kinihera village in Rubavu district. A family member of Kanyesoko said, “Because of poverty he would steal things. He would sometime steal people’s crops.”[34]

A guard at the sugar cane field captured Kanyesoko and called soldiers stationed nearby, who shot him dead. The soldiers later called Kanyesoko’s neighbors to come and take away his body. One friend described what they saw when they arrived:

A soldier was standing next to his body. He said they caught him red-handed. He said, “The order to kill thieves has been given; take his body away and bury him.” Military officers continue to talk about him in cell and sector meetings. They say, “Those caught stealing will be killed like Jean.” I can’t go to meetings now because of this talk of killing criminals. They should just have put this old man in prison.[35]

Innocent Mbarushimana, killed October 11, 2016

Mbarushimana, 20, was accused of stealing several bananas in Kabeza village in Rubavu district. A resident told Human Rights Watch what happened: “I heard people yelling that Innocent was arrested by the military and the Inkeragutabara. They were marching him through the village and saying that he had stolen bananas. A lot of people from the village were there watching, so I tried to go see what was going on. I heard that a decision was made to send Innocent to the sector office so they could investigate. But then I heard shots. Kids then came running and they said that Innocent had been killed.”[36]

Another resident of Kabeza told Human Rights Watch that he tried to follow Mbarushimana to the sector office, but he was chased away by the soldiers. He said he was nearby when he heard the shots and that kids came running and said they saw an Inkeragutabara shoot him.[37]

A third resident of Kabeza also tried to follow Mbarushimana when he was taken to the sector office, but he too was pushed away. He told Human Rights Watch that a child he knows came running after the shots were fired and said, “A soldier gave his gun to an Inkeragutabara and he shot Innocent in the head.”[38]

Four residents of Kabeza who later saw Mbarushimana’s body told Human Rights Watch that he had been shot in the back of the head.

Pierre Hakizimana, killed November 28, 2016

Hakizimana, 35 and the father of five, guarded cows in Rutsiro and Rubavu districts. A local authority in Busuku cell in Rutsiro district accused him of being a thief, and soldiers then arrested him. People close to Hakizimana were told that he was detained at the cell office, so they went to visit him there the next day.

One of them told Human Rights Watch what happened when they arrived:

There were 10 of us, members of the family and neighbors. As we approached Busuku, villagers told us that they had seen soldiers take [Hakizimana] to a nearby tea field, so we went in that direction. When we arrived, we saw soldiers standing around Pierre’s body. One of them said, “Take the body and leave.” When we got to his body, I wanted to cry. But the soldier told us, “Do not cry for a thief.” I was sad and shocked; they would not even let the family mourn... A few weeks after Pierre’s death there was a meeting and the soldiers said, “All thieves will be killed. Look at what happened to Pierre.”[41]

Jovan Karasankima, killed between November 28 and 29, 2016

Karasankima, 40 and the father of three, was accused of stealing a sheep and a lamb in Kavumu village in Rutsiro district. Local authorities and the Inkeragutabara caught Karasankima. The authorities told someone close to him that he would be brought to the police. However, members of the Inkeragutabara instead beat him to death. Witnesses who saw the body told Human Rights Watch that he had been beaten all over his body.[39]

Someone close to Karasankima went to the police in Kavumu and asked why no case had been opened against the killers. He said, “The police told me he was killed by the Inkeragutabara on the orders of the authorities of the cell. He said an order was given to kill thieves and then he told me to go away.”[40]

Fulgence Rukundo, killed December 6, 2016

Fulgence Rukundo was executed on December 6, 2016.

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Rukundo, approximately 28 and the father of two, was detained by a local government official and six soldiers at his home in Munanira village in Rubavu district in the early morning of December 6. Witnesses to his arrest said he was questioned about a stolen cow. Rukundo did not resist arrest and was told he needed to show the authorities where another man accused of the same crime lived.[42]

Later that morning a witness said he saw Rukundo walking towards the BRALIRWA brewery near the lake, where a meeting was taking place, carrying the carcass of a dead cow:

He had his hands tied in front of him and he had this cow carcass on his back and on his arms. The cow’s head was on his own head. Six soldiers told him to walk and there were maybe a hundred villagers following. I followed too. They took him to a primary school near the brewery where a meeting with the mayor of Rubavu had already started. The mayor was talking about the problem of thieves, and when we arrived the meeting turned to Fulgence.

The mayor said that Fulgence had killed another person's cow. Fulgence denied it but he was not allowed to speak. He was just yelling, “I’m innocent!” But the soldiers next to him shouted, “No, you are a thief!” The mayor agreed with the soldiers. The mayor and the soldiers started to write on a piece of paper and then they each signed it. The mayor then announced, “This paper declares that thieves caught will be killed directly.” Some people applauded this; others asked for Fulgence to be forgiven. But the mayor said, “All thieves must be killed.” He said it was an order.

When the meeting was finished, the soldiers walked Fulgence to a small field near a banana plantation. We tried to follow, but the soldiers told us to stay away. There were many of us following; some were primary students. We wanted to see what would happen.

I heard Fulgence say, “I’m tired,” and the soldiers told him to sit down. They untied his hands and they took the cow carcass off of him… A soldier told him to stand up and walk and another soldier told us to leave. At that moment, I heard three shots. The soldiers then yelled at us to leave and we were scared so we ran.[43]

Rukundo’s body was later taken to the morgue in Gisenyi.

Thaddée Uwintwali, killed December 13, 2016

Thaddée Uwintwali was executed on December 13, 2016.

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In the evening of December 13, five soldiers arrived at the home of Uwintwali, a farmer in Murambi village in Rutsiro district. An individual close to Uwintwali said they knocked on the door and summoned him outside into the courtyard where they questioned him about a stolen goat and then started to beat him. The soldiers then took him away.

Friends and family started to look for Uwintwali early the next morning. Someone close to the family told Human Rights Watch, “We went over [to Uwintwali’s house] first thing the next morning. We were mobilizing to look for him when a man came and said he saw the body on the road about a twenty-minute walk away. We went there and found Thaddée’s body. He had been shot through the chest.”[44]

Two weeks after Uwintwali was killed, soldiers announced at a Boneza sector meeting: “If someone is caught stealing they are going to have a problem with us.”[45]

Jeannine Mukeshimana and Benjamin Niyonzima, killed December 16, 2016

Jeannine Mukeshimana was executed on December 16, 2016.

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Mukeshimana, 22 and a mother of one, and Niyonzima, 21 and a father of one, were killed after allegedly smuggling marijuana across the border from Congo to Bisizi village in Rubavu district. They were crossing the border with four other individuals, three of whom were also killed.[46] According to local residents, Mukeshimana and Niyonzima were known in the community for smuggling goods across the border, including drugs and minerals.

Residents of Bisizi told Human Rights Watch they heard shots in the valley near the border with Congo in the evening of December 16. The next day, local authorities told residents to go to the border to identify the bodies. Someone close to Mukeshimana told Human Rights Watch what happened next: “When I arrived, I saw many soldiers standing around the bodies. One soldier said, ‘Look! But no photos! Let this be an example for you that those who travel across the border illegally will be killed like this. These people were transporting marijuana.’ I saw Jeannine among the bodies. I was traumatized.”[47]

Benjamin Niyonzima was executed on December 16, 2016. 

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Another resident told Human Rights Watch, “We went to see the five bodies. Jeannine had been shot in the head. The message from the military was clear. They said she was smuggling marijuana and that this should be an example for the village.”[48]

The same night soldiers went to Niyonzima’s home village, Kanembwe, and told the village chief in front of several residents that they had killed Niyonzima because he was smuggling marijuana.[49]

Emmanuel Niyigena, killed January 25, 2017

A month after Mukeshimana and Niyonzima (above) were killed, 25-year-old Niyigena was killed in the same area. The bricklayer was arrested and then killed by soldiers as he came back from Congo. A witness to his arrest told Human Rights Watch: “When we had crossed the border from Congo and after we walked 50 meters inside Rwanda, we ran into four Rwandan soldiers. They stopped us, took Emmanuel and went with him into the bush. A few minutes later, we heard several gunshots. They had killed him.”[50] Several other witnesses told Human Rights Watch that his face had been destroyed by multiple bullets. Soldiers later told the family that they suspected him of smuggling drugs.

Executions of Fishermen Using Illegal Fishing Nets

Human Rights Watch documented the killings of 11 fishermen on or near Lake Kivu in Bushaka and Gabiro cells in Rutsiro district and in Rubona cell in Rubavu district. According to family members, friends, and other community members, the victims were all killed because they had used illegal fishing nets, known as kaningini. The kaningini net has smaller holes than a legal net and can catch more fish. However, it can also catch young fish and therefore contributes to diminishing the fish stock, which is why it is considered illegal.

Local authorities, including military and police officers, had warned residents for several years that it was illegal to use these nets, but by 2016 the warnings turned to threats. A fisherman who uses a kaningini told Human Rights Watch, “In meetings the authorities would say, ‘Don’t use the kaningini.’ Then in 2016 they started to say, ‘We are tired of this. Whoever is caught will now have problems with us.’ But because of poverty we have no choice but to keep using the nets.”[51]

The executions on Lake Kivu all happened at night when the victims were fishing from canoes. Several of the victims were fishing with other men, who survived the killings by jumping into the water.

Identity card of Juma Ntakingora, 27, who was killed on September 21, 2016, while fishing near Bugarura village in Bushaka cell. 

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Juma Ntakingora, 26, was killed on September 21, 2016, while fishing near Bugarura village in Bushaka cell. Someone close to Ntakingora told Human Rights Watch: “He was fishing with a friend who later came and told us that they had been attacked by the military patrol boat, that it just came upon them and the soldiers started shooting. We went down to the lake the next day and found his body. He was still in the canoe; it was along the shore. Juma had been shot in the stomach.”[52]

Identity card of Vedaste Renzaho, 35, who was killed in late December 2016, while fishing near Bugarura village in Bushaka cell. 

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Vedaste Renzaho, 34, was killed in late December 2016 while fishing. He was with another man, who survived the attack and later told Human Rights Watch:

We had been fishing for about two hours when we heard the motor of a military boat. Then we saw its lights. I said to Vedaste, “If you see a boat like that at night, it is looking for us; we should go back in.” But he said, “No, don’t be afraid. They won’t find us.” But when the boat got closer, I decided it was too dangerous. Vedaste could not swim. I said, “Ok, you stay in the boat.” Because I’m a good swimmer, I jumped into the water. I hoped that they would just take the net. I watched from a distance as the soldiers approached the boat. I heard one of them say to Vedaste, “Where is the other guy?” He said, “He jumped into the water.”… They looked at the net and asked why he used it. Then they shot him. They then took a big light and started looking for me, but I swam away.[53]

Local residents found Renzaho’s body the next day, in his canoe along the shore. He had been shot in the stomach.

Alexandre Bemeriki, a fisherman and father of four, was killed in October 2016 after soldiers found kaningini at his home. Someone close to Bemeriki told Human Rights Watch, “Soldiers went to his house around 9 p.m. and took him outside. I saw them put his hands behind his back. They started to beat him and told him to bring out his fishing net.

Alexandre Bemeriki was executed in October 2016.

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He was asking forgiveness… The next day we heard that there was a body down near the lake. We went to look and we found Bemeriki’s body. He had been shot in the chest.”[54]

The village chief who was there when the body was discovered told Bemeriki’s family members, “You are poor and you can’t pay for an autopsy. So because you are poor, just bury him.”[55]

As with other cases of extrajudicial executions, local civilian, military, and police authorities were open with community members about the killings and sought to use them as examples. A resident of Bugarura told Human Rights Watch about a meeting organized by the police at the sector office in late December, soon after Amulani Bazangirabate, 22, was shot dead by soldiers:

The police said that people should not go out in the water at night alone and that all fishermen need to be in associations so they use correct nets.

The executive secretary of the Boneza sector then said, “For example Amulani and Nyumagabo[56] could not be allowed to fish illegally. They were killed because they used an illegal net.”[57]

Despite the risks, people continue to use the kaningini. One fisherman told Human Rights Watch, “They say not to use them, but we have no choice. We must eat. People still fish with it because they have no choice.”[58]

Killed by Civilians after Encouragement from Local Authorities

Human Rights Watch documented two cases of men killed by civilians after being told to do so by local authorities.[59] There may be more cases of this nature as Human Right Watch spoke with people who participated in meetings in which this was encouraged. For example, one participant at a meeting in Nyundo sector, Rubavu district, told Human Rights Watch, “The mayor of the district told the population to stop keeping livestock in their homes, but the population said there was
a problem with thieves. So the mayor said that if there are thieves amongst us, we should
kill them.”
[60]

Claude Barayavuga, killed April 27, 2017

Barayavuga was a 19-year-old with intellectual disabilities from Bahimba village, Rubavu district. He had a history of stealing in his community. People close to Barayavuga told Human Rights Watch that this was because of his disability. “If he saw sugar cane or maize that was ready to eat, he would take it,” one person said. “He did this because he was sick and he did not really understand that he should not do it. He would steal a lot.”[61]

On April 23, the village chief held a meeting and, according to a participant, told local residents: “I have been asked to give a list of criminals and thieves to the cell officials. I know there is one thief, Jean-Claude. If you catch him, kill him.”[62]

On April 27, Barayavuga stole two light bulbs from a private citizen who chased him down and beat him to death with a hammer. The police arrested the man suspected of killing Barayavuga, but he was released a few days later. Another resident told Human Rights Watch, “Claude’s death was sanctioned. Just a few days before he was killed, I heard the chief say at a meeting, ‘If Jean-Claude is caught stealing again, kill him.’”[63]

On May 3, the executive secretary of Nyundo sector held a meeting in Gatuvo, a commercial center near Bahimba. According to three witnesses, he told residents at the meeting, “the death of Jean-Claude is an example for all thieves.”[64]

Identity card of Claude Barayaguyva, a 19-year-old with intellectual disabilities from Bahimba village, Rubavu district, who was beaten to death by a local resident after encouragement from local authorities. 

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Threats to Family Members

In almost all the extrajudicial killings documented by Human Rights Watch, family members of victims were too afraid to seek justice, despite their right under Rwandan and international law to do so (see section IV). The reason for this was best summed up by the uncle of one victim: “Who could we accuse even if we wanted to? These men are killed by the state, and you can’t accuse the authorities of the state.”[65]

Many family members were threatened when they tried to recover the bodies of their loved ones. The authorities told them not to inquire about what happened, and not to grieve. Some families buried the body in secret, to avoid any reprisals from the authorities. Several families left their villages when their husbands, sons, or brothers were killed, fearing that they could also be targeted.

“They told me they had taken [my husband] to the forest,” a widow told Human Rights Watch. “When we arrived there, we saw the soldiers and then we saw [the body]. The soldiers told us not to be sad and not to cry. They said if we dared to cry, we would risk being shot.”[66]

“Since the killing, our community is very saddened,” a witness to one of the killings told Human Rights Watch. “We decided to keep our mouths shut; we cannot talk about this incident. We have no right to free expression. If we talk about this, we will end up in prison or disappear.”[67]

In a few cases, family members of victims did try to seek justice, but they were discouraged by local authorities. The widow of one victim from Rutsiro district told Human Rights Watch that she sought justice in the village where her husband was killed:

I went to the police, and I asked why there was no case against the man who killed my husband. I was told that an order had been given and I was to go away. They told me he was killed on orders of the authorities of the cell. When the police told me to leave, I knew I had no choice. I wanted [my husband]’s ID but the police said, “No, it’s for us.” Now I don’t dare to return to get it. They scare me… When the police said, “the order was given,” I was so disappointed. But if the police helped to investigate and if I had money for a lawyer, I would file a case against those who killed my husband.[68]

Most family members were simply too scared to inquire into the killings. The widow of one victim told Human Rights Watch, “The things I’ve told you I can’t say to the authorities because I could be killed as well. I live in fear. I don’t understand where this order to kill thieves comes from. But now I wonder if they will decide to kill the widows of men they accused of stealing.”[69]

III.Government Response to Extrajudicial Executions

On July 5, 2017, Human Rights Watch delivered a letter[70] to Johnston Busingye, minister of justice, outlining its research on extrajudicial executions in Rubavu and Rutsiro, highlighting concerns, asking for further information, and requesting a meeting. Copies were also delivered to the ministers of defense and local government and the head of the police. The appendices in this report were attached to the letter. None of these officials responded to Human Rights Watch.

On July 5 and 6, Human Rights Watch met with five local officials from some of the areas where the violations documented in this report took place. The mayor of Rubavu district, Jeremie Sinamenye, told Human Rights Watch that the reports of extrajudicial executions of thieves and drug smugglers in Rubavu were based on false information:

What the people are telling you is not true. We are preparing for elections and in this period, there are many rumors. These lies come from the FDLR and the abacengezi[71] to destabilize the country. This is Habyarimana’s region[72] and there are still people loyal to him in Congo. In Rwanda, we follow the law. If someone is suspected of a crime, they are taken to the police and they will go to court. The military do not participate in the affairs of the population. There is no new law saying that thieves should be killed. There is nothing of the kind. This is all rumors.[73]

The executive secretary of Nyundo sector in Rubavu district, Jean Bosco Tuyishime, told Human Rights Watch he had only been in his post for three months and could not answer questions about the extrajudicial executions and other violations. He said the district mayor’s response to Human Rights Watch also represented his own response.[74]

Ernest Tuyishime was executed on August 5, 2016.

© 2016 Private

The executive secretary of Nyamyumba sector in Rubavu district, Elisaphan Ugiriribambino, also told Human Rights Watch that he was new to his post, he was appointed in March 2017, and that he had not heard about the executions of Fulgence Rukondo and Innocent Nshimiyimana. He said, “I do not think the military could kill people here. I think this is lies. There has been no order here in Rubavu to kill thieves.”[75]

The executive secretary of Rukoko cell in Rubavu district, Chantal Mukeshimana, told Human Rights Watch that Ernest Tuyishime, Jeannine Mukeshimana, Benjamin Niyonzima and others were killed by the military while illegally crossing the border. However, she explained that these killings were not because of crimes they had committed or drug smuggling, but because they refused to stop when told to by the soldiers. “Instead they ran,” she told Human Rights Watch. “The military then had no choice but to shoot them; it is a security issue.” Mukeshimana told Human Rights Watch that she is not aware of any order to execute suspected thieves.[76]

Etienne Nirere, the executive secretary of Boneza cell in Rutsiro district, where Human Rights Watch documented the killings of 11 fishermen between September 2016 and March 2017, told Human Rights Watch that while the kaningini nets have been illegal since 2006, nobody had been killed for using them. Human Rights Watch shared its research findings with Nirere, and he suggested that many missing fishermen presumed dead may have left for Lake Victoria, between Uganda and Kenya, for work. When told by Human Rights Watch of testimony indicating the 11 bodies had been found, he said, “Many fishermen drown in the water; the boats can be turned over by waves.” When told of testimony of wounds indicating the fishermen had been shot, Nirere said, “I don’t know about that, but the military and the police do not kill people.”[77] Nirere told Human Rights Watch he was not aware of any order or policy to kill thieves.

IV. National and International Legal Standards

The rights to life, to bodily integrity, liberty and security as well as to due process and a fair trial, including the presumption of innocence, are guaranteed in the Rwandan constitution and international law. According to Rwandan law, a police officer may only use firearms when he or she has unsuccessfully tried other means of force, is subject to violence, or is fighting or arresting armed persons. There did not appear to be any threat to the lives of security personnel or others in any of the cases documented by Human Rights Watch. None of the victims were armed, and there was no evidence that any of the suspects had used violence, either when committing any crime or at the time of arrest.

The Rwandan Constitution

There is no legal basis for executions in Rwanda, judicial or extrajudicial, as the death penalty was abolished in 2007. In the cases documented by Human Rights Watch, no procedures were undertaken to establish the guilt of suspected criminals before executing them and statements and acts by soldiers preceding the killings denied a presumption of innocence.

The executions documented in this report violate several key articles of the constitution:

  • Article 12 states that “no one shall be arbitrarily deprived of life.”
  • Article 13 states that “a human being is sacred and inviolable [and] the state has an obligation to respect, protect and defend the human being.”
  • Article 15 states that “all persons are equal before the law. They are entitled to equal protection of the law.”
  • Article 29 states that “everyone has the right to due process of law, which includes the right: (1) to be informed of the nature and cause of charges and the right to defence and legal representation; (2) to be presumed innocent until proven guilty by a competent Court; [and] (3) to appear before a competent Court…”[78]

International Conventions and Standards

International human rights law obligates governments to end impunity for serious human rights violations by undertaking prompt, thorough, and impartial investigations of alleged human rights violations, ensuring that those responsible for serious violations are prosecuted, tried and duly punished, and providing an effective remedy for victims.[79]

Rwanda is a party to a number of international treaties (such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights) that strictly prohibit arbitrary deprivation of life, arbitrary detention, and ill-treatment of detainees, and that also require due process and fair trial. Under those treaties it has assumed legal obligations to deter and prevent gross violations of human rights, and to investigate, prosecute and remedy such violations.[80] This also entails addressing the victims’ rights to justice and reparations.[81]

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) requires that governments adopt measures, including through the legal system, to protect fundamental rights.[82] According to the UN Human Rights Committee, the independent expert body that monitors compliance with the ICCPR, a government’s failure to investigate and bring perpetrators to justice, particularly with respect to crimes such as killings, may itself be a violation of the covenant.[83]

Similarly, the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights places obligations on states to ensure protection of charter rights, and for individuals to have rights violations against them heard by competent national institutions.[84]

Various international standards also seek to promote state efforts to obtain justice for victims. For instance, the Principles on the Effective Prevention and Investigation of Extralegal, Arbitrary and Summary Executions call upon governments to remove officials implicated in such crimes from direct or indirect power over the complainants and witnesses, as well as those conducting the investigation.[85]

Combating impunity requires the identification of the specific perpetrators of the violations. Superiors may also be responsible for the unlawful acts of their subordinates, where the superior had effective control over their subordinates, knew or had reason to know of the unlawful acts, and failed to prevent or punish those acts.[86]

In addition to the obligation to investigate and prosecute, governments have an obligation to provide victims with information about the investigation into the violations.[87] The former UN Commission on Human Rights adopted principles stating that “irrespective of any legal proceedings, victims, their families and relatives have the imprescriptible right to know the truth about the circumstances in which violations took place.”[88]

Under the ICCPR, states also have an obligation “to ensure that any person whose rights or freedoms as herein recognized are violated shall have an effective remedy.”[89] The ICCPR imposes on governments the duty to ensure that any person shall have their right to an effective remedy “determined by competent judicial, administrative or legislative authorities, or by any other competent authority provided for by the legal system of the state, and to develop the possibilities of judicial remedy.”[90] The state is under a continuing obligation to provide an effective remedy; there is no time limit on legal action.[91]

The UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials state that “law enforcement officials shall not use firearms against persons except in self-defence or defence of others,” “only when less extreme means are insufficient to achieve these objectives,” and that intentional lethal use of firearms should only happen “when strictly unavoidable in order to protect life.”[92]

Acknowledgments

This report was researched and written by researchers in the Africa Division at Human Rights Watch. Ida Sawyer, Central Africa director, and Babatunde Olugboji, deputy program director, edited the report. Aisling Reidy, senior legal advisor, provided legal review. Jean-Sébastien Sépulchre, associate in the Africa division, provided additional editorial assistance. John Emerson provided the maps. Olivia Hunter, Jose Martinez, and Fitzroy Hepkins provided production assistance.

Sarah Leblois translated the report into French. Jean-Sébastien Sépulchre and Peter Huvos, French website editor, vetted the French translation.

Human Rights Watch wishes to thank the family members and friends of victims who spoke with us, sometimes at great personal risk.

[1] See Human Rights Watch report, Rwanda: Justice After Genocide – 20 Years On, March 2014, https://www.hrw.org/news/2014/03/28/rwanda-justice-after-genocide-20-years.

[2] Gacaca, which took its name from a community-based dispute resolution mechanism, was a novel system for trying the enormous number of genocide cases in Rwanda. Its objectives included not only delivering justice, but also strengthening reconciliation, and revealing the truth about the genocide. See Human Rights Watch report, Justice Compromised, May 31, 2011, https://www.hrw.org/report/2011/05/31/justice-compromised/legacy-rwandas-community-based-gacaca-courts.

[3] See Human Rights Watch report, Killings in Eastern Rwanda, January 2007, https://www.hrw.org/report/2007/01/22/killings-eastern-rwanda.

[5] See US State Department, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, “Rwanda 2016 Human Rights Report”, 2017, https://www.state.gov/documents/organization/265502.pdf (accessed July 9, 2017).

[6] See Human Rights Watch, Rwanda: Repression Across Borders, January 28, 2014, https://www.hrw.org/news/2014/01/28/rwanda-repression-across-borders.

[7] One of the darkest moments in recent years was the period preceding the 2010 presidential elections, when an independent journalist and the vice-president of an opposition party were murdered, and several other opponents and critics arrested and threatened. For a chronology of these events, see Human Rights Watch news release, Rwanda: Silencing Dissent Ahead of Elections, August 2, 2010, https://www.hrw.org/news/2010/08/02/rwanda-silencing-dissent-ahead-elections.

[8] See Human Rights Watch news release, Rwanda: Spate of Enforced Disappearances, May 16, 2014, https://www.hrw.org/news/2014/05/16/rwanda-spate-enforced-disappearances.

[9] Human Rights Watch interviews with former detainees at Kami, in Musanze, and in Rubavu, October 2014.

[10] See Human Rights Watch news release, Rwanda: Locking Up the Poor, July 21, 2016, https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/07/21/rwanda-locking-poor.

[11] See Human Rights Watch report, Why Not Call This Place a Prison?, September 24, 2015, https://www.hrw.org/report/2015/09/24/why-not-call-place-prison/unlawful-detention-and-ill-treatment-rwandas-gikondo.

[12] Rwanda is divided into provinces, districts, sectors and cells. The district is the basic political-administrative unit of the country. See Republic of Rwanda, Ministry of Local Government, http://www.minaloc.gov.rw/index.php?id=450 (accessed July 9, 2017).

[13] In May 2013, the government established the District Administration Security Support Organ (DASSO) to replace the Local Defense Force, a citizens’ self-protection force created by Rwandan authorities after the genocide. See “Law N°26/2013 of 10/05/2013 Establishing the District Administration Security Support Organ (DASSO) and Determining its Responsibilities, Organization and Functioning,” on file with Human Rights Watch.

[14] The Inkeragutabara are a part-time military service of the Rwanda Defence Forces who often patrol at night. See “Presidential Order N° 33/01 of 03/09/2012 Determining the Organisation and Responsibilities of each of the Military Services of Rwanda Defence Forces,” on file with Human Rights Watch.

[15] There are over 2,000 cells in Rwanda, the administrative division between sector and village.

[16] Human Rights Watch interview with resident of Rubavu district, May 18, 2017.

[17] Samba Cyuzuzo, “Maj Gen Kagame avuga ko abo ku Gisenyi baca ku mipaka itazwi ari abanzi,” Umuseke, April 26, 2017, https://umuseke.rw/maj-gen-kagame-avuga-ko-abo-ku-gisenyi-baca-ku-mipaka-itazwi-ari-abanzi.html (translation on file with Human Rights Watch).

[18] Ibid.

[19] Human Rights Watch interview, January 18, 2017. For tweet by Rwanda’s Western Province officials on the meetings see: https://twitter.com/RwandaWest/status/793466050637627393 (accessed July 9, 2017). Translation from Kinyarwanda to English: “These objectives are based on the theme: citizen-based governance, a pillar of sustainable development."

[20] Human Rights Watch interview with resident of Rubavu district, May 18, 2017.

[21] Human Rights Watch interview with witness, February 1, 2017.

[22] Human Rights Watch interview with witness, February 1, 2017.

[23] Human Rights Watch interview with witness, February 27, 2017.

[24] Human Rights Watch interview with resident of Rubavu district, February 21, 2017.

[25] Human Rights Watch interview with resident of Rutsiro district, June 14, 2017.

[26] Human Rights Watch interview with resident of Rutsiro district, June 13, 2017.

[27] Human Rights Watch interview with resident of Rutsiro district, June 13, 2017.

[28] Human Rights Watch interviews with resident of Ruvabu district, March 18, 2017.

[29] Human Rights Watch interviews with witnesses, February 1, 2017.

[30] Human Rights Watch interview with resident of Rutsiro district, February 8, 2017.

[31] Human Rights Watch interview with resident of Rutsiro district, June 14, 2017.

[32] Human Rights Watch interview with resident of Rutsiro district, June 13, 2017. Bazangirabate had been fishing with two other people the evening he was killed. One of them is missing and presumed dead, but his body was never found.

[33] Human Rights Watch interview with resident of Rubavu district, May 23, 2017.

[34] Human Rights Watch interview with resident of Rubavu district, May 18, 2017.

[35] Human Rights Watch interview with resident of Rubavu district, May 18, 2017.

[36] Human Rights Watch interview with resident of Rubavu district, May 24, 2017.

[37] Human Rights Watch interview with resident of Rubavu district, April 19, 2017.

[38] Human Rights Watch interview with resident of Rubavu district, May 24, 2017.

[39] Human Rights Watch interview with resident of Rutsiro district, February 21, 2017; and Human Rights Watch interview with resident of Rutsiro district, May 17, 2017.

[40] Human Rights Watch interview with resident of Rutsiro district, May 17, 2017.

[41] Human Rights Watch interview with resident of Rutsiro district, June 14, 2017.

[42] Human Rights Watch interview with resident of Rubavu district, June 14, 2017.

[43] Human Rights Watch interview with resident of Rubavu district, June 15, 2017.

[44] Human Rights Watch interview with resident of Rutsiro district, June 14, 2017.

[45] Human Rights Watch interview with resident of Rutsiro district, June 7, 2014.

[46] Human Rights Watch has not confirmed the identities of the three other victims, so they are not included in the list of cases it has documented.

[47] Human Rights Watch interview with resident of Rubavu district, March 13 and May 18, 2017.

[48] Human Rights Watch interview with resident of Rubavu district, May 18, 2017.

[49] Human Rights Watch interview with resident of Rubavu district, March 28, 2017.

[50] Human Rights Watch interviews with resident of Rubavu district, April 6, 2017.

[51] Human Rights Watch interview with resident of Rutsiro district, June 13, 2017.

[52] Ibid.

[53] Human Rights Watch interview with resident of Rutsiro district, June 15, 2017.

[54] Human Rights Watch interview with resident of Rutsiro district, June 14, 2017.

[55] Human Rights Watch interview with resident of Rutsiro district, June 14, 2017.

[56] Nyumagabo, a 17-year-old boy, was fishing with Bazangirabate. His body was never found, and Human Rights Watch has not included his death in the list of confirmed extrajudicial executions.

[57] Human Rights Watch interview with resident of Rutsiro district, June 13, 2017.

[58] Human Rights Watch interview with resident of Rutsiro district, June 14, 2017.

[59] Human Rights Watch can find no public statements by police condemning mob justice in Western Province. However, in recent months there have been at least three public statements by the police in the Southern Province, one in the Eastern Province, and one in the capital, Kigali, telling citizens not to engage in “self-administered” justice against suspected thieves. For example, on March 8, 2017, the police issued a statement regarding the killing of Jean Bikorimana, accused of stealing rabbits. In the statement, Andre Hakizimana, police spokesman for Southern Province, said, “A crime can’t be rectified by a crime. The justice sector is there to ensure that when a crime is committed, professionals and accredited institutions handle it appropriately. When you take matters into your own hands, you have committed a crime and you will be prosecuted... Everyone has the right to defend himself or herself in courts of law.” On the statement in Southern Province, see “Police warns against self-administered justice,” Rwanda News Agency, March 8, 2017, http://rnanews.com/national/12823-police-warns-against-self-administered-justice (accessed July 9, 2017); “Police warns against self-administered justice,” Rwanda National Police news release, April 11, 2017, http://www.police.gov.rw/news-detail/?tx_ttnews%5Btt_news%5D=9292&cHash=59aa987028dd5d5d6f43b4aaa778bd08 (accessed July 9, 2017); and “Police condemns ‘self-administered justice’ as two are arrested,” Rwanda Eye, January 20, 2017, http://rwandaeye.com/police-condemns-self-administered-justice-as-two-are-arrested/ (accessed July 9, 2017). This article, describing a crime that occurred in Nyamagabe district, Southern Province, erroneously presents Hakizimana as the police spokesman of Western Province. On the statement in the Eastern Province, see “Rwamagana: DPC cautions against ‘self-administered justice,’” Rwanda National Police news release, March 26, 2017, http://www.police.gov.rw/news-detail/?tx_ttnews%5Btt_news%5D=9181&cHash=9fd7176b0f5be3bd6ffddc1cb99576d4 (accessed July 9, 2017). On the statement in Kigali, see “Police hunt three suspects for lynching street children,” The East African, May 6, 2017, http://www.theeastafrican.co.ke/Rwanda/News/Police-hunt-suspects-lynching-street-children/1433218-3915790-147xfglz/index.html (accessed July 9, 2017).

[60] Human Rights Watch interview with resident of Rubavu district, February 21, 2017.

[61] Human Rights Watch interview with resident of Rubavu district, May 17, 2017.

[62] Human Rights Watch interview with resident of Rubavu district, May 16, 2017.

[63] Human Rights Watch interview with resident of Rubavu district, May 17, 2017.

[64] Human Rights Watch interview with resident of Rubavu district, May 17, 2017.

[65] Human Rights Watch interview with resident of Rutsiro district, June 13, 2017.

[66] Human Rights Watch interview with widow of victim, February 8, 2017.

[67] Human Rights Watch interview with witness, March 16, 2017.

[68] Human Rights Watch interview with resident of Rutsiro, June 13, 2017.

[69] Human Rights Watch interview with resident of Rutsiro, June 13, 2017.

[70] See Appendix IV for a copy of the letter.

[71] ‘Infiltrator’, or ‘abacengezi’ in Kinyarwanda, is a term often used to describe those who wish to destabilize Rwanda, particularly those with links to the FDLR who have infiltrated into Rwanda from Congo and other neighboring countries.

[72] Juvénal Habyarimana was the President of Rwanda from 1973 to 1994. On April 6, 1994, he died in a plane crash over the Rwandan capital, Kigali, which triggered the genocide. Habyarimana was from the area now known as Nyabihu district, Western Province.

[73] Human Rights Watch interview with Jeremie Sinamenye, mayor of Rubavu district, Rubavu district, July 6, 2017.

[74] Human Rights Watch interview with Jean Bosco Tuyishime, executive secretary of Nyundo sector, Rubavu district, July 6, 2017.

[75] Human Rights Watch interview with Elisaphan Ugiriribambino, executive secretary of Nyamyumba sector, Rubavu district, July 6, 2017.

[76] Human Rights Watch interview with Chantal Mukeshimana, executive secretary of Rukoko cell, Rubavu district, July 6, 2017.

[77] Human Rights Watch interview with Etienne Nirere, executive secretary of Boneza sector, Rutsiro district, July 6, 2017.

[78] Rwandan Constitution adopted in 2003, revised in 2005, 2008, 2010, and 2015, arts. 12, 13, 15 and 29, http://www.minijust.gov.rw/fileadmin/Law_and_Regulations/Official_Gazette_no_Special_of_24.12.2015__2___1_.pdf (accessed July 10, 2017).

[79] See UN Commission on Human Rights, “Report of the independent expert to update the set of principles to combat impunity,” E/CN.4/2005/102/Add.1, February 8, 2005, para. 19.

[80] International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), adopted December 16, 1966, G.A Res. 2200A (XXI), 21 U.N. GAOR Supp. (No.16) at 52, U.N. A/6316 (1966), 999U.N.T.S. 171, entered into force March 23, 1976, ratified by Rwanda on April 16, 1975; African [Banjul] Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, adopted June 27, 1981, OAU Doc. CAB/LEG/67/3/ rev. 5, 21 I.L.M. 58 (1982), entered into force October 21, 1986, ratified by Rwanda on July 15, 1983.

[81] See Human Rights Committee, General Comment 31, Nature of the General Legal Obligation on States Parties to the Covenant, U.N. Doc. CCPR/C/21/Rev.1/Add.13 (2004), para. 15 (“States Parties must ensure that individuals also have accessible and effective remedies to vindicate those rights” protected by the ICCPR). See also Updated Set of Principles for the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights through Action to Combat Impunity (“Impunity Principles”), U.N. Doc. E/CN.4/2005/102/Add.1, February 8, 2005, adopted by the UN Commission on Human Rights in Resolution E/CN.4/2005/81, April 15, 2005, principle I; Basic Principles and Guidelines on the Right to a Remedy and Reparation for Victims of Gross Violations of International Human Rights Law and Serious Violations of International Humanitarian Law (“Reparations Principles”), adopted December 16, 2005, G.A. res. 60/147, U.N. Doc. A/RED/60/147 (2005), principle 11.

[82] ICCPR, arts. 2(2) & (3).

[83] Human Rights Committee, General Comment No. 31, Nature of the General Legal Obligation Imposed on States Parties to the Covenant, CCPR/C/21/Rev.1/Add.13, (2004), arts. 15 & 18.

[84] African Charter, arts. 1 & 7.

[85] Principles on the Effective Prevention and Investigation of Extra-legal, Arbitrary and Summary Executions: Recommended by Economic and Social Council resolution 1989/65 of 24 May 1989, E.S.C. res. 1989/65, annex, 1989 U.N. ESCOR Supp. (No. 1) at 52, U.N. Doc. E/1989/89 (1989), http://www.ohchr.org/EN/ProfessionalInterest/Pages/ArbitraryAndSummaryExecutions.aspx (accessed June 26, 2017), principle 15.

[86] See Prosecutor v. Delalic, International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), Case No. It-96-21-T, November 16, 1998, para. 346 (Celebici). See also Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, 2187 U.N.T.S. 90, entered into force July 1, 2002, art. 28.

[87] UN Basic Principles and Guidelines on the Right to a Remedy and Reparation for Victims of Gross Violations of International Human Rights Law and Serious Violations of International Humanitarian Law, March 21, 2006, adopted by the 60th session of the United Nations General Assembly, A/RES/60/147, paras. 11(c) and 24.

[88] UN Set of Principles for the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights Through Action to Combat Impunity, October 2, 1997, adopted by the UN Commission on Human Rights, E/CN.4/Sub.2/1997/20/Rev.1, principle 3.

[89] ICCPR, art. 2(3)(a).

[90] ICCPR, art. 2(3)(b); Basic Principles and Guidelines on the Right to a Remedy and Reparation for Victims of Gross Violations of International Human Rights Law and Serious Violations of International Humanitarian Law, March 21, 2006, adopted by the 60th session of the United Nations General Assembly, A/RES/60/147, principle II.3.(d): “The obligation to respect, ensure respect for and implement international human rights law and international humanitarian law as provided for under the respective bodies of law, includes, inter alia, the duty to: (d) Provide effective remedies to victims, including reparation, as described below.”

[91] Human Rights Committee, General Comment 29, States of Emergency (art. 4), U.N. Doc. CCPR/C/21/Rev.1/Add.11(2001), para. 14.

[92] Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials, Adopted by the Eight United Nations Congress on the Prevention of Crime and Treatment of Offenders, 1990, principle 9.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Newly appointed Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni speaks before a confidence vote at the Senate in Rome, Italy December 14, 2016. 

© 2016 Reuters

After 28 years of failure, Italy has finally made torture a crime. But there’s little to celebrate.

The compromise text, finally approved on July 5 by the Chamber of Deputies after four years of tough negotiations, falls short of the bar set by European and international bodies of which Italy is a member and fails to meet international law standards.

The flaws rest with how the law defines the scope of the crime and the statute of limitations.

Diverging from the definition provided by the United Nations Convention against Torture, which Italy ratified in 1989, the text of the new law requires “multiple acts” for torture to occur – the convention, reflecting international law, affirms “any act” might be torture if it meets the gravity standard. The new law also requires that psychological trauma be “verifiable” to establish “psychological” torture. And parliament also rejected the proposal to double the length of the statute of limitations for the crime of torture, despite the need to ensure perpetrators are brought to justice for this serious crime.

The restrictive definition and short statute of limitations – in a country whose judiciary is infamous for its lengthy trials – raises the risks torture will go unpunished, as well as hinder the ability of victims to get redress. This means that Italy will continue to be in violation of its international obligations.

After the difficult approval at the Senate, the Chamber of Deputies made no changes to the law before passage, ignoring serious concerns raised by the Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights Nils Muižnieks, which echo those repeatedly expressed by several Italian nongovernmental organizations, by the first proponent of the draft, Senator Luigi Manconi, by the prosecutors of the 2001 Genoa G8 events, and by a group of victims, lawyers, and judges.

Italy has a duty to comply with its international obligations and with European Court of Human Rights’ rulings, and to guarantee torture survivors, victims, and their families an effective remedy. By doing so, it would give more credibility to its call for justice for Giulio Regeni, the Italian researcher tortured to death in Egypt more than a year ago.

Unfortunately, the approval of this text does not meet this test, nor does it satisfy the imperative to amend it so that it is fully in line with international law. Then, and only then, there will be something to celebrate.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Summary

My brother asked, “Can I have your identity? What is your force? Are you RAB, CID, DB?” They did not identify themselves. He asked several times. They did not wear any uniform and they had no legal arrest warrant. Nothing. They just said, “Come with us.” My brother said, “I am a lawyer and I need to know these things.” And then they said, “We will give you five minutes to get ready. Get ready and come with us.”

–Sister of Mir Ahmad Bin Quasem, a lawyer for Jamaat-e-Islami who has been “disappeared” since August 2016

Law enforcement forces, whether it is RAB, police, or any other one, it really doesn’t matter because they all are abiding by government orders. The policy of the present government is to arrest someone and “disappear” them. Some of the government forces are very rude and cruel. But it is the government policy that I blame.

–Father of Adnan Chowdhury, a Bangladesh Nationalist Party supporter who has been “disappeared” since December 2013

Since 2013, law enforcement authorities in Bangladesh have illegally detained scores of opposition activists and held them in secret without producing them before courts, as the law requires. In most cases, those arrested remain in custody for weeks or months before being formally arrested or released. Others however are killed in so-called armed exchanges, and many remain “disappeared.”

Bangladesh law enforcement authorities have illegally detained hundreds of people since 2013, including scores of opposition activists, and held them in secret detention. 

Bangladesh law enforcement agencies have a long history of human rights violations. The ruling Awami League party took office in January 2009 with the promise to end such abuses. However, according to Odhikar, a Dhaka-based human rights organization, Bangladesh law enforcement agencies have since disappeared over 320 people, including suspected criminals, militants, and, more recently, opposition members. Of these, 50 were later killed, and dozens remain disappeared. The rest were either released or formally produced in court as recent arrests.

Such disappearances continue, but many of the targets are now political opponents. In 2016, human rights organizations and the media documented over 90 people disappeared, of which 21 were killed. Nine remain disappeared at time of writing. In the first five months of 2017, Odhikar reported an additional 48 disappearances. In February 2017, the United Nations Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances called on the Bangladesh government to halt the increasing number of enforced disappearances. In April 2017, Swedish Radio reported on a secretly recorded interview with a senior officer in the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), a counterterror unit of police and military, who admitted that the force routinely picks up people, kills them, and disposes of the bodies.

The Awami League has taken contradictory approaches to allegations of disappearances. In November 2016, confronted with cases of enforced disappearances mostly involving political opponents, Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal told Voice of America the allegations were baseless; those missing, he said, were hiding “to embarrass the government globally.” In March 2017, Law Minister Anisul Huq however acknowledged to the UN Human Rights Committee that disappearances had taken place, but claimed their numbers had been brought down to “a very low level.” Huq also said that Bangladeshi law did not recognize enforced disappearances, but “kidnapping or abductions” in the country’s “criminal environment” had been successfully investigated, and that the government had a “zero tolerance approach” toward law enforcement agencies committing crimes. “Nobody is above the law, nobody,” he said.

This report examines dozens of disappearances since the beginning of 2016, as well as the abduction of 22 activists from the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) between November 28 and December 11, 2013, just weeks before national elections in January 2014. Nineteen of those abducted in 2013 remain disappeared at time of writing. The report finds that state law enforcement agencies—particularly RAB and the Detective Branch (DB) of the police—have been involved in secret detentions and killings, despite public assertions to the contrary.

Among those picked up in 2016 whose whereabouts remain unknown are Mir Ahmad Bin Quasem and Amaan Azmi, sons of two prominent Jamaat-e-Islami opposition leaders convicted in recent trials for war crimes during Bangladesh’s independence campaign in 1971. In addition, 12 of the men killed following an illegal detention in 2016 were known activists of the opposition Jamaat.

For instance, Shahid Al Mahmud, a 24-year-old Jamaat-e-Islami activist, was picked up in front of family members on June 13, 2016. His father, Rajab Ali, described the arrest at a press conference five days later, and said he was worried that his son might be killed. On July 1, the family heard reports of two men killed in a gunfight. Aware of other cases of faked armed encounters, they went to the morgue and discovered Shahid’s body. Police claimed that they had opened fire after coming under attack by criminals. Rajab Ali told Human Rights Watch that the police were lying: “The police abducted my son and staged a gunfight drama to justify the killing.”

The 19 disappearance cases detailed in this report from 2013 all involve the BNP. The men were picked up in eight separate incidents after the BNP and its ally, Jamaat-e-Islami, launched violent protests involving arson and the use of crude bombs. Witness accounts indicate that RAB participated in at least three incidents in different parts of Dhaka in which eight BNP supporters were disappeared. In two other incidents involving the abduction of six men, witness accounts—including a sighting of the disappeared being escorted by a man with “DB” written on his vest, and another of the disappeared in a DB office—indicate the involvement of DB police officers.

Families of the disappeared have made repeated appeals to the government, visited DB and RAB offices, and sought police investigations. Some have filed cases before the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, while others have sought assistance from the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), or filed habeas corpus petitions before the High Court.

Lack of Accountability

In almost all cases of enforced disappearances that Human Rights Watch documented, police did not allow the families to file a General Diary (GD)—the simplest way to report a crime or incident to the police—if the complaint contained an allegation that law enforcement authorities were involved. Police either allowed the families only to file a GD stating that the person was “kidnapped” by unidentified men, or more commonly to file a complaint saying that their family member was “missing.”

Other than in a couple of cases, the allegations of the families and witnesses have been totally ignored, and there has been no police inquiry. In a few cases where investigations have occurred, the inquiry has been cursory, without any attempt to interview eyewitnesses.

Families had varying experiences with RAB and DB. One desperate father whose son has been missing since 2013 told Human Rights Watch:

Almost every day I visited the RAB or DB office. RAB guards treated me badly and asked me not to visit regularly. They scolded me and asked me, “Why are you disturbing us again and again.” I spent two months in this way.

On the other hand, the family members of Sajedul Islam Sumon, a well-known local BNP leader who was picked up in December 2013, had political connections that enabled them to contact senior RAB officers. The officers informally admitted that RAB had picked up Sumon and five other men. One former senior RAB-1 officer told the family that the men were brought into his custody immediately after being picked up, but were then removed by other RAB officials, and that he now assumed they had all been killed.

The NHRC and courts have been ineffective in dealing with these cases. The commission has not undertaken any investigations of its own. In one case in which the NHRC did intervene on behalf of a family, it was easily brushed off with vague reassurances.

Very few families of those who have been disappeared seek legal remedy. Several told Human Rights Watch they feared legal action would seriously jeopardize the safety of their relatives—most families hope that they will be released after a period of secret, illegal detention. Others said the courts were ineffective as state agencies deny their role.

Protecting Rights

Bangladesh faces serious security challenges. In addition to concern of renewed violent protests by political opponents, authorities are grappling with a surge in attacks by Islamic militants targeting foreigners, religious minorities, writers, bloggers, editors, and gay rights activists that between 2013 and 2016 killed over 50 people.

However, the state has a responsibility to ensure that the law enforcement response does not violate human rights. Enforced disappearances are prohibited under both international human rights law and international humanitarian law. Instead of accepting denials, the courts—if not the government—should order prompt, impartial, and independent investigations, and require that law enforcement authorities either release the missing persons, or provide answers to families about what happened and prosecute those responsible for the abuses.

The government should also invite the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and UN special rapporteurs to investigate serious human rights violations including disappearances, extrajudicial executions, and “kneecappings” and other alleged acts of torture, and make appropriate recommendations to ensure justice, accountability, and security force reform.

Key Recommendations

  • Promptly investigate existing allegations of enforced disappearances, locate and release those held secretly by security forces, and prosecute the perpetrators. These should include politically motivated cases involving the disappearances of members or supporters of the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party and the Jamaat-e-Islami party.
  • Investigate allegations of deaths of individuals in so-called crossfire or gunfights after they were already in security force custody, establish command responsibility, and prosecute those responsible.
  • Make strong and repeated public statements at the highest government levels that make clear that all law enforcement authorities and investigation agencies should comply with the law and that all detained people must be brought to court within 24 hours.
  • Immediately suspend, pending a full investigation, and remove from RAB, DB, and other law enforcement units or other position any individual for whom there exists credible evidence that they participated in an enforced disappearance. Work to disband RAB, which has been responsible for numerous and serious human rights violations, and replace with a non-military counterterrorism unit.
  • Ensure serious and independent investigations by inviting the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and relevant UN special procedures—including the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, the special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, and the special rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment—to visit Bangladesh to investigate and make appropriate recommendations to ensure justice and accountability, as well as reform of the security forces to act independently and professionally.

Methodology

This report has been researched and written by a consultant for Human Rights Watch.

It provides details of some of the over 90 reported disappearances that took place during 2016. Most of the interviews that form the basis of this part of the research were done by phone, with some additional interviews in person.

It also details 19 disappearances at the end of 2013. It uses material based on initial interviews from August to December 2014 by two journalists who worked at the time at the Bangladesh national newspaper New Age. On the first anniversary of the disappearances, the paper published a series of 10 articles.[1] As a consultant with Human Rights Watch, one of the journalists conducted further research from May to August 2016 to obtain new and updated information. The interviews took place primarily in Dhaka, but also with eyewitnesses who have since moved out of the city.

In some cases, names of interviewees have been withheld to reduce the likelihood of reprisals. Over 100 people, including family members and witnesses, were interviewed to document these cases. Interviews were conducted in Bengali and English.

Bangladeshi authorities did not respond to letters that Human Rights Watch submitted in April 2017 requesting information about the specific cases documented in this report. For information on the authorities’ versions of the cases, we therefore have relied on news accounts giving details of their responses, where such accounts are available.

I. Background

Bangladesh has a long history of human rights violations and lack of accountability for security forces.[2] However, the disappearance of 19 Dhaka-based opposition activists over a two-week period at the end of 2013 appears exceptional. The only comparable abuse was at the end of the country’s independence war in December 1971, when Pakistan military, aided by local extremists, abducted and killed 17 academics and journalists in Dhaka over a four-day period.[3]

While extrajudicial killings, or deaths in so-called crossfire incidents, have persisted for years, the Awami League committed to end these abuses after it came to power in January 2009. However, over 320 people been “disappeared” by Bangladesh law enforcement agencies for various amounts of time since the government led by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wazed took office, as reported by the nongovernmental organization Odhikar. Since 2013, in a new phenomenon in Bangladesh, many of those targeted have been members of the political opposition.

Many of those disappeared have not returned or were mysteriously killed, often in alleged gunfights.[4] In 2016, there were confirmed reports of at least 90 disappearances.[5] Odhikar has reported 48 cases from January to May 2017. The total number is likely to be higher, as families or witnesses do not always report disappearances.

Political Background

The Awami League won an overwhelming majority of seats in the new parliament in the December 29, 2008 elections. Bangladesh has a deeply fractured political climate, and for the next five years, the main opposition parties—the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and the Jamaat-e-Islami—rarely attended parliament.[6] On June 30, 2011, the government amended the constitution, removing provisions that the government would hand over power to a non-political caretaker administration three months before elections.[7] The BNP and the Jamaat demanded the provision be reintroduced before the 2014 elections to ensure free and fair polling.

The government’s refusal prompted the BNP and the Jamaat to lead an 18-party opposition alliance to organize a series of three-day hartals (national strikes) and blockades to press their demands. To enforce the strikes, many opposition party activists set fire to cars and government buildings, targeting public vehicles with crude bombs. On November 8, 2013, just after the BNP announced yet another three-day hartal, the government started to crack down on BNP leaders for alleged involvement in the violence.[8]

The opposition continued to call strikes. Related street violence and retaliation by security forces resulted in deaths and injuries. The opposition also announced a poll boycott. International diplomacy, including a visit by a senior United National official, failed to lead to an agreement. Elections took place on January 5, 2014, without the involvement of opposition candidates. Thus, more than half the seats were uncontested.[9]

Clashes between supporters of the Awami League and opposition parties started again in early 2015, on the anniversary of the controversial elections. By the end of February 2015, up to 120 people had been killed in the political violence.[10] Toward the end of March 2015, under pressure, opposition parties stopped their strikes and picketing. However, a new crackdown on the opposition then began to unfold.[11]

Attacks by Extremist Groups

In parallel to the conflict between the government and political opposition, Islamic militants have since 2013 carried out attacks that have killed over 50 people. The attacks took two different forms.

The motivation for one category of attacks, which were claimed by the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Ansar al-Islam, has been perceived insults to Islam.[12] These attacks include the hacking of Asif Mohiuddin, an outspoken atheist blogger, in January 2013;[13] the killing of secular blogger and political activist Ahmed Rajib Haider in front of his family home in Dhaka the following month;[14] the killing of blogger Avijit Roy, a US national of Bangladeshi origin, in February 2015 in a machete attack that also seriously injured his wife; and the death of seven more people in the months that followed, including two LGBT activists. Some of the targets were among the 84 people publicly named as atheists by extremist groups.[15] Many bloggers and activists have gone into hiding, fled the country, or stopped writing.

A second type of attack, claimed by ISIS (also known as the Islamic State), has targeted foreigners in Bangladesh, as well as members of religious minority groups including Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, and Shia. These began in September 2015, when unknown attackers shot and killed Italian aid worker Cesare Tavella. In the following ten months, 19 people were killed in similar attacks. On July 1, 2016, militants attacked a café in the upscale Gulshan neighborhood of Dhaka, in which 18 foreign nationals, two Bangladeshis, and two police officers died.[16] Although ISIS claimed responsibility for all these attacks, the government has denied an ISIS connection, as well as the group’s presence in Bangladesh, and instead has blamed opposition parties and a revamped version of the local Islamist group Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), which police authorities term the neo-JMB.[17]

History of Disappearances and Extrajudicial Killings

One of the first well documented incidents of an apparent enforced disappearance in post-1971 Bangladesh is the case of Kalpana Chakma, an indigenous women's rights activist, who was picked up along with her two brothers from their home in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, allegedly by army officers on election day in 1996. The two brothers escaped after a few days, but Kalpana, a strong critic of the army’s role in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, remains missing, presumed dead.[18]

In 2002, the then-ruling BNP started Operation Clean Heart to tackle crime, resulting in thousands of detentions and reports of over 40 deaths, many allegedly through torture.[19] In 2004, the BNP government established RAB as an elite counterterrorism unit combining members of the armed forces and police.[20] In the first two years, Human Rights Watch identified 367 people killed by RAB in alleged “crossfire.”[21] In several cases, men were picked up by RAB, “disappeared,” and killed. RAB denied the detentions.[22]

On January 11, 2007, following violent political protests around planned elections, the military stepped in, proclaiming a state of emergency, and established a caretaker government. In November 2008, near the end of the military-backed caretaker government, the human rights organization Odhikar found that 245 people had been killed in alleged “crossfires” or “gunfights,” and 38 people had allegedly been tortured to death since January 2007.[23]

The Awami League came to power in January 2009 promising that “extrajudicial killings will be stopped.”[24] That commitment soon faltered.[25] In May 2011, a Human Rights Watch report found that since the Awami League took office, nearly 200 people had been killed in RAB operations.[26] Regardless of who has led them, governments in Bangladesh have justified extrajudicial killings as lawful self-defense.

As the Awami League’s term continued, law enforcement authorities started to increasingly target the opposition. While extrajudicial killings continued, reports of enforced disappearances, which until then were rare, increased.[27] Families and eyewitnesses have repeatedly made allegations against the Detective Branch (DB) of the police, in addition to RAB, for its alleged role in these disappearances.[28]

In a few cases, those illegally detained have been released without ever being formally arrested. For instance, in two high profile disappearances, a witness at the International Crimes Tribunal in November 2012 and a BNP spokesperson in April 2015 were picked up and secretly detained in Bangladesh for around six weeks.[29] They were then discovered in Indian territory where they were arrested by Indian authorities for illegal entry. In a more recent case, the police “released” two men at a public meeting attended by the home minister who they said had handed themselves in and turned their back on militancy, though their current whereabouts remain uncertain. In May 2017, Muhammed Iqbal Mahmud, who had been picked up in Dhaka eight months earlier, was left blindfolded on the side of the Dhaka-Raipur road.[30]

In most cases, the men remain in secret detention for weeks or months before the police suddenly claim to have arrested them the previous day. The men are then taken to the magistrate court and are remanded into police custody on the basis of a concocted story.

In other disappearances, the men’s fate is more serious—they are killed in alleged “gunfire” or their dead bodies are found. In 2016, this happened to 21 of those disappeared.[31] For some, including the 19 disappeared in 2013 detailed in this report, their whereabouts remain unknown.

As of May 2016, the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances had formally received information on 34 cases of alleged enforced disappearances in Bangladesh. In its annual report published in July 2016, the group reiterated “its regrets that no information has been received … concerning the alleged frequent use of enforced disappearance as a tool by law enforcement agencies, paramilitary and armed forces to detain and even extrajudicially execute individuals.”[32]

The Bangladesh government has also not responded to a request by the Working Group to visit Bangladesh, first sent on March 12, 2013, and resent on November 27, 2015. In February 2017, the group issued a statement, endorsed by four UN special rapporteurs, calling on the Bangladesh government to halt the increasing number of enforced disappearances and reveal the whereabouts of three sons of opposition leaders who had been abducted.[33]

In April 2014, Swedish Radio reported that it had in its possession a secretly recorded interview with a senior RAB official, which it had authenticated, describing RAB’s practice of disappearing and killing people. “Everyone is not an expert on forced disappearances. We have to make sure no clue is left behind,” the RAB official is quoted as saying.[34]

The government has failed to investigate allegations of disappearances and hold perpetrators to account. In 2014, for example, in response to questions about the 2013 disappearances detailed in this report, the state minister for home affairs, Asaduzzaman Khan, told New Age that though “one or two incidents” had happened at that time, “law men were not involved in any of those cases.”[35]

One exception to the lack of investigation occurred in Narayanganj district. Seven men, including an Awami League leader, were picked up by RAB officials in April 2014 over a dispute with a party competitor. A few days later, their bloated bodies floated to the surface of the Shitalakkya River, triggering a media storm. The High Court intervened, and the eventual investigation and prosecution resulted in the conviction in January 2017 of 35 people for murder, including three RAB officers.[36]

International and National Legal Standards

Although Bangladesh law does not contain any specific criminal offense of “enforced disappearance,” the Penal Code, 1860, contains offenses including “wrongful confinement”; “wrongful confinement in secret”; “abduction”; “kidnapping or abducting with intent secretly and wrongfully to confine person”; “kidnapping or abducting in order to subject person to grievous hurt, slavery”; and “wrongfully concealing or keeping in confinement, kidnapped or abducted person.”[37] Penalties for these offenses range from two to ten years’ imprisonment. In addition, the Torture and Custodial Death (Prohibition) Act, 2013, makes torture an offense punishable by up to five years’ imprisonment. Death by torture is punishable by a life sentence.[38]

The Bangladesh constitution also imposes obligations on the state to protect the fundamental rights of every citizen, forbidding any action that is “detrimental to the life, liberty, body, reputation or property of any person.”[39] The state is further obligated to secure the right to life and personal liberty.[40]

In early November 2016, Bangladesh’s highest court published guidelines requiring law enforcement officers to undertake a basic set of actions when arresting a person. They include an obligation to inform a close relative or friend of the arrested person about the time and place of the detention; to make clear the location where the person is being held; and to allow the arrested person access to a lawyer or relatives. Officers must prepare a memorandum of arrest to be signed by the arrested person and complete a case diary, which must be handed to a magistrate if the officer requests custody of a suspect for more than 24 hours, setting out the allegations and need for further investigation.[41]

In Bangladesh, a prosecutor must obtain a prior government “sanction” before lodging any criminal complaint against a state official, permission that is seldom granted.[42] The law allows both police officers and the Rapid Action Battalion to escape prosecution if they can show that they acted in “good faith.”[43]

Bangladesh is obliged to follow the standards set out in the 1992 UN General Assembly's Declaration on the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearances (Declaration on Enforced Disappearances).[44] Although non-binding, the declaration reflects the consensus of the international community against this type of human rights violation and provides authoritative guidance as to the safeguards that must be implemented to prevent it. Bangladesh also has obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which enshrines the right to life, liberty, and security, and right to a fair trial.[45]

Bangladesh is party to the Rome Statute setting up the International Criminal Court.[46] The statute includes enforced disappearances as one of the crimes against humanity over which the court has jurisdiction.[47] The statute defines “enforced disappearance of persons” as “the arrest, detention or abduction of persons by, or with the authorization, support or acquiescence of, a State or a political organization, followed by a refusal to acknowledge that deprivation of freedom or to give information on the fate or whereabouts of those persons.”[48]

Under the Rome Statute, enforced disappearances amount to a crime against humanity when committed as part of a widespread or systematic “attack on a civilian population,” such as a state policy to plan and commit such crimes.[49]

II. Ongoing Secret Detentions and Disappearances

Human rights organizations and media have documented over 90 people “disappeared” in 2016, of whom 21 were later found dead. The whereabouts of nine remain unknown at time of writing. The others, after varying periods of secret detention, were “released” before being formally arrested.

There have been additional reports of other disappearances involving people suspected of involvement in the Holey Artisan Bakery attack on July 1, 2016, or linked to the “neo-JMB,” which are not included in these numbers. For example, it was reported that alleged militants Tamim Ahmed Chowdhury and Nurul Islam Marjan were detained in state custody for significant periods of time before being killed in so-called counterterrorism operations on August 27, 2016, and January 7, 2017, respectively.[50]

Killed Following Disappearances

The 21 men picked up and killed are set out in the table below. Twelve were Jamaat-e-Islami activists, three were Awami League members, one was a BNP activist, three were allegedly involved in murders, and two were alleged to be criminals.[51] Below the table are further details on eight of the cases, based on interviews with families and witnesses.

ILLEGALY DETAINED AND KILLED IN 2016:

Name

Date of detention

Date body was found

Summary of family allegations of pick up and death

Abu Huraira, 55

January 24

February 29

Abu Huraira, a teacher at Kuthi Durgapur Madrasa and a senior member of Jamaat-e-Islami in Jhenaidah, was picked up outside the school where he taught by men who identified themselves as DB members. His body was found a month later on the Jessore-Jhenaidah road.[52]

Mohammad Jasim Uddin, 23

February 12

March 2

Mohammad Jasim Uddin, a student at Jhenaidah Alia Madrasa and a leader of the Jamaat-e-Islami student wing, was picked up in Dhaka by some men in plainclothes claiming to be police. His body was found in a field 20 days later bearing torture marks.

Mukul Rana (Sharif alias Saleh alias Arif)

February 23

June 19

Mukul Rana, accused of involvement in the killing of blogger Avijit Roy, was picked up and put in a microbus from Bashundia intersection in Jessore by men who self-identified as police. Four months later, police said his body was recovered after a gunfight.[53]

Abu Jar Gifari, 21

Shamim Mahmud, 23

March 18

March 25

April 13

Abu Jar Gifari, a Jamaat-e-Islami student leader in Jhenaidah, was picked up as he left the mosque after Friday prayers by four armed men in plainclothes, who identified themselves as police. Shamim Mahmud, also a Jamaat-e-Islami student activist, was picked up outside a grocery store by men claiming to be police. Nearly three weeks later, their bodies were recovered, allegedly with bullet wounds, near the cremation ground in Jessore Sadar Upazila.

Sohanur Rahman, 16

April 10

April 20

Sohanur Rahman, a supporter of the Jamaat-e-Islami, was arrested in Ishwarba village in Jhenaidah, in front of his younger brother. His body, with bullet injuries, was found 10 days later.

Shahid Al Mahmud, 24

Anisur Rahman, 26

June 13

June 16

July 1

Shahid Al Mahmud, a cattle farmer and Jamaat-e-Islami student activist, was picked up early in the morning from his house in Jhenaidah in front of his parents and taken away in a microbus. Anisur Rahman, also a student activist, was picked up three days later from a hostel in Dhaka.[54] Their bodies were recovered two weeks later. Police claimed they were killed during a gunfight with criminals at the Tatultala-Naldanga road in Jhenaidah.[55]

Ibnul Islam Parvez, 27

June 16

July 2

Ibnul Islam Parvez, former president of the Jhenaidah district town unit Jamaat student wing, was picked up from a hostel in Dhaka (along with Anisur Rahman, see above). Two weeks later, the police said that Parvez’s body was found in Aruakandi village following a gunfight.[56]

Nurun Nabi, 28

Nurul Islam Rashed, 27

June 23

July 5

Nurun Nabi and Nurul Islam Rashed, suspected of involvement in the killing of a police officer’s wife, were picked up by police from a house in the Millitarir Pool area in Chittagong where they were staying. Two weeks later, the police stated that their bodies were found following a gunfight at MBW Brick field close to the city.[57]

Saiful Islam, 25

July 1

July 19

Saiful Islam, an activist of the Jamaat-e-Islami student wing, was picked up by police from his hostel in Jhenaidah along with four other students, and was seen the following day by his family at a police station. Nearly three weeks later, police claimed to have found his body close to Jhenaidah highway following a gunfight with criminals.

Faruk
Hossain, 42

July 1

July 2

Faruk Hossain, claimed by police to be a member of a gang of robbers, was picked up in Jessore by four men on two motorbikes identifying themselves as police officers. Police later said his body was found following a gunfight.[58]

Oliullah
Molla,
38

July 9

July 10

Oliullah Mollah, vice president of a local brick field workers’ association and general secretary of his local unit of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party in Satkhira, was picked up by police from the Paruli bazaar area. Police later said his body was found in Ganghati village following a gunfight.

Idris Ali, 56

August 4

August 12

Idris Ali, a madrasa teacher and Jamaat-e-Islami leader in Jhenaidah, was picked up by police while returning to his house at night. Eight days later, his body was found on the Harinakundu-Jhenaidah road with marks of torture.

Mohammad Zahurul
Islam, 42

September 7

October 25

Mohammad Zahurul Islam, president of the Jhenaidah town unit of Jamaat-e-Islami and a lecturer at Keyarbazar College, was picked up on his way home for lunch in the Al Hera area by men claiming to be DB members. A month later, police said he was shot dead on the Jhenaidah town bypass road when they opened fire in self- defense.[59]

Tarique Hassan Shajib, 40

September 13

October 25

Tarique Hassan Shajib, member of Jamaat-e-Islami, was picked up just after midnight by men claiming to be police from Al Hera school in Jhenaidah town where the party often held meetings. His body was found on October 25 with that of Zahurul Islam, whose case is described above.[60]

Safinul Islam (alias Safin), 32

September 27

October 26

Safinul Islam, previously convicted in a murder case, was picked up from Dhaka by men identifiable as members of RAB. RAB denied the arrest that time, but a month later, claimed that he was killed in a gunfight at Dadrajonti village in Joypurhat.[61]

Redwan Sabbir

Abu Abdullah

Sohel Rana

December 3

December 5

Redwan Sabbir, Abu Abdullah, and Sohel Rana, three Awami League youth wing activists, were picked up by a group of about 12 men, some wearing vests inscribed with “RAB,” from a tea stall in Tokia Bazar in Natore, late at night. Their bodies, with bullet wounds, were found two days later in Dinajpur.[62]

Mohammad Jasim Uddin

Mohammad Jasim Uddin, a student at Jhenaidah Alia Madrasa, was acting president of the Jamaat-e-Islami student wing in Ganna union unit in Jhenaidah district. According to his relatives, he no longer lived at his home in the Kalohati area of Jhenaidah town, fearing arrest. However, as his mother was sick, in February 2016 he decided to visit her. He was picked up soon after. His father, Khalil Rahman, said:

We had a conversation over the phone on February 11 when he reached Dhaka. He told me that he will come to Jhenaidah the next day, but would not stay long. But then we heard from a friend of Jasim’s that he had been taken away by some men who claimed that they were police.[63]

Soon after Jasim went missing, his older brother, Saifur Rahman, went to the Rajbari police station and local RAB offices, but they denied the arrest. On March 4, his family members were informed that a mutilated body had been found at Mostabapur field in Harinakundu Upazila. His brother identified his body. Jasim had been shot in the head, and his hands and legs were tied.[64] His mother said the family did not receive a postmortem report.[65]

Abu Jar Gifari

Abu Jar Gifari, a third-year student at the Jessore MM College, was president of the local Jamaat-e-Islami student wing in Jhenaidah. Citing witnesses, Abu’s father, Nur Islam, said that on March 18, 2016, his son was picked up by four armed men who identified themselves as DB members:

The men approached my son on two motorbikes as he came out of the mosque after attending juma prayer. They handcuffed him after he gave his name and dragged him onto a motorbike at gunpoint. Some local people tried to stop this happening but the men aimed their guns at the local people and told people to not to interfere with them as they were performing their “administrative duty.”[66]

Later that afternoon, Nur Islam went to the Kaliganj police station where officers denied having carried out any such operation.[67]

Family members also met RAB officials who claimed to have no information regarding Abu’s whereabouts. “We were terrified and requested officials of law enforcement agencies not kill him in ‘crossfire.’ They however insisted that they did not pick him up,” his father said.

On the morning of April 13, the family was informed that two bodies had been found near the cremation ground in Jessore Sadar Upazila.[68] His father said:

We rushed there and witnessed the most heartbreaking scene. My son’s body was left there with another youth’s body. Both had bullet wounds and marks of torture.[69]

The other body was that of Shamim Mahmud.

Shamim Mahmud

Shamim Mahmud, 23, a second-year student at KC College in Jhenaidah and an activist of the Jamaat-e-Islami student wing, was detained on March 24, 2016. His father, Ruhul Amin, a madrasa teacher, said eyewitnesses told him that his son was sitting at a grocery store reading a newspaper in the afternoon when four men in plainclothes entered and picked him up at gunpoint. Ruhul Amin said:

When local people tried to rescue Shamim, the men said that they were police and threatened to open fire if anyone tried to stop their “operation.” Shamim was forcibly put on a motorbike. As the police motorbike went a few meters, Shamim tried to jump off. He was injured and the police still beat him. They took him away unconscious.[70]

Family members went to the Kaliganj police station but officials did not allow them to lodge a GD, and denied that they were involved in picking up Shamim. Instead, they criticized the father for allowing his son to be involved in Jamaat politics. Family members searched for Shamim at the local RAB-6 office and other police stations with no luck. They also approached a local member of parliament. However, no one could provide information about Shamim’s whereabouts.

Three weeks later, on April 13, Shamim’s body was found along with that of Abu Jar Gifari near the cremation ground in Jessore. The family said that the body had bullet wounds and signs of torture.[71]

Sohanur Rahman

Sohanur Rahman, 16, a high school student in Jhenaidah and a supporter of the Jamaat-e-Islami, was picked up from Ishwarba village on April 10, 2016. Sohanur and his brother, Masud, were waiting for their mother to return from Dhaka when Sohanur was detained, according to their father Mohsin Ali. Mohsin said:

My younger son Masud said that at about 5:30 p.m., four people on “easy-bikes” [a three wheeled, battery powered vehicle] passed them but returned after some local people pointed them out. One man asked Sohanur his name and when he gave it to them, two people grabbed his shirt collar and dragged him to one of the easy-bikes. Local people rushed over to them and tried to stop the men from taking Sohanur away, but the men on bikes showed their weapons and introduced themselves as plainclothes police officers. Masud cried and requested the police not take his brother away. They told him that they were taking Sohanur to Kaliganj police station.[72]

Locals identified two of the men as sub-inspectors from the Kaliganj police station. The next day, family members went to the police station. Police denied they had arrested Sohanur and did not initially allow the family members to file a GD, though they later allowed it.[73]

Sohanur’s family members also met with their local Awami League lawmaker, the Jhenaidah police superintendent, and the local RAB commander, but no one provided any information on Sohanur’s whereabouts. On April 20, Sohanur’s body was found in Kharagoda village, about 17 kilometers from their house.[74] His family said that his body showed signs of bullet injuries to the head. His father said that they asked for a copy of the postmortem report, but the police refused to provide one.[75]

Shahid Al Mahmud

Shahid Al Mahmud, 24, was a cattle farmer and activist of the Jamaat-e-Islami student wing. He lived with his parents in Badanpur village in Jhenaidah district. He was detained on June 13, 2016. His father, Rajab Ali, said the family was asleep when the police came:

Just after midnight, two men broke down the bamboo boundary, entered the compound of our house, and called out Shahid’s name as though they were his political associates. My wife and I woke up and went out to the gate, and one of the two men, both dressed in civilian clothes, pulled out a gun and threatened us. I opened the door and men went and pulled Shahid from his room. They allowed him to change his clothes. He was dragged outside and taken into a black microbus. There were other men present, some wearing police uniforms.[76]

Shakib Al Hassan, who was staying at a neighboring house, said he saw his cousin Shahid being put into the microbus. The human rights group Odhikar interviewed a neighbor, Khabir Uddin, who said he recognized one of the arresting officers.[77]

Abdur Rahim, Shahid’s older brother, who lives in Jhenaidah town, said he rushed to the police station after he heard about the arrest, but police denied having any knowledge about it.[78] Later that day he went to other police stations, the local RAB-6, and DB offices, but they all denied any knowledge of the detention.

The following day, June 15, Abdur attempted to file a GD laying out what had happened to his brother and mentioning the police and name of the officer who witnesses claimed was present. He was refused:

The police refused to accept the GD saying that I cannot accuse plainclothes police officers of involvement and that I should fill in a “missing person” GD. I left the police station without filing anything.[79]

On June 18, the family held a press conference at Jhenaidah Press Club where they described Shahid’s detention.[80] On July 1, the family heard reports of two men killed in a “crossfire” incident. Aware of other cases of such faked armed encounters, they went to the morgue and discovered Shahid’s body.

The police claimed that a team was patrolling Tatultala-Naldanga road in the early morning on July 1, when at about 3:30 a.m. some criminals hurled several bombs at the police vehicle.[81] The police returned fire. After a 20-minute gun battle, two dead bodies were found, one of whom was Shahid. The police claimed to have recovered a firearm, two bullets, five sharp weapons, and five crude bombs from the spot. They also said that some officers were wounded. Shahid’s father said the police are lying. “The police abducted my son and staged a ‘gunfight’ drama to justify the killing.”[82]

Saiful Islam

Saiful Islam, 25, was a student in the Arabic Literature Department at the Islamic University in Kushtia and an activist of the Jamaat-e-Islami student wing. He lived in a private hostel along with other party activists. Saiful’s brother, Abdullah Al Azad, said that in the early morning of July 2, he received a telephone call from Saiful’s brother-in-law.

He said that Saiful had called him and told him that he had been arrested and taken to Jhenaidah Sadar police station, and that the police said he will be released if his father and the ward chairman went to the police station.[83]

Luftur Islam, Saiful’s father, said he immediately went to meet the local ward chairman to request his intervention. The chairman told them to go and speak to the police, promising to put in a word. Lutfur, along with a neighbor, Topon, went to the city police station. Saiful’s father said that they saw Saiful in one of the cells: “We saw Saiful and some other students in police custody. My son insisted that police would release him if the chairman requested them to do so.”[84]

The police agreed that Lutfur could go outside the police station and buy some breakfast for his son. But when he returned, Saiful was gone.

When I returned to the police station, the cell where my son had been was empty. The police denied that they had arrested anyone named Saiful. When I insisted that I had seen him a few moments earlier, they said that I must have been mistaken and it was illusion.[85]

Four other students that had been picked up that morning were released in the afternoon. They told Saiful’s family members that five of them, including Saiful, had been detained together and brought to the local police station. They did not know what happened to Saiful after they were released.

Fulhari Union Chairman Jamilur Rahman Bipul said that a police officer had called him and asked about Saiful. “I told the police officer that Saiful was a good person and was not involved with any criminal activities in localities. The policeman replied that Saiful was a Shibir activist in the town and the university area.”[86]

In subsequent days, Saiful’s father went to the RAB and DB offices, but they all denied any knowledge of the arrest. On the morning of July 19, Saiful’s family read on the Ekushey TV crawl that a person had been killed in a “gunfight” beside a graveyard in Ariakandi village. Worried, they went to the morgue, where they found Saiful’s body.

The police claimed that at about 3 a.m., a police team was patrolling the Dhaka-Jhenaidah highway near Madhupur-Aruakandi graveyard when some criminals hurled crude bombs at the police vehicle. The law enforcers returned fire, triggering the “gunfight,” and one of the criminals was shot by police. Others managed to flee, police said.[87]

Oliullah Molla

Oliullah Molla, 38, general secretary of his local unit of BNP, was detained by police from the Paruli bazaar area in Satkhira on July 9, 2016.[88] When his relatives went to the local Shyamnagar police station, they said that the police confirmed the arrest but refused to let them to meet Oliullah. The family also said that local Awami League leaders demanded bribes to ensure his safety. His wife said the family began to fear for his safety:

At about 3:30 a.m. the following morning, I heard sounds of gunshots from a nearby area. I become frightened wondering whether Oliullah had been shot. My fear was proven right as in the morning I was informed about the murder of my husband.[89]

Sohidullah, Oliullah’s brother, said that family members went to the hospital morgue and found that Oliullah had been shot in the head. They also saw that his right eye was out of its socket and his right hand was cut. Police, however, claimed that they were on duty in Ganghati village when at about 3:30 a.m. a group of men sped down the road on motorbikes. The police tried to stop them, but the men instead hurled bombs and opened fire on the police, resulting in a gunfight during which Oliullah was killed.[90]

Idris Ali

Idris Ali, 56, a teacher at the Hossain Ali Aleem Madrasa at Harinakundu Upazila in the Jhenaidah, was a local Jamaat-e-Islami leader. At about 8 p.m. on August 4, 2016, Idris was on his motorbike returning to his house from the market when, according to witnesses, some plainclothes people from a police post stopped him and forcibly dragged him away.[91]

Family members went to their local police station after witnesses told them about the incident. But the officer-in-charge told them that the location where Idris was allegedly taken was not within the station’s jurisdiction, and that they should go to the Shailkupa police station to file a GD. Officers there, however, declined to allow them to do so.

Idris’s wife held a press conference on August 9 describing the disappearance. On the morning of August 12, the family was informed that the body of a missing madrasa teacher was found on the Harinakundu-Jhenaidah road. A family member said they went to the morgue:

We went there and found his mutilated body. After conducting autopsy and postmortem examinations, police claimed that it was a case of a road mishap, and Idris’s motorcycle was found at the roadside. We, however, identified marks of severe torture on different parts of the body. There were marks of hammering behind the head. Tendons were slashed. All the parts of the body bore torture marks.[92]

Police claimed that Idris Ali was wanted in several criminal cases, including for the murder of a police officer.[93]

Continuing Disappearances

Cases of nine men who were picked up in 2016 and remain disappeared at time of writing are set out in the table below.[94] Some of these people, by the time of publication, may have been released or killed. Below the table are further details of five of the cases, based on interviews with families and witnesses.

DISAPPEARED IN 2016, WHERABOUTS REMAIN UNKNOWN:

Name

Pick up date

Summary

Moazzem Hossain Tapu, 28

January 26

Moazzem Hossain Tapu, an Awami League student wing activist, was picked up from an apartment in Bashundhara Residential Area in Dhaka belonging to a political rival from the same party. The men who picked him up introduced themselves to the building guard as law enforcement officials.

Bivas Sangma, 25

Probhat Marak, 50

Rajesh Marak, 22

April 14

At around 4 a.m. on April 14, about 12 men, some wearing black clothes inscribed with “RAB,” came to Gozni village in Sherpur and picked up Bivas Sangma, a student at Tinani Adarsha Degree College, and Probhat Marak, a day laborer, from their homes. The same day, Probhat’s son, Rajesh Marak, a student at a private university in Dhaka, was picked up near Bhaluka College in Mymensingh.[95]

Kamrul Islam Sikdar Musa

June 22

Law enforcement officials picked up Kamrul Islam Sikdrar Musa as he approached the house of a friend in the Kathgar area of Chittagong where his wife and children were staying. Police have said that Musa is suspected of killing a senior police official, though they deny picking him up.[96]

Yasin Mohammad Abdus Samad Talukder, 35

July 14

Yasin Mohammad, alleged by police to have been involved in Islamic militancy, was picked up by law enforcement officers from his parked car at the Kakoli bus stand in Dhaka.

Mir Ahmad Bin Quasem, 32

August 9

Mir Ahmad Bin Quasem, the son of an opposition politician, was picked up by law enforcement officers late at night from his home in Dhaka.

Amaan Azmi, 57

August 22

Amaan Azmi, the son of an opposition politician, was picked up by law enforcement officers from his home in Mogh Bazaar, Dhaka, in the evening.

Sheikh Mohammad Lotiful Khabir (alias Anowar Hossain), 45

November 10

Plainclothes dressed men, introducing themselves as from the “administration,” picked up Anowar Hossain, a homeopathic doctor, from his clinic next to his house in Boalia, Rajshai.

Yasin Talukder

Yasin Mohammad Abdus Samad Talukder, 35, a physics teacher, lived in Dhaka in an apartment with his mother. A Bangladeshi national with dual British citizenship, Yasin went to school in Bangladesh, moved to the United Kingdom in 2001 for higher studies, and returned to Dhaka four years later after suffering an assault. His family has acknowledged that in 2011, British government intelligence officers asked him to attend a number of counterterrorism interviews at the British High Commission due to concerns about his alleged involvement in militancy, and that Yasin allowed the officers access to his computer.[97] According to his family, the intelligence officers concluded he was no threat. The British High Commission declined to respond to questions related to Yasin’s background stating that “it cannot discuss individual consular cases.”[98]

On July 12, two days before Yasin was picked up, a national paper in Bangladesh published an article stating that Yasin was among the suspects listed in an FIR, filed five months earlier, for conspiring to attack private buildings.[99] Yasin’s family question the authenticity of the allegation.

On the morning of July 14, 2016, Yasin had arranged to meet his cousin Sidrat near the Kakoli bus stand so they could drive together to attend a wedding.[100] At about 11:40 a.m., Yasin called his cousin to find out where he was. Sidrat said he was 10 minutes away. Soon after, Sidrat received another phone call from Yasin. He said:

I could hear other people shouting. The conversations and shouting was not clear and Yasin was not responding to me. The call went on for three minutes and then the phone disconnected suddenly. When I called again, it was switched off. When I reached the bus stand, I found the car parked in the spot Yasin bhai told me it would be. When I saw he wasn't inside, I started to worry. I walked up and down, looking for my cousin. I then walked to the nearest ticket stall and asked the ticket seller if he knew where the driver of the car was. I asked loud enough hoping that people sitting nearby might volunteer information, but no one did. The ticket seller initially responded with a “don't know, he's probably around somewhere nearby,” but his demeanor pretty much confirmed my suspicion that something bad had happened. I walked to some further stalls and asked, but no one said anything. But I felt the initial ticket seller knew something. I went back to him and this time pressured him a bit more. Eventually he mentioned that a black microbus had parked beside the car and that some people had walked over to the car, and then the driver of the car [my cousin] got out and went with them to the microbus.[101]

Sidrat said he kept trying Yasin’s phone and then called Yasin’s mother and uncle. A police officer stationed at the local police post advised the family to go to Banani police station to file a GD. Yasin’s mother said that while the Banani police station refused to accept the complaint, she was able to lodge a GD at the Bashantec police station where she lives.[102] Yasin’s mother also informed the British High Commission about what had happened to her son, and was advised to instruct a lawyer.

Two days after the incident, a man who gave his name as Sarwar Jahan and claimed to be from the Police Bureau of Investigation came to the apartment where Yasin and his mother lived. Yasin’s mother described the visit:

He asked me all kinds of questions but when I asked him, he did not say anything about my son being detained. I noticed however that the officer had a copy of my son’s biometric mobile phone re-registration form.[103]

Then on the night of July 21, seven days after Yasin was picked up, men from RAB came to the house.

They introduced themselves as Major Nahid and Major Masud. There were also other men with them. They took all my son’s electronic equipment including his computers away with them. They did not give me any receipt.[104]

The British High Commission has confirmed that Yasin was “detained in July 2016,” and that the Foreign Office was “continuing to press the Bangladesh authorities for consular access.”[105] However, the authorities deny that they have Yasin in custody.

Moazzem Hossain Tapu

Moazzem Hossain Tapu, 28, was a former president of the Rampura unit of the Chhatra League, the student wing of the Awami League, and was aspiring to be appointed to a higher political post.

In November 2015, as a result of a clash in Rampura between the local Awami League members, Tapu went into hiding in his home village in Faridganj, Chandpur district.[106] Two months later, on January 26, his mother, Saleha Begum, said that her son called her to say that he was back in Dhaka. He left Faridganj at about 8 a.m.

Tapu suddenly told me over the phone that he had reached Dhaka as his friends Imon and Tajul had arranged a meeting with members of the Jubo League to reach a mutual understanding and end old rivalries.[107]

Later that night Tapu’s brother, Moinul Hossain Opu, said that Imon phoned him to say that Tapu had been picked up from an apartment in Bashundhara Residential Area under Vatara police station. Moinul said:

We went to the apartment immediately. One of the guards there told us that three people in plainclothes went to the apartment and picked up my brother around midnight. When the guard tried to stop them, they introduced themselves as members of DB.[108]

The family went to the Vatara police station to inquire about his whereabouts.[109] The sub-inspector on duty told them he had no information about Tapu, and they should inquire with the DB or RAB offices. On January 28, the family attempted to file a GD at the station, but the officers would not initially accept it, and asked the family to consult the DB or RAB.

On January 30, the family filed the GD. They followed up two days later, on February 1, filing a First Information Report (FIR) at the police station. They said they did so at the suggestion of the home minister, whom they met regarding Tapu’s disappearance. Since several family members hold leadership positions in the Awami League, they have a relationship with the minister, they explained, and met him more than 20 times regarding the case. They added that he made several calls to different law enforcement agencies, including the DB, RAB, and Inspector General’s Office on Tapu’s behalf.

Based on information provided by the home minister, Tapu’s family thinks that Tapu’s friends and some Jubo League leaders were behind the disappearance, and they have filed an FIR alleging their involvement. They believe Jubo League leaders bribed an RAB unit to apprehend and detain Tapu, though they did not name police or RAB officers in their complaint.

The case is now being investigated by DB. The family has organized several press conferences seeking information, and complained about threats and demands for bribes.[110] His mother Saleha Begum said: “We’ve never received an official acknowledgement that he is in custody. We don’t know where he is being held. At least if there was a body, we would know what happened. We don’t know if he’s dead or alive.”[111]

Kamrul Islam Sikdar Musa

Kamrul Islam Sikdar Musa, a sand trader who also allegedly worked as a police informant, was suspected of involvement in the Chittagong murder of the wife of a senior counterterrorism officer.[112] On June 22, 2016, he was picked up in the Kathghar area of Chittagong as he approached a house where he thought it was safe to meet his wife and children, as arranged by a friend, but which in fact had been identified by the police. His wife, Panna Akhter, said:

I and my two children were surrounded by a police woman and seven or eight policemen in one of the three rooms of the apartment while my brother-in-law [Musa’s brother] was kept separate in a second room. My brother-in-law had earlier been picked up and brought that morning by the police to the house.… One of the police officials then went out of the house, and after some time sent a message over police wireless which said that Musa is arrested. When we heard the words, I started crying. I repeatedly asked the police personnel why they have arrested my husband, and they responded by saying, “Don’t you read the newspapers. Do not you see what’s going on.” I told them that I read many things but I want to know what was exact reason behind his arrest. Then the police said, “Do not worry, he will be released.”[113]

Panna said that police have refused a GD and denied the arrest, and that authorities have threatened her since her husband’s detention for being vocal about what happened to him.[114] In early October, police announced a 500,000 taka (US$6,200) reward for information leading to his arrest.[115] Musa’s wife called the reward a “farce” since he was picked up in June.[116]

Mir Ahmad Bin Quasem

Mir Ahmad Bin Quasem, 32, is the son of Mir Quasem Ali, a prominent leader of the opposition Jamaat-e-Islami party who was convicted of war crimes in November 2014 and was facing execution when his son was picked up. Mir Ahmad is a Supreme Court lawyer who was involved in the legal team representing several men prosecuted by the International Crimes Tribunal, including his father. He was picked up from his house late on August 9, 2016, in the presence of his wife and sister, Tahera Tasnim, who said seven or eight men in civilian clothes came to the door around 11 p.m.:

He asked his wife to open the door and told us to behave normally. I was in the kitchen at this point. When the door was opened, the men asked my sister-in-law, “Where is your husband?” My brother then went to the door and the men said, “You have to come with us.” My brother asked, “Can I have your identity? What is your force? Are you RAB, CID, DB?” They did not identify themselves. He asked several times. They did not wear any uniform and they had no legal arrest warrant. Nothing. They just said, “Come with us.” My brother said, “I am a lawyer and I need to know these things.” And then they said, “We will give you five minutes to get ready. Get ready and come with us.” I said, “You cannot take my brother like this without any identity, in the dead of night. Come in the morning and take him.” I stood in front of my brother and held the hand of one of the men. The man pulled away my hand and grabbed my brother. We were running behind him. It was total confusion. There was a white microbus and he was put in it. And the vehicle drove away.[117]

The following day, his wife filed a GD in Pallabi Thana but police refused to allow them to describe the men who took Mir Ahmad as law enforcement officials, and instead required them to describe them simply as “civil-dressed” men. On December 22, 2016, she filed an FIR with the same police station.[118]

Mir Ahmad’s father, Quasem Ali, was hanged in September. Mir Ahmad was not able to meet his father before the execution or attend his father’s funeral.

In the weeks before his arrest, Mir Ahmad had told Human Rights Watch that he was worried that he might be arrested or disappeared. According to his family, a few days before he was picked up, on the same day that Humam Quader Chowdhury was detained (see below), RAB officers visited his apartment late at night.[119]

Amaan Azmi

Amaan Azmi, 57, a retired brigadier general, is the son of Ghulam Azam, a former leader of the Jamaat-e-Islami party who was convicted of war crimes and sentenced to death in 2013. Considering his age of 90, the court ruled that Azam would serve a life sentence rather than face execution. He died of a heart attack in prison in October 2014.

Amaan Azmi was picked up on the evening of August 22, 2016. About 30 men in civilian clothes entered his apartment building, telling staff that they were from DB. Abul Kalam Azad, an employee in the building, said that he saw security forces, most carrying firearms, with over a dozen vehicles cordoning the house:

I was downstairs and a few of the men started asking me about the whereabouts of Azmi sir. They initially introduced themselves as “people from administration,” and later they claimed they were DB. Azmi sir used to live on the top floor but they did not find him there. Since they could not find him, they blindfolded me and started beating me. I repeatedly said I did not know his whereabouts. At this point, some of the men asked me to give them the key to the empty apartment on the fifth floor. I replied that it was with the landlord. Then, they broke down the door and found Azmi sir. I heard sir say, “Since, you are going to take me, let me take some clothes.” But, they did not allow Azmi sir to do so. They escorted him to one of the vehicles. When he was in the car, he was blindfolded.[120]

Azmi’s wife, mother, and several other staff who were present confirmed that the men said they were from DB. Azad said that the men also seized six cellphones from people in the house, as well as hard disks from the CCTV installed for neighborhood security. The family has had no news of him since. They said Azmi had been concerned about his safety in the months before his arrest.

Secret Detentions: Disappearances Before Formal Arrests

Among the disappearances in 2016 are the cases of men whose whereabouts were unknown, with authorities denying any knowledge of an arrest, until they were brought back into the formal legal system, weeks or months after the original pick up, with police claiming that they had been arrested “the previous night.” They remained effectively disappeared until that time. In the cases of two men who were alleged to be militants, police brought them to a public meeting claiming they had surrendered. In May 2017, one man secretly detained in October 2016 was released outside Dhaka.[121]

Nur Mohammed

Nur Mohammed is a leader of the Jamaat-e-Islami in Jhenaidah district unit. His son, Mujahidul Islam, said that law enforcement officers picked up his father at about 1 p.m. on March 2, 2016, while going to the market on his motorcycle:

My father’s bike was not running properly, so he went to a garage in Hatekhola for repairs. The friend who was with my father told me that four to five people approached him and handcuffed him, and they dragged him into an easy-bike. When local people tried to stop them, the men introduced themselves as members of DB. Since then his whereabouts is unknown and his cell phone switched off. Police did not accept our GD.[122]

Sixteen days later, police claimed that Nur was arrested on March 18 in the district of Satkhira where he was “in hiding,” and that his information led to the seizure of 15 hand bombs, 40 kilograms of explosives, and jihadist literature.[123] A case was filed against him for possessing explosives and for the murder of a homeopathy doctor in Jhenaidah in January, for which ISIS had previously claimed responsibility.[124]

Noore Alam, Iftisham Ahmed Sami, and Nazim Uddin

Noore Alam, 23, a third-year student of chemistry at Nilphamari Government College, lived with his family in the Ukiler More area. On the night of April 11, 2016, he was picked up from his home by about 10 people who wore plainclothes and introduced themselves as officials from the “administration.” Kamrul Alam Nayan, his brother, said:

I was at the family shop next to our home. My brother was sleeping inside the house. Two people came to the shop after midnight and then two others joined them. They asked to buy a mobile charger. As we spoke, one of the men seized my phone and asked about my brother. I said that my brother was sleeping. When the men said that they wanted to talk to my brother, I asked them to come back in the morning. Then the four of them dragged me out of the shop, closed it, and forced me to our house. Four to six other men in plainclothes dress also joined them. They woke up my brother and gave him few minutes to dress. We asked for an arrest warrant or any legal documents, but the men assured us that they were officials from the “administration” and they were just taking my brother for interrogation, and that he will return in 20 minutes.[125]

The men dragged Noore Alam into a waiting microbus. Nayan immediately went to the Nilphamari Sadar police station, but the police claimed that they had not carried out such an operation. Other family members went to local RAB and DB offices, which also denied they had detained Noore Alam. On April 12, his family filed a GD with the Sadar police station.

Iftisham Ahmed Sami, a third-year university student, lived with friends in Dhaka. About 4 a.m. on April 29, 2016, Sami’s father, Iftekhar Ahmed Enam, received a phone call from his son’s friend and roommate:

The friend informed me that about 10 to 15 plainclothes men who claimed to be from the “administration” broke into Sami’s room and picked him up. A handcuffed young man, who was with the plainclothes people, pointed out Sami. The plainclothes men then asked Sami to change his clothes, and he was then handcuffed and taken to a car waiting outside.[126]

In subsequent days, the father went to the Boalia police station and the local DB and RAB offices, but they all denied any involvement in the arrest.

Nazim Uddin, 42, returned in July 2015 from Malaysia to live in his home town of Jessore. His wife, Nazma Aktar, said that her husband was visiting a friend in Dhaka when he was detained in the Pallabi area on May 25 by three men in plainclothes who claimed to be from the “administration.” She said:

The friend told me that they were on my husband’s motorbike when the people in plainclothes intercepted them. Two people dragged my husband into a vehicle and the other one seized the motorbike.[127]

Nazma looked for her husband in RAB and police stations in Dhaka, but no one provided any information. She filed a GD, although the police had initially refused.

On December 6, 2016, eight months after the first of these detentions, police announced that they had arrested Noore, Sami, and Nazim along with two other men they claimed were members of the banned Islamic militant group Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami. When the three men were brought to court, they told the magistrate that they were picked up on earlier dates from different places, providing details. Kazi Shahabuddin Ahmed, assistant commissioner (prosecution), told the court that the five “Huji operatives knew how to concoct a story.”[128] The magistrate remanded all five to police custody.

Moulana Mohammad Akhter Hossain

Moulana Mohammad Akhter Hossain, a 28-year-old imam, was picked up by law enforcement officers on May 3, 2016. His brother, Mushfikur Rahman, witnessed the arrest:

It was around 9:30 p.m. I was asleep in my house at Sukhan Pukur village in Rangpur, when five to six men came and said that they wanted to talk to me and Akhter about the Union Parishad elections that had just taken place. I said that my brother was at his in-laws’ house in Birbiria. The men, dressed in plainclothes, then put me inside a white microbus, taking away my cell phone. I took the men to Akhter’s in-laws’ house. I was asked to call Akhter’s name. When Akhter’s wife Romana opened the door, we all went inside. The men then said that they were members of DB and that they needed to take Akhter away and talk to him, as he could help locate some other people, and that he would be returned after an hour.

Both of us were then taken inside the microbus. They told Akhter, who was anxious, to stay calm, as otherwise we would be blindfolded and handcuffed. The microbus then stopped in front of Pirgacha Union Parishad Office and the men told me to get off. They also returned my cell phone. I asked them to let my brother go along with me, but the men said, “We have your phone number and we will communicate with you when we need to.”[129]

The next day, Akhter’s family searched for him at the police station and local DB and RAB offices. All denied involvement in his detention. On May 6, Mushfikur said he went to the Pirgachha police station to file a GD but was told he could only file a missing person complaint. Two months after he was disappeared, on July 1, police said Akhter was arrested in Dhaka, and that he was a member of the JMB.

Monirul Islam Babu, Abdullah Al Sayem Turjo and Shoaib Biswas

On May 12, 2016, Monirul Islam Babu, 28, Abdullah Al Sayem Turjo, 25, and Shoaib Biswas, 26, were picked up in and around Kalishpur in Khulna, where they are all from.[130] On June 12, one month later, the police claimed they were arrested in Dhaka for militancy.[131]

Shoaib Biswas, a teacher in the Arabic Department at Bismillah Nagar Madrasa, was detained in the morning on his way to work. His father, Maulana Abdus Sattar, spoke with his son when he was subsequently taken to court:

He told me that he was going to the madrasa on his bicycle when he was picked up by a few men in plainclothes and taken in a white microbus on which it was written, “Emergency Electricity.”[132]

Abdullah Al Sayem Turjo is a teacher at the Bismillah Nagar Madrasa in Harintana, Khulna. His colleague, Mufti Hafizur Rahman, said:

On May 12 at around 6:15 p.m., both of us left the madrasa on our bicycles. When we reached close to Mostor intersection, a 50-year-old man blocked our way. A white microbus with a sticker “Emergency Electricity” was parked there. The person asked for our names. Then the man asked me to leave and told Turjo to stay. I saw some people came down from the microbus and grab Turjo and put him on the microbus. Then the microbus stopped in front of me and they took away my cell phone and left.[133]

The next day, Turjo’s father filed a case at the Harintana police station alleging that some unknown people had kidnapped his son.[134]

Monirul Islam Babu is an electrician who was picked up from his home. His mother, Khadiza Begum, witnessed the incident. She said:

At around 9 p.m. a man came to our home. When Monirul came out, the man asked whether he was Monirul. The man then left without saying anything. A few minutes later, over 10 people came to the house accompanied by the person who had come earlier. They forcibly took Monirul. When we tried to stop them, they claimed to be members of DB. Some of them had pistols in their waist. They told us that Monirul will be released after he had identified some people. They then dragged Monirul into a white microbus marked “Emergency Electricity.” They asked us to communicate with Khalishpur police station and left quickly.[135]

The following day, the family filed a GD with the Khalishpur police station. When he was eventually produced in court after a month-long secret detention, Monirul Islam spoke to his father and told him that “they were blindfolded inside the microbus and traveled a long way. They were kept in a dark room, but not blindfolded or handcuffed.”[136]

Rashidun Nabi Bhuiyan (Tipu)

Rashidun Nabi Bhuiyan, 31, also known as Tipu, was living at his village home in the district of Comilla. His wife, Tahera Taslima, said that on the night of May 19, 2016, some uniformed and plainclothes officers raided their house at about 1:30 a.m.:

We were woken by the sound of vehicles and people’s voices, and then around 15 to 20 police and others stormed into our house. They showed me a photo and asked me, “Do you know that person?” I replied, “Yes, he is my husband.” My husband then came out of the room. They tied his hands and blindfolded him. I went outside the house and urged them not to take him away, and one of the police officials in uniform told me that my husband was a criminal who had killed two bloggers.[137]

The following morning, Tipu’s family members went to the local Nangalkot police station find out whether he had been detained. “The police insisted that they didn’t know anything about the incident,” his wife said.[138]

In subsequent months, family members met police and RAB officials many times, but no one provided information on Tipu’s whereabouts. On October 16, 2016, five months after Tipu’s detention, police in Dhaka held a press conference claiming that he had been arrested the previous night at the Sayedabad bus station in Dhaka. Police claimed that Tipu was a leader of the Islamic militant organization, Ansar al-Islam, and that he led the team of five men who attacked Nazimuddin Samad, a university law student and secular activist, on April 6, 2016. Police said Tipu had confessed and had provided the names of his accomplices and information on the subsequent murder of gay rights activists, Xulhaz Mannan and Mahbub Rabbi Tonoy, on April 28.

Brothers Ashfaq-e-Azam Apel and Azharul Hannan

Ashfaq-e-Azam Apel, 27, a recently graduated software engineer, lived in his family home in the city of Rangpur. His father, Shamsul Hoque, said that in the early hours of June 7, 2016, Ashfaq was picked up from the family home by law enforcement officials in front of him and three other family members. He said:

Plainclothes dressed men introducing themselves as from the “administration” came to our house between 1:30 a.m. and 1:45 a.m. As we opened the door, they—two of them carrying firearms—told me that they needed to interrogate my son and that he will be returned soon. I allowed them to take my son. They put my son into a microbus which was escorted by two motorbikes and another SUV. They took away his mobile phone.[139]

In the morning, the family went to the DB office in Rangpur and the local police station, but they all denied Ashfaq’s arrest. The Kotwali police station refused to accept a GD from the father and so he instead filed a missing person report. “I also approached RAB-13 office but they also denied arresting my son,” the father said. They said, “We don’t have him.”[140]

On February 1, 2017, seven months after he was originally picked up, RAB said that they had arrested Ashfaq along with three other men following a raid on a hideout in Dhaka. RAB claimed that the men belonged to the JMB and that Ashfaq was “the group’s IT expert. He was in charge of maintaining websites and providing technical support.”[141]

Shamsul Hoque also said that on January 3, 2017, his younger son, Azharul Hannan, a marine engineer who was present when Ashfaq was picked up in June, was detained in Chittagong. Men put him in handcuffs when he stepped out of the Navy Fleet Club, a navy-run hotel, where he was attending a conference organized by the Military Institute of Science and Technology. Hoque said that police at Bandar police station refused to file a GD, citing an instruction from “high ups.” The family have not heard anything more from him.[142]

Rashid Gazi and Kamruzzaman Sagor

Rashid Gazi, 22, a second-year student at Jessore University Science and Technology, and Kamruzzaman Sagor, 22, a student at Jessore MM College, were staying at a private hostel when they were picked up on afternoon of June 19, 2016. Authorities denied the detention at first, and the students were held illegally for nearly a month. RAB eventually claimed that they were arrested on July 14.

Ripon Sardar, Rashid’s uncle, talked with the two men when they were at the police station and when they were brought to court. Sardar said that they told him:

Five to six men in plainclothes, identifying themselves as members of DB, picked up them in a white microbus on June 19. They were blindfolded and handcuffed. The microbus stopped somewhere and another person in the same condition was put next to them. The three were taken into a room where they were kept blindfolded and handcuffed. A few days later, Rashid and Kamruzzaman heard some heated words exchanged which was followed by a gunshot. They never saw or heard the third person again.[143]

Hasnat Karim and Tahmid Khan

Armed gunmen attacked the Holey Artisan Bakery on the night of July 1, 2016, killing more than 20 people and holding others inside hostage. The next morning, the hostages were rescued after security forces stormed the café, killing the gunmen. The hostages were taken to DB headquarters, where they were questioned by the authorities. This included Hasnat Karim, 47, who had gone to the restaurant with his wife and two children, and Tahmid Khan, 22, who had gone to the restaurant with two friends.

While all the other hostages were released, Karim and Khan were held illegally for a month with the authorities issuing contradictory statements about whether the men were in their custody. Karim has dual nationality with the UK, while Khan is a Canadian resident. On July 13, 2016, nearly two weeks into his illegal detention, Karim briefly met with his wife and mother.[144]

On the evening of August 3, police informed the media that both men had been arrested in Dhaka that day on suspicion of involvement in the Holey attack. The following day, they were brought to a magistrate court which passed an order remanding both into police custody for eight days for questioning. In October, the police told the court that it no longer believed that Khan was involved in the Holey attack, but filed a case against him for “a lack of cooperation with the policing authority,” claiming that he failed to appear at two police interviews on July 10 and 21, a period when he was in state custody.[145] In April 2017, a court acquitted him of this charge. Karim, however, remains in jail on a case filed relating to the Holey attack.

Humam Quader Chowdhury

Humam Quader Chowdhury, 33, is the son of Salahuddin Quader Chowdhury, a prominent leader of the BNP who was executed in November 2015 following his conviction for war crimes. Humam Chowdhury is also involved in BNP politics. On the morning of August 4, 2016, he was traveling with his mother to the Dhaka District Court where they were both due to attend a hearing involving a cybercrime case alleging their involvement in the leak of the judgment convicting Humam’s father for war crimes.[146] Humam’s mother, Farhat Quader Chowdhury, said:

It was about 11:30 in the morning. We were on the way to court. Just before you get to the court you have to turn right. The traffic signal was red, so we stopped. The road was quite crowded. A couple of men came up dressed in plainclothes, and opened the door on the right. They asked my son whether he was Humam Quader Chowdhury and he replied that he was Humam, but that he had to go to court. They said, “No, you are coming with us.” Humam then got down from the car. I didn’t know what to do. They did not seem to have a car—as far as I could see they were walking him down the road.[147]

On February 24, 2017, the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances issued a statement calling on the Bangladesh government to provide information as to the whereabouts of three men, including Humam.[148] A week later, on March 2, Humam was released blindfolded and disoriented on the roadside, close to his family home in Dhaka. Humam was unable to explain the location where he had been held.

Mohammad Akhtaruzzaman and Mohammad Hafizur Rahman

Mohammad Akhteruzzaman, 15, and Mohammad Hafizur Rahman, 17, both students at Kolabari Dakhil Madrasa at Ghoraghat in Dinajpur, were picked up within a week of each other. In November 2016, their fathers held a joint press conference at Dinajpur Press Club.

Akhtaruzzaman’s father, Sarowar Hossain, an agricultural worker and small businessman, said that his son was picked up from his family house early in the morning on September 28, 2016, by law enforcement officials:

They said they wanted to question Akhtaruzzaman. I asked them what offense did Akhteruzzaman commit? But they did not answer. My son was sleeping in his grandfather’s house. I woke him up and handed him over to the men.[149]

On October 16, Sarowar Hossain filed a GD at his local police station in Ghoraghat Upazilla stating that his son had gone “missing.” At the press conference on November 6, he appealed to the government for his son’s return. At the same press conference, Zillur Rahman, father of Hafizur Rahman, said that his son was picked up on October 4:

At approximately 6 p.m., a group of people introducing themselves as members of a law enforcement force came to my grocery shop situated at Raniganj bazaar and, in my absence, took my son away.[150]

On November 23, RAB brought both Akhtaruzzaman and Hafizur Rahman—along with one other man from the same madrasa—to an “anti-militancy” function in Rangpur, and said that the men were JMB operatives who had surrendered to the authorities. Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan handed over a check for 500,000 taka (US$6,200) to each of the men for their “rehabilitation.”[151] A RAB press release said that Hafizur Rahman and Akhtaruzzaman were brainwashed and radicalized by a JMB recruiter and assigned to carry out subversive activities. They had decided to surrender to law enforcers after the Gulshan and Sholakia attacks, and family members who inspired them to surrender took the two young men to RAB, the release said.[152]

Hafizur Rahman’s father gave a different account of the Rangpur event, stating that he first came to know about the ceremony when RAB told him to be present. He said he does not know where his son has been kept since the ceremony:

I first spoke to my son on the phone 25 days after the ceremony and have since had further conversations. The last time he called me was on January 13, when he asked me about my health and hanged up. That’s it. I have no idea where my son is.[153]

Khairul Islam

Khairul Islam, 26, a student at the Islamic University of Technology, was living with his family in Gazipur. His father, Abul Kashem, said men wearing jackets with “DB” written on them came to their house around midnight on the evening of October 21, 2016:

They said that they were looking for Khairul. I asked them to show any warrant of arrest but they replied that the SP [police superintendent] has asked them to take him away.[154]

However, seven days later, on October 28, 2016, police claimed to have arrested four suspected members of the banned organization Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami, Bangladesh (HuJI-B), along with 14 petrol bombs and four crude bombs in the Nandoain area of Gazipur city. One of them was Khairul, who had been in their custody one week already. The police superintendent in Gazipur said the members of the banned militant outfit were arrested during a raid at an abandoned cottage inside a forest in Joydevpur at about 8 p.m. the previous day.[155]

III. Cases of 19 “Disappeared” since 2013

The 19 cases of enforced disappearances that occurred over a two-week period at the end of 2013, described in detail below, show the failure of authorities to address allegations and ensure accountability.[156] Some of these men, all Dhaka-based supporters or activists of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, may have been involved in wrongful actions during the violent election-time protests that began a month before their disappearance. Their family members say that if suspected of criminal action, they should have been prosecuted. Their families have made repeated appeals to the government, visited DB and RAB offices, and sought police investigations.

November 28: Disappearance of Samarat Molla and Khaled Hossain Sohel

Khaled Hossain Sohel, disappeared since November 28, 2013. 

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On the morning of November 28, 2013, six friends living in Old Dhaka had gone to visit a mutual friend imprisoned in Dhaka Central Jail. Five of them were picked up outside the jail by men in civilian clothes. The sixth member of the group was spared because he had left minutes earlier to perform his prayers.

Samarat Molla, disappeared since November 28, 2013. 

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This case is unusual as three of the friends, who were supporters rather than post-holders of the BNP, were later released and therefore became witnesses to the detention. The other two, Samarat Molla, 27, and Khaled Hossain Sohel, 28, who held posts in the student wing of the opposition BNP, remain disappeared at time of writing.

The Pick Up

On the morning of November 28, Samarat Molla, Khaled Hossain Sohel, and four other BNP supporters—named here “W,” “X,” “Y,” and “Z”—went to the Dhaka Central Jail to visit their mutual friend Sonjoy.[157] All of them lived in Sutrapur, an area in Old Dhaka.

The men came to the prison in two groups at around 11 a.m.: Y, W, and Z in one group, and Samarat, Sohel, and X in another. They obtained “jail tokens” and entered the prison at around noon. Their friend Sonjoy, however, was not brought to the prison meeting room, and after 20 minutes they left the jail.

According to W, X, and Y—the men who were subsequently released—at around 1:15 p.m., Z wanted to say his prayers and went to a nearby mosque, leaving the five friends standing outside the jail. Y then told the others that he had some work and started to leave the prison area. As Y walked away, two men in civilian clothes approached him. He then walked back with about six men following him. Four men, who were all in civilian clothes and did not appear to have any weapons on them, asked each of them their names. “When Samarat Molla gave his name, it was clear from the men’s response that they were most interested in him,” one witness said. “They took all five of us to a silver colored microbus which was standing just outside the jail wall.”[158]

According to Samarat Molla’s family members, W, X, and Y later told them that the men had beat up Samarat, accusing him of arson attacks.

After nine days, on December 7, W, X and Y, who were not BNP post-holders, were told that they would be released the following day. They were warned against talking about their detention. At about midnight, the three of them were put into a car. The car stopped after about an hour and a half, and they were pushed out of the vehicle and told to run. They later discovered they were in Bikrampur.[159]

Samarat Molla and Khaled Hossain Sohel remain disappeared.

State Response

A day before he was picked up, police had visited Khaled Hossain Sohel’s house in Bangla Bazaar where he usually lived with his wife. The BNP student activist, who according to his family had no criminal cases filed against him, was residing elsewhere in order to avoid arrest. After the police left the house, Sohel’s wife, Sayeed Shammi Sultana, said she phoned her husband to warn him.[160]

Sultana discovered her husband was missing after his colleague, Selim Reza Pintu, said that Sohel’s phone was not reachable.[161] Fearing he had been arrested, family members and friends started contacting different police stations. Meanwhile, Samarat’s family first heard that the men had been picked up by law enforcement authorities late at night on November 28 when they received a call from a friend.[162]

The following day, Sultana lodged a missing person complaint at the Chowk Bazaar police station.[163] Meanwhile, Samarat’s sister said that she was initially told she could not file a General Diary if she alleged detention by law enforcement authorities, and was told to come back the next day where she was only allowed to lodge a missing person GD.

Sohel’s wife, Sultana, said that she and others assumed that DB officials were responsible as the men who took the five friends were not in uniform, which is usually true of the DB. However, at DB headquarters officers denied the men were in their custody. “The first question the police asked was whether they had any political affiliations. They seemed reluctant to speak to us and told us not to hang round here,” Sultana said. She said she and other family members continued to visit the DB office. “The last time we went was the tenth day after they were taken [December 8], and were told not to bother coming.”[164]

On December 8, three of the friends who had been taken with Sohel were released. One of the men phoned Sultana and she met with him to find out what had happened to her husband. All three are still in hiding at time of writing.

In May 2014, six months after the men disappeared, the police set up a 40-member anti-kidnapping team, and Sultana lodged an application.[165] Soon after, she met with an additional deputy commissioner of police who put her in touch with an official from DB. However, both families have received no further information about the whereabouts or fate of Samarat or Sohel.

December 2: Disappearance of Four Men from Shishu Park

Mahfuzur Rahman Sohel Sarkar, disappeared since December 2, 2013. 

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In the early afternoon of December 2, 2013, seven activists of the BNP’s student wing, all residents of the Bangshal area in Dhaka, congregated inside the Suhrawardy Udyan park in central Dhaka. They included Mahfuzur Rahman Sohel Sarkar, 35, the Chhatra Dal vice-president of Bangshal Thana; Habibul Bashar Zahir, 27, and Parvez Hossain, 27, the president and secretary of BNP ward 71; and Md Hossain Chanchal, 32, a student wing member.

Habibul Bashar Zahir, disappeared since December 2, 2013.

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Five of the activists—including the four men named above—walked to a nearby restaurant at an intersection in central Dhaka known as Shahbagh, while the other two went to the neighboring Shishu Park to purchase tickets so that after lunch they could meet inside.[166] As the five men left the Shahbagh restaurant and walked back toward Shishu Park, four of them—Sohel, Zahir, Parvez, and Chanchal—were picked up by law enforcement officers dressed in civilian dress and bundled into a microbus. Two of the three remaining men witnessed the detention and asked not to be identified. The four men who were picked up have not been seen since.

The Pick Up

One of the men present at the restaurant, along with the other four who were disappeared, said that that the group had planned to meet at Shishu Park because they considered it safe. He said security forces caught up with them as they were leaving the restaurant:

I was the first to leave, and I noticed as I left that there were two microbuses parked ahead of us, but I got distracted because I received a phone call. I slowed down and the others went ahead of me. As they got closer to Shishu Park they came to an area of pavement where there are boundary railings of Shishu Park on the right and on the left, another set of railings which separate the pavement from the road. As they entered this area, I suddenly heard someone shouting, “Catch them, catch them.” The men could not escape as there were these railings on both sides. As this was happening,
I had not quite reached the part of the pavement [with the railings] and so I could cross the road, which is what I did. I saw my friends being grabbed and put into a microbus by men dressed in plainclothes.[167]

As soon as the vehicles disappeared, the witness called his political colleagues to warn them to stay away from Shishu Park.[168] One of the two men that had
 been waiting inside the main entrance of the park also
 witnessed the detention.[169]

State Response

Md Hossain Chanchal, disappeared since December 2, 2013. 

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Sohel’s father, Md Shamsul Rahman, said that he received a call from one of his son’s colleagues who witnessed his son’s detention. He said he then tried to find his son:

After I had finished the call, another son of mine called Sohel’s phone. It was answered but there was a lot of noise and crying. I went to Shahbagh police station and asked whether four people had been taken, but the police denied this. I found someone who I knew at the police station, and he showed me the cells and said, “Look, he is not there.” I tried to file a GD at the station but the police did not allow me to do that. I went the following day to the DB office but they said that they were not involved and had no information.[170]

Rahman was later able to file a GD in his local police station in Bangshal, but the police only allowed him to file a missing person complaint, and not allege that his son was taken by law enforcement officers.[171]

Parvez Hossain, disappeared since December 2, 2013. 

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Parvez’s wife, Farzeena Akhter, said her husband had about six criminal cases lodged against him, which she claimed were all false allegations for his political activities.[172] When she and other family members went to the DB office, they were not allowed into the building. The family filed a missing person GD on December 14, 2013, at the police station.

Chanchal’s wife, Reshma Akhter, said that when her husband, who she said had no criminal cases against him, did not return as planned for a family outing, she started calling him but his phone was switched off.[173] She finally called Anwar Hossain, Chanchal’s brother. Anwar went to the police but was told that they had not arrested anyone by that name.[174] Chanchal’s relatives also went to the DB and RAB offices, but the officials denied having him in custody. They lodged a missing person GD on December 22.

Zahir’s brother, Kamal Hossain, who said that his brother had as many as 25 criminal cases of a “political” nature against him, said that the police only allowed him to file a missing person GD, which he did on December 14.[175]

A day or two after the four men were picked up, a local businessman said he saw the four men detained at the DB office:

On December 3, I visited the DB office at about 3 p.m. to meet a friend of mine who worked there. While I was there, I saw a man detained inside the DB office. On the following day, Sohel’s father came to meet me and said that his son and three others had been picked up by the police. Sohel’s father showed me a photograph and I recognized him as being the same person who I had seen the previous day in the DB office. I returned to the DB office a day or so later to confirm this. I made another appointment with the DB officer. I did not go directly to his office but went to an area on the ground floor, and I saw about seven detained men. Subsequently, I saw the photographs of the three other men that were picked up and they were of the same men that I had seen inside.[176]

The businessman then discovered that Sohel was thought to be “Chacha Sohel,” someone the authorities considered to be “notorious” in the area.

A senior police officer told me that there are strict instructions from the Prime Minister’s Office that Chacha Sohel should not be released because of his crimes. He then told me not to get involved. I called a friend in the Detective Branch with the rank of inspector and he advised me not to call again on this matter to avoid trouble. I was frightened and stopped communication with the BNP people.[177]

The businessman said that he also introduced the relatives of some of the families to a retired major, who said that he was willing to help intervene in the case.

On around the 13th of December, I brought the major [name withheld] to meet Sohel’s father. The father explained what happened to his son and the three other men. The major then called one of his friends serving in DB, and it was on speakerphone and I heard what was said. One official said, “Yes, Sohel was in our custody and we kept him for observation.” But he said that Sohel was no longer in the DB office, and that he did not where he is.[178]

December 4: Disappearance of Six Men from Bashundhara

Sajedul Islam Sumon, disappeared since December 4, 2013. 

© Private

At about 8 p.m. on December 4, 2013, six men were picked up outside a building under construction in Dhaka’s Bashundhara Residential Area.

Zahidul Karim Tanvir, disappeared since December 4, 2013. 

© Private

The six men picked up were Sajedul Islam Sumon, 36, the general secretary of BNP ward 38 in Shaheen Bagh; Sumon’s cousin, Zahidul Karim Tanvir, 33, whose family owned the under-construction property; Mazharul Islam Russel, 26, Md Al Amin, 26, and Asaduzzaman Rana, 27, three students at Jagannath University who were preparing to take the civil service examinations; and Abdul Quader Bhuiyan Masum, 22, a finance student at Titumir College. Sumon was the only post-holder for the BNP, and according to family members, the only one with a criminal case filed against him; the others were all supporters and activists. There were two other men present at the time, but they managed to escape.

The Pick Up

Mazharul Islam Russel, disappeared since December 4, 2013. 

© Private

One of the two men who escaped said that the meeting had been called by Sumon. RAB officers arrived soon after:

For 40 or 45 minutes we were chatting. We were talking about the momentum of protest. After that, four of the men left by foot, leaving four of us—Tanvir, Sumon, myself, and [name withheld] behind. Two of us then went to the other side of a cement mixing machine to have a smoke. Suddenly we saw vehicles approaching. There was more than one car, but I can’t say exactly how many. There were some men in black uniforms who came out of the vehicles. They had weapons. The cars had their lights on so I could see the men, the color of their uniform. There was one car with “RAB-1” written on it. I am sure that it was definitely RAB because of the clothes, and because I saw RAB-1 logo on the car. I could make out that people were being taken into a vehicle and that it left.[179]

Asaduzzaman Rana, disappeared since December 4, 2017. 

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A construction worker at the site who witnessed the detention said he knew Tanvir because the family owned the property and had seen Sumon earlier. He said:

Tanvir and Sumon were still standing there talking when the vehicles came. Four of the men [who came down from the vehicle] wore civil dress and another seven or eight were dressed in the black clothing of RAB, with a cloth around head. All the men had guns. Sumon and Tanvir were both beaten up before they were put in the car. “Why you are arresting us, we are not these type of people,” they said at the time of being picked up.[180]

Six hours later, early the following morning, a contractor said he was returning from a night shift to Shaheen Bagh, the area where Sumon’s family lives, when he saw Sumon, whom he knew well, inside a car that he thought belonged to law enforcement authorities.[181]

State Response

Md. Al Amin, disappeared since December 4, 2013. 

© Private

Sumon was not at that time staying at his home in Shaheen Bagh because he feared arrest, and was instead living with his cousin, Tanvir, at their apartment in Bashundhara Residential Area. Sumon’s sister, Sanjida Islam, said that they first heard that Sumon had been picked up when her family in Shaheen Bagh received a call from her aunt, Tanvir’s mother:

My aunt said that it was RAB. Within half an hour my older sister, my husband, and my mother went to the RAB office in Uttara. I was pregnant at the time so I did not go. RAB people at the gate did not allow my family members in. The men at the reception denied they were involved in the detention. My sister, father, and mother stayed outside the RAB office throughout that night, and for the next three days one family member or the other was present outside the RAB office.[182]

Abdul Quader Bhuiyan Masum, disappeared since December 4, 2013. 

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At about 11 p.m., one of the two men who had escaped being picked up came to their house though the back entrance. He told the family that Sumon had been taken away in RAB vehicles. The following day, Sanjida said that family members went to file a complaint with police:

The next day my mother and older sister went to our local police station in Tejgaon to file a GD but the police said that they had to go to the police station of the PO [place of occurrence]. They then went to Vatara police station but the duty officer refused to allow them to file the GD if they claimed that RAB had taken my brother. They said that they could only give a GD if they said that Sumon was missing. As we did not want to do that, we did not file a GD.[183]

Through family connections, Sumon’s family contacted a senior RAB officer [name withheld]:

He began to speak to my mother on the phone, and to send messages. He made her believe that Sumon was going to be released soon. He said for example one day, “He will be with you next time you say your prayers.” Many times, he said that they were going to release Sumon. But nothing happened. This went on for two months.[184]

Family members continued go to the RAB-1 office and RAB headquarters. At the end of January, Sumon’s mother and sister were invited to the office to meet an RAB-1 officer. Sanjida said:

He admitted that Sumon had been detained. They praised my brother, saying that Sumon is good person, had a good reputation. He said that his boss had gone to see Sumon recently, to make sure he was all right in their custody. He suggested to us that we should communicate with Ziaul Ahsan, who was in charge of operations. He gave Ahsan’s land line and mobile number to my mother. When we met Ziaul Ahsan, he was very arrogant. He said, “Why are so many army officials calling about Sumon? We have told you that we don’t have him and that we are searching for him.”[185]

The family gave its first written application to RAB on March 18, 2014, and has since given at least 12 further applications to RAB (most recently on August 21, 2016), and five to other government authorities, including the home ministry, police, and military intelligence. The family has also made a complaint to the National Human Rights Commission and filed a habeas corpus petition in court.

In May 2016, Sanjida met again with one of the RAB officials the family had met earlier, who had been a senior RAB-1 officer at the time of her brother’s disappearance, but had since left. He confirmed in a private meeting at a restaurant that RAB-1 had conducted the operation to pick up Sumon. He said that the six men had been in his custody and that he received an order to kill them, but he refused.[186]

According to Sanjida, the official said that RAB’s counterterrorism branch—under the command of Lt. Col. Abul Kalam Azad,[187] who subsequently became head of RAB’s intelligence wing—took the men from his custody. The official assumed they had been killed.[188] In August 2016, Sanjida met with Azad, but he denied any involvement and, according to Sanjida, said: “We are searching. I will try to let you know whether he is alive or anywhere else.”

Russel’s sister, Nusrat Jahan Laboni, said she waited all night for her brother to come home, and in the morning discovered that his friends were missing as well.[189] Family members approached RAB, DB, and various police stations several times but no one had any information about the detentions.[190]

Al Amin’s father filed a missing person GD at Badda police station that covered the area where they lived.[191] The family also managed to file a First Information Report on January 26, 2014.[192] Al Amin’s cousin, Yakoob, went to the construction site and the workers recognized his photograph, confirming that Al Amin was detained by RAB-1:

I asked the workers how they knew that it was specifically RAB-1. They said that the security guards who work in that area are a little educated. After Al Amin bhai and his friends were taken away by RAB, the workers went running toward the security guards, and the security guards told them that the vehicles had “RAB-1” written on them.[193]

Yakoob also went to the RAB office, where officials asked questions about witnesses to the abductions:

The RAB officer asked me if I had any record or proof with me about the complaint. I replied to them that I had a recording of the statement that the workers and the caretaker gave. I showed the officer the recording. He took a record of the recording. Then I left the office and came back home. Afterward I again contacted the officer to ask them if he has found anything about them yet. The officer replied that he will call us when it will be time. I called him three more times, but he couldn’t tell me anything else.[194]

Masum’s mother, Ayesha Ali, said the family went to a number of police stations: “They said that no one had been arrested. On December 6, we went to file a GD in Tejgaon industrial area, but they only accepted a GD if we said that he was missing.”[195]

Rana’s sister, Meenara Begum, said that she too went to the police and RAB offices after she heard of the detention. They also filed a police complaint reporting that Rana was missing.[196]

Tanvir and Sumon are cousins. Tanvir’s mother, Nilifur Rana, also said that she went with her relatives to meet with RAB and DB officers, but everyone denied the detention.[197]

National Human Rights Commission

A year after the detentions, in December 2014, Sajedul Islam Sumon’s family made a formal complaint to the National Human Rights Commission. On December 17, the then chair of the NHRC wrote to the most senior civil servant of the home ministry setting out the allegation and “appealing to the government to take necessary action to bring back the son of Hazera Khatun and the others to the parents,” and to inform NHRC what action the ministry had taken by January 15, 2015.[198]

The ministry did not respond to this letter or to six other monthly reminders that the NHRC sent. However, on August 28, 2015, the ministry finally replied, stating that Sumon’s father had filed a case with the Vatara police station on January 26, 2014, and that the case was under investigation.[199] In a letter dated November 15, 2015, Sumon’s mother wrote that they had never filed a case of this kind because when they had gone to do so “the police refused to take the case.”[200]

The NHRC then wrote to the ministry stating that the police report did not contain any specific step as to “how you are trying to get the victims back,” and asked for a detailed report by December 20, 2015. On January 14, 2016, police sent a letter to Sumon’s mother asking her to come to the police station. This meeting never took place. Instead, Sumon’s family sent a note to the police setting out the details of Sumon’s disappearance.

Response from Courts

In March 2016, Sajedul Islam Sumon’s mother filed a habeas corpus petition before the High Court.[201] She said that her son was illegally detained by RAB. The petition said that authorities had shown no inclination to investigate the incident, and that the court should order government authorities to produce him before the court.

On March 10, 2016, the court passed a rule nisi calling upon the Bangladesh government and various policing bodies to “show cause as to why the arrest/abduction/causing disappearance of the petitioner’s son Sajedul Islam Sumon … should not be declared to be illegal and without lawful jurisdiction,” and pass such orders as the court considers necessary.[202]

Following this order, the inspector general of police responded in an affidavit, “It was learnt from the respective units that neither Rapid Action Battalion nor any other unit of Bangladesh Police arrested said Sajedul Islam Sumon.”[203] RAB also filed an affidavit with the court stating, “RAB-1 did not pick up or arrest the petitioner’s son Sajedul Islam Sumon and others,” and that “we are trying to find out the victims.”[204]

There had been no further court hearing at time of writing, since the High Court passed its order.

Al Amin’s family was the only one to file an FIR involving the abduction.[205] His nephew, Yakoob Ali, said that some six months after the case was filed, an officer from the Vatara police station called and asked if the family had received news about Al Amin. “I said that it was the police that were supposed to be the ones providing the information.”[206]

In response to the court order following the habeas corpus application by Sajedul Islam Sumon’s family, the police filed documents relating to its investigation into Al Amin’s family’s FIR with the court. These stated that after Al Amin’s father filed a case in January 2014, a police inspector had prepared a draft map; taken statements from the petitioner, people in the surrounding area, and a witness; and had collected the victim’s mobile phone records. Police said that three investigating officers had been assigned to, and then taken off, the case. The letter concluded by saying the investigation revealed that along with Al Amin, Sajedul Islam Sumon had been abducted by “an organized criminal gang” that they were trying to identify and catch. It stated: “The case is under investigation and we are deploying modern technologies.”[207]

Dhaka Metropolitan Police authorities also said that on November 19, 2014, the investigation responsibility was transferred to the Detective Branch of the police.[208] In April 2016, following the March court order seeking state response to the habeas corpus petition, DB officials contacted Al Amin’s family and asked to get more information about the incident. Al Amin’s cousin said that the whole exercise was cruel and farcical: “I felt it was like a joke—him coming after three years and asking about [my cousin] like this. He said, ‘Don’t worry, you will get justice.’”

December 5: Disappearance of Adnan Chowdhury

Adnan Chowdhury, disappeared since December 5, 2013. 

© Private

Early on December 5, RAB men came to the house of Adnan Chowdhury, 28, woke him up, and took him away in front of his father and wife.

The Pick Up

Chowdhury, a BNP supporter, lived with his wife and parents in Shaheen Bagh, the same area of Dhaka where Sajedul Islam Sumon lived.

Marjina Sultana Tonni, his wife, said that Adnan came home late the night of December 4 after visiting the family of local political leader, Sajedul Islam Sumon, who had been picked up along with five party colleagues.[209] Later that night, there was loud knocking, and Adnan’s father, Ruhul Amin Chowdhury, answered the door. He told Human Rights Watch:

There was a knock on the door at about 2 a.m. When I asked, one of them said that they were from the “administration.” I did not want to open the door, but he said that they were from a government force and so “I must open the door.” There were perhaps 15 to 20 people who came into the house. One of them asked, “Where is Adnan sleeping?” I showed them the room. Some of the men were wearing RAB uniforms with “RAB” written on it on both the front and back. Not all of them were wearing a uniform, some were wearing civil clothes. They told me to sit down in another room.[210]

Adnan’s wife said that soon after, some of the men entered their bedroom. She said:

When the men opened our door, they asked me to leave the room. I then heard them telling Adnan to change his clothes. I heard some of the men say, “We should talk to his wife and show some sympathy,” but they didn’t talk to me. Some of the men were wearing black uniforms, the uniform of RAB. Others wore civil dress. One had a jacket with the letters “RAB” written on it in yellow. I saw about 5 or 6 people. Some searched the rooms. At one point, one of the men said, “We will send him back.” Another man said to me, “Don’t worry.”[211]

Ruhul Amin Chowdhury said the officials asked Adnan some questions and then took him away. Some of the other men also searched the rest of the house, and questioned their tenants. He said that his son “was surprised, but did not appear afraid.” He saw that the forces had arrived in at least two microbuses and a jeep.[212]

Adnan was a BNP supporter, but he was not particularly politically active. According to his father, Adnan already had a visa and was planning to migrate to Malaysia for work. “Adnan probably didn’t think it was so serious. He didn’t realize that Sumon will be taken and that they will come after him right away,” Ruhul Amin Chowdhury said. “None of us imagined that something like this can happen. That people will disappear.”[213]

State Response

The next morning, when Adnan, who did not have any criminal cases filed against him according to his family, did not return home, his father went to the RAB-2 office, the DB office, and the Tejgaon police station to look for this son, but no one could provide information.

I went back a number of times [to the police station] over the next month to file a GD, but they did not let me file one if I alleged that RAB was involved. I then agreed to drop the word “RAB” and instead put “law enforcement agency,” but the police still did not allow me to file a GD. As a result, I did not file a GD.[214]
 

Adnan’s father said that authorities violated his trust:

I was sure that if they [RAB] don’t find anything against Adnan, they will let him go. They said, “We are taking him. We will bring him back.” They betrayed us. They said that they were going to return my son, but they told lies. After the day I visited RAB-1 and RAB-2, I lost all faith in them and did not visit them again. I personally handed over my son to RAB and now they are denying that, so why should I go to them?[215]

Another eyewitness saw Adnan in security force custody when Mohammad Kawsar, 22, was detained shortly afterward.

December 5: Disappearance of Mohammad Kawser

Mohammad Kawser, disappeared since December 5, 2013. 

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Shortly after RAB picked up Adnan Chowdhury, they brought him to identify Mohammad Kawser, 22, a driver who lived in a room in a compound in West Nakhalpara, a short walk from Adnan’s house.

The Pick Up

The gate of the West Nakhalpara compound where Kaswer lived with his wife and child was locked on the night of December 5. The caretaker, who had the key to the gate, said he was asleep at about 3 a.m. when he was woken up by 10 to 15 men asking him to open the gate. They entered the compound. “Many of the men were wearing black uniforms and some had the words ‘RAB’ written on their back,” he said.[216]

The men went to Kawser’s room. His wife and child were in Barisal with her parents, and two friends were sharing his room that night. One said:

Kawser came back from work at around midnight with a friend. Until about 1:30 in the morning, we were watching TV and chatting inside the room. Then we all fell asleep. Suddenly we heard someone beating very loudly at the door. I said to Kawser, “Open the door.” But he did not wake up. The other friend opened it and as soon as he opened it about eight or ten people entered the room and put on the light. Two of the men wore black clothes, and the others wore civil dress. Some had RAB vests.[217]

The witness said he saw Adnan, who had just been picked up by RAB officers.

They told Adnan to come inside. They used his name which is how I knew. The men were beating us and getting us to wake up as we were still half asleep. Adnan was in handcuffs and they were beating him, slapping him about. Then they asked Adnan, “Who is Kawser?” and he pointed him out. Then both were beaten. They were both screaming. Then the officers searched the room, and took the SIM cards from our phones. The men perhaps stayed for at most 15 minutes and then took Kawser and Adnan out of the room. They told me and Kaswer’s friend to stay inside. Later, we tried to come out, but the doors had been locked from the outside. We heard the forces beating and shouting at both of them outside.[218]

State Response

Kawser’s mother, Komla Akhter, works in a garment factory and lived in the Farmgate area of Dhaka. She said that one of Kawser’s friends informed her of his detention early in the morning. She went to the Tejgaon police station, where she stayed the whole day: “I tried to lodge a GD but the police refused to accept a complaint that mentioned RAB.”[219]

December 6: Disappearance of Munna and Jhontu

Nizam Uddin Munna, disappeared since December 6, 2013. 

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On the evening of December 6, 2013, BNP student activists Nizam Uddin Munna and Tariqul Islam Jhontu were picked up by law enforcement officers at Mollartek bazaar, near Dhaka’s international airport. Their whereabouts remain unknown at time of writing.

Tariqul Islam Jhontu, disappeared since December 6, 2013.

© Private

The Pick Up

Nizam Uddin Munna, 24, was the joint secretary of the BNP student wing at Biman Bandar Thana in Dhaka. Tariqul Islam Jhontu, 28, was the joint secretary of the BNP student wing at Tejgaon College where he was studying. According to his family, Jhontu had three criminal cases lodged against him related to his political activities.

Between 9 and 9:30 p.m. on December 6, Jamal, a local businessman, was walking home after closing his shop when he saw his friend, Jhontu, in front of a laundry shop on the opposite side of the road. Jamal said he spoke briefly to Jhontu before heading home.[220] At about 10 p.m., Mohammad Joshimuddin, the laundry shop owner, was returning to his shop when he saw Jhontu being detained by men in plainclothes. He said:

I saw Jhontu handcuffed and being held by one or two men. I have known Jhontu for around seven years as he is a customer. The men holding Jhontu were in plainclothes, and I am not sure whether they had any weapons.
I walked past them without saying anything. I was very scared.[221]

Joshimuddin said that after he entered his shop, some men arrived and searched the shop. “They were asking me whether Jhontu kept anything here or not, and they searched everywhere, but did not find anything.”[222] He then saw Jhontu being bundled into a microbus parked down the road. Joshimuddin said that he did not know the contact details of Jhontu’s family, so he contacted Jamal, Jhontu’s friend who owned the shop across the street. Jamal said he informed Jhontu’s family.[223]

Nizam Uddin Munna went outside to buy medicine and vegetables at about 6:30 p.m. on the same day. Three hours later, Munna called his father, Shamsuddin, and asked him to collect the purchases from him. Shamsuddin said he witnessed his son’s arrest:

I met Munna, who gave me a small bag of vegetables and my medicine. All the shops were closed, with only roadside lights on. Then Munna received a call on his mobile. He did not answer, and instead started walking in the direction of a white large microbus, a Mitsubishi, which was standing in front of Halima Pharmacy, which was closed. When my son walked away, I was curious and walked in the same direction to see what Munna was doing. Then I saw about five plainclothes dressed men, carrying weapons, grab Munna and push him into the microbus. Seeing this, I ran toward the microbus and shouted, “Where are you taking my son?” One of the men replied, “There is an allegation against your son.” I asked the men, “Who are you?” One man replied that they were from RAB, but another replied they were from DB. The whole incident hardly took less than a minute. I was pushed away and the microbus moved away with the door open.[224]

State Response

Hasina Begum, Jhontu’s mother, said that early the next morning, Jamal, after hearing about the arrest, came and told the family that it was likely that DB had Jhontu in custody.[225] Family members then went to the laundry shop and heard what had happened the night before. Saiful Islam Mithu, Jhontu’s younger brother, went to the court assuming that Jhontu would be brought there, but he was not.[226] He also tried to file a police complaint:

On December 9, after spending the whole day in court, I went to Dokinkan police station. I wanted to mention in a GD that DB had taken my brother but the police officer on duty did not allow this. The duty officer said, “If you want to accuse a law enforcing agency of taking your brother, then you have to specify the name of the person in the DB team member who had picked him up. Otherwise you just file a GD saying that your brother is missing.” Since I had no idea about the exact identity of the people who had taken my brother I just filed a GD, stating that my brother had gone missing.[227]

Jhontu’s brother said he went to several police stations over the next few days but none had any information. He said he went to the RAB offices at least six times, but was not allowed to meet anyone.[228]

Munna’s father said he decided to go immediately to the RAB office after witnessing his son’s arrest. The guards would not let him in, but he waited outside the gates from about 10 p.m. to midnight. He said he then went to the DB office, and waited in front of the gate all night, trying to look into every vehicle that came and went. He then tried to lodge a police complaint, but was not allowed:

I approached the local police station. The duty officer told me that the police would not allow a complaint against RAB or any law enforcing agency. I was told that if I wanted to file a
GD I would have to describe that my son
went missing.[229]

December 7: Disappearance of Sujon and Farhad

Mahabub Hasan Sujon, disappeared since December 7,2013. 

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On December 7, 2013, Mahabub Hasan Sujon, president of the BNP student wing in Sabujbagh Thana in Dhaka, and Kazi Farhad, president of one of its wards, were taken from a farmhouse in Sonargaon, an area just outside Dhaka. The two men had arrived there two days earlier and were planning to return the next morning. They remain disappeared.

Kazi Farhad, disappeared since December 7, 2013.

© Private

The Pick Up

Azad Md Sadequl Islam, a childhood friend of Sujon, said he received a call on December 5. Sujon, he said, was worried about being arrested, and asked if he could stay at Azad’s farmhouse in Sonargaon with his BNP friends for a few days over the weekend.[230] Azad joined them at the farmhouse but left for Dhaka in the evening of December 7, as he had work the following day. Later that night, one of his farmworkers called him
to tell him police had taken Sujon away:

I asked him if it was police, or DB, or RAB, but he couldn’t tell for sure. He said that men were in civilian clothes and had claimed to be police. He said when Sujon asked them to show the arrest papers, one of the policemen must have hit him, because the laborers heard Sujon cry out.[231]

One of the workers who witnessed the arrest said that five or six plainclothes men knocked on their door when they were sleeping:

They told us that they were police. We opened the door and they asked for Sujon. We told them that Sujon is not in our room. After that, they went to the room where Sujon was. Our room was then locked from the outside. They didn’t let us out. When they were leaving, they unlocked our door. We saw that Sujon was wearing pants so we assumed that he had changed from his lungi which he was wearing earlier.[232]

There was one later sighting of Sujon. A businessman who lived in Fakirapool close to where Sujon and Farhad rented property said that a couple of days after the two men were taken, he saw police take Sujon back to the rented property where they had lived.

I was having tea at a street stall. I saw of group of plainclothes men, some carrying guns, coming into the alley. Along with the men I saw Sujon, whom I knew as he had lived in the area. They took him to building no. 266 which was where Sujon used to live. All the men were in plainclothes except one man who wore a jacket with “DB” written on it. I saw that Sujon was handcuffed, and someone was holding his hand, directing him forward. The men stayed in the building for over an hour and came out with bags of material. Sujon was then taken to a white microbus that was parked in front of the Asma Hotel. I heard later that they had knocked down the door of the apartment where Sujon used to live.[233]

State Response

Sujon’s father, Abdul Jalil Khan, said he did not like his son’s involvement in politics. He said that his son had about 14 “political” cases lodged against him in different police stations alleging involvement in violence. He first heard from Azad that Sujon had been picked up by law enforcement authorities, and then he started looking for his son. He said:

Azad called me to say that his workers had informed him that Sujon and his colleague Farhad had been picked up by law enforcement officers. I expected that Sujon and his friends would be brought before court the next day, so my younger son went to the district court in Old Dhaka in the morning, but Sujon was not produced there.[234]

Meanwhile, Sujon’s wife and cousin went to the DB office, but they said that they had no information. A few days later the family filed a GD. Sujon’s father said:

They only allowed us to file a missing person GD, not one claiming him to be taken by law enforcement officers. The police said that we could file a case against the house owner [Azad] from where he was taken, but not against police or any other law enforcement agency.[235]

Sujon’s family received information from different sources that suggested that DB was involved with the detention. His cousin Shakil said that he went to the DB office a number of times, but received no new information. One of those times was around February 2014. Shakil said:

I met the assistant commissioner and he also denied knowledge of the incident and suggested that I should meet RAB and go and speak to Colonel Zia. He said if there is a crossfire probably RAB will know about it. He also said that if Sujon was taken by a law enforcement person, “I see very little chance that he is alive.”[236]

Farhad’s sister filed a GD at the Sabujbagh police station.[237] His wife, Farhana, said that she heard via a relative who was connected to the Prime Minister’s Office that it was DB officials that had had arrested him.[238] DB denies this.

December 12: Disappearance of Selim Reza Pintu

Selim Reza Pintu, disappeared since December 12, 2013. 

© Private

In the early morning of December 12, 2013, law enforcement officers arrested Selim Reza Pintu, secretary of the student wing of the BNP in Sutrapur, from his brother’s house in Mirpur, Dhaka. According to his family, he had a number of criminal cases against him, involving alleged vandalism. Five of his political colleagues from the area had previously been picked up on November 28, though three of them were subsequently released. He has not been seen since.

The Pick Up

The political situation and arrest of BNP supporters meant that Pintu and his wife, Tarannum Nahas, had been living in an apartment in Mirpur belonging to a relative, rather than their own in Sutrapur. On December 12, security officers came searching for Pintu in the middle of night. According to his brother, Aslam Reza Mintu, five or six men with weapons made the arrest, claiming they were from the “administration.” Tarannum Nahas, who was in the room with her husband, said Pintu realized that security forces had come for him and decided not to contest his detention:

Pintu was sleeping, and when he heard the noise he knew what was happening and opened the door to the room. As soon as he opened the door they asked whether he was Pintu. He said, “Yes, I am Pintu.” Then two of the men grabbed him. Another man entered the room and asked where were Pintu’s mobiles. He had four phones and they took two of them. The other two were in my bag. Pintu asked who the men were. They said, “We are from the administration.” He asked to see their ID cards, and they said, “It will not be a problem. You will be safe with us.” My husband did not put up any resistance.[239]

State Response

Family members went to the local police station the next morning. His sister, Rehana Banu Munni, said:

They behaved badly toward us and would not initially allow us to file a GD. They said wait for some time. The police did not want to file a GD making an allegation against law enforcement people. However, after a few days a journalist, who was a friend of my brother, came and he helped us to get a GD filed mentioning that he was taken by law enforcement officials.[240]

The GD filed on December 13 states that at 1:15 a.m. on December 12: “Some 6/7 civil dressed men came to our house and identified themselves to have the authority from the government. Then they came inside our house and took my older brother Selim Reza Pintu, 31, away with them in a gray car Dhaka Metro 5070. Afterward we looked for him everywhere in the locality but we could not find him.”[241]

Pintu’s sister visited different police stations and RAB and DB headquarters. When police set up an anti-kidnapping squad in May 2014, she submitted details of his case.[242] She subsequently met Sanwar Hossain, an additional commissioner responsible for the new squad, who told her to “be patient.” She also submitted an application to a senior RAB officer. The family did not receive any further information.

IV. Recommendations

To the Bangladesh Government

Investigations and Prosecutions

  • Promptly investigate existing allegations of enforced disappearances, locate and release those held illegally by security forces, and prosecute the perpetrators. These should include politically motivated cases involving members or supporters of the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party and the Jamaat-e-Islami party.
  • Investigate allegations of deaths of individuals in so-called crossfire or gunfights after they were already in security force custody, and prosecute officers responsible for these deaths.
  • Instruct police stations to accept complaints, including General Diaries and First Information Reports, from family members containing allegations against law enforcement authorities including the DB and RAB. Encourage and empower police to respond to complaints and investigate allegations of enforced disappearances.
  • Ensure serious and independent investigations by inviting the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and relevant United Nations special procedures—including the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, the special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, and the special rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment—to visit Bangladesh to investigate and make appropriate recommendations to ensure justice and accountability, as well as reform of the security forces to act independently and professionally.
  • Respond speedily to various queries forwarded by the National Human Rights Commission.
  • Respond promptly to queries from the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances.
  • Prosecute fully law enforcement authority officers of all ranks, including those with superior authority, who are found to be responsible for enforced disappearances. Punish commanding officers and others in a position of government authority who ordered or knew of these abuses.
  • Immediately suspend, pending a full investigation, and remove from RAB, DB, and other law enforcement facilities any individual for whom there exists credible evidence that they participated in an enforced disappearance.
  • Work to disband RAB, which has been responsible for numerous and serious human rights violations, and replace with a non-military counterterrorism unit.

Protection

  • Make strong and repeated public statements at the highest government levels that make clear that all law enforcement authorities and investigation agencies should comply with the law, and that all detained people must be brought to court within 24 hours.
  • Ensure that the police, RAB, DB, and other law enforcement agencies comply with the legally mandated guidelines set out in the judgment of the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court given in May 2016.[243] In particular:
    • Ensure that a relative or friend of the detained person is informed within 12 hours of the arrest about the time and place of arrest and place of detention.[244]
    • Allow an arrested person to consult a lawyer of their choice or meet any of their nearest relations.[245]
  • Ensure that independent, qualified forensic experts examine all suspicious deaths to determine exact cause of death.
  • Establish an independent commission of inquiry to investigate all cases of disappearances and custodial deaths; ensure it is mandated to recommend cases for prosecution.
  • Ensure that people whom state authorities detain are held in known places of detention.
  • Expand the mandate of the National Human Rights Commission to ensure unfettered and unannounced access to all places of detention, as well as sufficient powers of investigation.

Law Reform

  • Ratify the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, and make the requisite changes in the law.

International Cooperation

  • Agree to the multiple requests made by UN special mechanisms to visit Bangladesh to conduct investigations and make recommendations.
  • Invite the special rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment and the special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions to visit Bangladesh to conduct investigations and make recommendations.
  • Ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment(OPCAT).
  • Thoroughly vet all Bangladeshi military and police who apply for UN peacekeeping missions to ensure that they or the unit to which they are attached have not committed human rights violations.

To the National Human Rights Commission

  • Strenuously press the government to allow investigations into cases of disappearances and extrajudicial killings.
  • Demand that the government respond in a timely and transparent manner to requests for information on cases presented to them.
  • Call for free and unfettered access to all places of detention countrywide.
  • Call for a list of all places of detention, and ensure that detainees are not being held in secret or unknown locations.

To Bangladesh’s Bilateral and Multilateral Donors including the United States, United Kingdom, China, and India

  • Use public and private diplomacy to press the Bangladesh government to implement all recommendations made in this report.
  • Refuse to work with RAB, DB, or other law enforcement or counterterror operations until they cease enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings, and agree to measures with both internal and external monitoring to ensure accountability for law enforcement personnel found to be involved in human rights violations.

Acknowledgments

This report was researched and written by David Bergman, a consultant with the Asia Division at Human Rights Watch. Research assistance was provided by Iqbal Mahmud. Priyanka Motaparthy, senior researcher in the Emergencies Division, provided additional input. The report was edited by Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director; Clive Baldwin, senior legal advisor; and Danielle Haas, senior editor in the Program Office. Tejshree Thapa, senior South Asia researcher, provided additional review. Production assistance was provided by Shayna Bauchner, Asia Division coordinator; Olivia Hunter, publications and photography associate; Fitzroy Hepkins, administrative manager; and Jose Martinez, senior publications coordinator.

We would like to thank the witnesses and families of victims who spoke to us despite fear of state retribution.

[1] David Bergman and Muktadir Rashid, “Picked up a year ago, they’re yet to return,” New Age, November 28, 2014, http://archive.newagebd.net/71268/picked-up-a-year-ago-theyre-yet-to-return (accessed November 27, 2016).

[2] See Human Rights Watch, No Right to Live: “Kneecapping” and Maiming of Detainees by Bangladesh Security Forces, September 2016, https://www.hrw.org/report/2016/09/28/no-right-live/kneecapping-and-maiming-detainees-bangladesh-security-forces; Democracy in the Crossfire: Opposition Violence and Government Abuses in the 2014 Pre- and Post- Election Period in Bangladesh, April 2014, https://www.hrw.org/report/2014/04/29/democracy-crossfire/opposition-violence-and-government-abuses-2014-pre-and-post; Blood on the Streets: The Use of Excessive Force During Bangladesh Protests, August 2013, https://www.hrw.org/report/2013/08/01/blood-streets/use-excessive-force-during-bangladesh-protests;“The Fear Never Leaves Me”: Torture, Custodial Deaths, and Unfair Trials after the 2009 Mutiny of the Bangladesh Rifles, July 2012, https://www.hrw.org/report/2012/07/04/fear-never-leaves-me/torture-custodial-deaths-and-unfair-trials-after-2009-mutiny; “Crossfire”: Continued Human Rights Abuses by Bangladesh’s Rapid Action Battalion, May 2011, https://www.hrw.org/report/2011/05/10/crossfire/continued-human-rights-abuses-bangladeshs-rapid-action-battalion; Ignoring Executions and Torture: Impunity for Bangladesh’s Security Forces, May 2009, https://www.hrw.org/report/2009/05/18/ignoring-executions-and-torture/impunity-bangladeshs-security-forces; The Torture of Tasneem Khalil: How the Bangladesh Military Abuses Its Power under the State of Emergency, February 2008, https://www.hrw.org/report/2008/02/13/torture-tasneem-khalil/how-banglad... Judge, Jury, and Executioner: Torture and Extrajudicial Killings by Bangladesh’s Elite Security Force, December 2006, https://www.hrw.org/report/2006/12/13/judge-jury-and-executioner/torture-and-extrajudicial-killings-bangladeshs-elite.

[3] For a list of those killed in Dhaka from December 10-15, 1971, see the Bangladesh International Crimes Tribunal judgment relating to these killings, The Chief Prosecutor Vs. (1) Ashrafuzzaman Khan@ Naeb Ali Khan [absconded] & (2) Chowdhury Mueen Uddin [absconded], November 3, 2012, http://www.ict-bd.org/ict2/ICT2%20judgment/CM%20&%20AK.pdf (accessed December 12, 2016).

[4] Data collated by Odhikar, a Dhaka-based human rights organization.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Hasan Jahid Tusher and M Abul Kalam Azad, “Govt cancels lease of Khaleda’s Cantt house,” The Daily Star, April 9, 2009, http://www.thedailystar.net/news-detail-83375 (accessed November 27, 2016).

[7] Shakhawat Liton and Rashidul Hasan, “Caretaker system abolished,” The Daily Star, July 1, 2009, http://www.thedailystar.net/news-detail-192303 (accessed November 27, 2016). In reversing its own demands while in opposition, the Awami League government argued that the appellate division of the Supreme Court had earlier ruled that the caretaker government provisions were unconstitutional, that the election commission was now strong enough to hold a fair election, and that the problem with a caretaker government system was that it facilitated army intervention, as had happened in 2007, resulting in a two-year period of emergency rule.

[8] “Govt goes hard on opposition,” The Daily Star, November 9, 2013, http://www.thedailystar.net/news/govt-goes-hard-on-opposition (accessed November 27, 2016). As a result of the arrests, the opposition parties extended the hartal by a day.

[9] Eighteen people were reportedly killed in election violence, in addition to attacks on minority communities perceived to be pro-government. See “Turnout low in deadliest polls,” The Daily Star, January 6, 2016, http://www.thedailystar.net/turnout-low-in-deadliest-polls-5632 (accessed December 12, 2016). See also, Human Rights Watch, Democracy in the Crossfire.

[10] For a detailed breakdown, see “Political Crisis 2015 – analysis of deaths,” Bangladesh Politico, http://bangladeshpolitico.blogspot.com/2015/01/political-crisis-2015-ana... (accessed January 17, 2017).

[11] “Political Conflict, Extremism and Criminal Justice in Bangladesh,” International Crisis Group, April 11, 2016, https://d2071andvip0wj.cloudfront.net/277-political-conflict-extremism-and-criminal-justice-in-bangladesh.pdf (accessed January 16, 2017).

[12] “Special Report: Terror Rising in Bangladesh,” Insite Blog on Terrorism and Extremism, April 26, 2016, http://news.siteintelgroup.com/blog/index.php/categories/jihad/entry/410-the-rising-tide-of-terror-in-bangladesh (accessed January 15, 2017).

[13] Joshua Hammer, “The Imperiled Bloggers of Bangladesh,” New York Times, December 29, 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/03/magazine/the-price-of-secularism-in-bangladesh.html (accessed February 1, 2017).

[14] Rajib Haider was not only an “atheist” blogger but also an organizer of the Shahbagh protests that started in February 2013 calling for the imposition of the death penalty on those convicted by the International Crimes Tribunal of crimes committed in the 1971 independence war.

[15] Mukul Devichand, “‘Nowhere is safe’: Behind the Bangladesh blogger murders,” BBC, August 7, 2015, http://www.bbc.com/news/blogs-trending-33822674 (accessed January 21, 2017).

[16] “Special Report: Terror Rising in Bangladesh,” Insite Blog on Terrorism and Extremism, http://news.siteintelgroup.com/blog/index.php/categories/jihad/entry/410-the-rising-tide-of-terror-in-bangladesh.

[17] “Bangladesh PM Hasina smells link of BNP-Jamaat,” The Daily Star, October 5, 2017, http://www.thedailystar.net/frontpage/pm-smells-link-bnp-jamaat-152074 (accessed January 21, 2017).

[18] “Kalpana Chakma – Information, disinformation, non-information,” Amnesty International, June 14, 2014, https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/campaigns/2014/06/kalpana-chakma-information-disinformation-non-information/ (accessed November 27, 2016).

[19] “Bangladesh: Revoke ‘Shoot at sight,’” Human Rights Watch news release, June 4, 2003, https://www.hrw.org/news/2003/06/04/bangladesh-revoke-shoot-sight.

[20] The Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) was formed in March 2004 as a composite force comprised of members from the military, police, and other law enforcement groups. Members are assigned from their parent organizations, which they return to after serving with the unit. The unit is regarded as an elite counterterrorism force and has targeted, apart from criminal suspects, alleged members of militant Islamist or left-wing groups. RAB has long been criticized for human rights violations and its failure to ensure accountability.

[21] Human Rights Watch, Judge, Jury, and Executioner.

[22] Ibid., p. 35. See, for example, the case of Sumon Ahmed Majumder killed in July 2004.

[23] “Report on 22 months of Emergency,” Odhikar, November 12, 2008, http://odhikar.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/22-Months-State-of-Emergency-Report-2008.pdf (accessed December 13, 2016).

[24] “Election Manifesto of Bangladesh Awami League – 2008, Bangladesh Awami League,” https://albd.org/~parbonc/index.php/en/resources/articles/4070-election-manifesto-of-bangladesh-awami-league,-9th-parliamentary-election,-2008 (accessed November 25, 2016).

[25] Human Rights Watch, “Crossfire,” pp. 3-4.

[26] “Bangladesh: Broken Promises from Government to Halt RAB Killings,” Human Rights Watch news release, May 10, 2011, https://www.hrw.org/news/2011/05/10/bangladesh-broken-promises-government-halt-rab-killings.

[27] According to Odhikar, there were 3 disappearances in 2009, 18 in 2010, 31 in 2011, 26 in 2012, 53 in 2013, 39 in 2014, and 65 in 2015.

[28] The Detective Branch (DB), short for the Detective and Criminal Intelligence Division, is a branch of different police forces around the country. See “Detective & Criminal Intelligence Division,” Dhaka Metropolitan Police, http://www.dmp.gov.bd/application/index/page/detective-criminal-division (accessed November 27, 2016). Increasingly, DB officers have been identified as being involved in disappearances and killings.

[29] “India: Protect Bangladesh War Crimes Trial Witness,” Human Rights Watch news release, May 16, 2016, https://www.hrw.org/news/2013/05/16/india-protect-bangladesh-war-crimes-trial-witness; David Bergman and Muktadir Rashid, “Anatomy of a Disappearance, and a Reappearance” The Wire, May 23, 2015, http://thewire.in/2289/anatomy-of-a-disappearance-and-a-reappearance/ (accessed November 27, 2016).

[30] “Doctor Iqbal returns to home in Lakshmipur seven months after kidnapping,” bdnews24.com, June 1, 2017, http://bdnews24.com/bangladesh/2017/06/01/kidnapped-doctor-iqbal-returns-to-home-in-lakshmipur-seven-months-after-kidnapping (accessed June 15, 2017).

[31] See, for example, “‘Missing Jamaat leader’ found dead in Jhenaidah,” The Independent, August 12, 2016, http://www.theindependentbd.com/post/55492 (accessed November 27, 2016).

[32] UN Human Rights Council, “Report of the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances,” A/HRC/33/51, July 28, 2016, https://documents-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/G16/167/14/PDF/G1616714.pdf (accessed November 27, 2016), p. 19.

[33] “UN expert group urges Bangladesh to stop enforced disappearances,” United Nations news release, February 24, 2017, http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=21220&LangID=E (accessed February 28, 2017).

[34] “Exclusive: Officer exposes brutal killings by Bangladeshi Elite Police Unit RAB,” Sveridge Radio, April 4, 2017, https://sverigesradio.se/sida/artikel.aspx?programid=83&artikel=6665807 (accessed 5 May, 2017).

[35] David Bergman and Muktadir Rashid, “Picked up a year ago, they’re yet to return,” New Age, November 28, 2014, http://archive.newagebd.net/71268/picked-up-a-year-ago-theyre-yet-to-return/ (accessed November 27, 2016).

[36] “Narayanganj seven-murder sentences at a glance: 26 get death penalty,” bdnews24.com, January 16, 2017, http://bdnews24.com/bangladesh/2017/01/16/narayanganj-seven-murder-sentences-at-a-glance-26-get-death-penalty (accessed April 28, 2017).

[37] Penal Code, 1860, secs. 340, 346, 362, 365, 367, and 368, http://bdlaws.minlaw.gov.bd/print_sections_all.php?id=11 (accessed January 15, 2017).

[38] See “Review of the Torture and Custodial Death (Prohibition) Act, 2013,” BLAST, December 2015, https://www.blast.org.bd/content/publications/Review%20of%20The%20Torture%20&%20Custodial%20Death(Prevention)%20Act,%202013.pdf (accessed March, 1, 2017).

[39] Constitution of Bangladesh, art. 31, http://bdlaws.minlaw.gov.bd/pdf_part.php?id=367 (accessed December 12, 2016).

[40] Ibid., art. 32.

[41] “Guidelines for the Law Enforcement Agencies,” Bangladesh v. Bangladesh Legal Aid and Services Trust (BLAST), Civil Appeal N0.53 of 2004, May 24, 2016, http://www.supremecourt.gov.bd/resources/documents/734650_Civil_Appeal_
No_53_of_2004_final_2016.pdf
(accessed January 22, 2017), pp. 389-396.

[42] Code of Criminal Procedure, 1898, sec. 132 states: “No Prosecution against any person for any act purporting to be done under this Chapter shall be instituted in any Criminal Court, except with the sanction of the Government.”

[43] Ibid., sec. 132 (a) – (d). Armed Police Battalions Ordinance, 1979, sec. 13, as amended, states: “No Suit, prosecution or other legal proceedings shall be against any member of the Force for anything which is done or intended to be done in good faith under this Ordinance.” At the 119th meeting of the UN Human Rights Committee, the Bangladesh law minister claimed that this section did not provide any immunity to RAB officers, as it only applied in relation to acts done following orders of the government. See UN Web TV, “Consideration of Bangladesh – 119th session CCPR,” 2:22:40, March 7, 2017, http://webtv.un.org/search/consideration-of-bangladesh-contd-3340th-meeting-119th-session-of-human-rights-committee/5350733542001 (accessed March 16, 2017).

[44] Declaration on the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearances, adopted December 18, 1992, G.A. res. 47/133, 47 U.N. GAOR Supp. (No. 49) at 207, U.N. Doc. A/47/49 (1992). The Bangladesh government has not signed the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance.

[45] International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), adopted December 16, 1966, G.A. Res. 2200A (XXI), 21 U.N. GAOR Supp. (No. 16) at 52, U.N. Doc. A/6316 (1966), 999 U.N.T.S. 171, entered into force March 23, 1976. Bangladesh ratified the ICCPR in 2000, subject to reservations to arts. 10, 11, and 14.

[46] Ratified on March 23, 2010.

[47] Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (Rome Statute), A/CONF.183/9, July 17, 1998, entered into force July 1, 2002, art. 7(1)(i).

[48] Ibid., art. 7(2)(i).

[49] Ibid., art. 8.

[50] David Bergman, “Due process and Bangladesh Counter Terrorism Measures,” The Wire, October 8, 2016, https://thewire.in/71832/due-process-bangladeshs-counter-terrorism-measures (accessed January 10, 2017).

[51] This list is based on a combination of cases documented by Odhikar and Human Rights Watch.

[52] Interviews with two colleagues of Abu Huraira, February 15, 2017. See also, “Jamaat leader picked up ‘by cops’ found dead,” Daily Observer, March 1, 2016, http://www.observerbd.com/2016/03/01/139188.php (accessed January 15, 2017).

[53] “Now confusion over arrest of Mukul’s relative,” The Daily Star, June 22, 2016, http://www.thedailystar.net/frontpage/confusion-over-arrest-mukuls-brother-law-1243570 (accessed January 15, 2017).

[54] “2 Shibir leaders detained weeks ago killed in ‘gunfight,’” New Age, July 2, 2016, http://archive.newagebd.net/238630/2-shibir-leaders-detained-weeks-ago-killed-gunfight/ (accessed January 15, 2016).

[55] Telephone interviews with Sabdar Rahman, Anisur’s father, and Sharifur Rahman, Anisur’s brother, January 26, 2017.

[56] “Another Shibir man killed in Gunfight,” New Age, July 3, 2016, http://newagebd.net/238813/another-shibir-man-killed-gunfight/ (accessed January 15, 2016).

[57] “2 suspects in Mitu murder case killed,” The Daily Star, July 10, 2016, http://www.thedailystar.net/backpage/2-suspects-mitu-murder-case-killed-1251382 (accessed January 15, 2016).

[58] “‘Abducted’ man killed in ‘gunfight’,” The Daily Star, July 3, 2016, http://www.thedailystar.net/country/abducted-man-killed-gunfight-1249405 (accessed January 15, 2016).

[59] Telephone interview with family members. See also, “Two ‘Jamaat men’ killed in Jhenaidah ‘gunfight’,” New Age, October 25, 2016, http://www.newagebd.net/article/1417/two-killed-in-jhenaidah-gunfight (accessed January 15, 2017).

[60] Telephone interview with Mahfuza Khanum, Shajib’s mother, February 15, 2017.

[61] “Suspected criminal found in Joypurhat ‘gunfight’,” Daily Observer, October 26, 2016, http://www.observerbd.com/details.php?id=40243 (accessed January 15, 2017).

[62] “3 Jubo League men found shot dead,” The Daily Star, December 6, 2016, http://www.thedailystar.net/frontpage/three-jubo-league-men-found-dead-1325821 (accessed January 15, 2017).

[63] Telephone interview with Khalil Rahman, October 3, 2016.

[64] “Bullet hit body of missing Shibir Leader found,” The Daily Star, March 5, 2016, http://www.thedailystar.net/city/missing-shibir-leaders-bullet-hit-body-found-786493 (accessed January 9, 2017).

[65] Telephone interview with Rabeya Begum, January 22, 2017.

[66] Telephone interview with Nur Islam, October 7, 2016.

[67] Ibid.

[68] “Bullet hit bodies of two Shibir men found,” The Daily Star, April 14, 2016, http://www.thedailystar.net/backpage/bullet-hit-bodies-two-shibir-men-found-1208815 (accessed January 9, 2017).

[69] Ibid.

[70] Telephone interview with Ruhul Amin, October 3, 2016.

[71] Telephone interview with Ruhul Amin, January 21, 2017.

[72] Telephone interview with Mohsin Ali, October 3, 2016.

[73] Telephone interview with Mohsin Ali, January 21, 2017.

[74] “Abducted college student found dead in Chudanga,” Daily Sun, April 20, 2016, http://www.daily-sun.com/post/129965/abducted-college-student-found-dead-in-chudanga (accessed January 9, 2017).

[75] Telephone interview with Mohsin Ali, January 21, 2017.

[76] Telephone interviews with Rajab Ali, October 10, 2016, and January 2, 2017. See also, “Allegation of the killing of Shahid Al Mahmud by police 16 days after his disappearance: Fact finding report,” Odhikar, September 8, 2016, http://odhikar.org/allegation-of-the-killing-of-shahid-al-mahmud-by-police-16-days-after-his-disappearance/ (accessed December 27, 2016).

[77] Human Rights Watch has not been able to speak to Khabir Uddin.

[78] Telephone interview with Abdur Rahim, January 2, 2017.

[79] Ibid.

[80] “Father looking for missing child”, ManobJamin, June 19, 2016, http://www.mzamin.com/article.php?mzamin=19186&cat=9/ (accessed January 21, 2017).

[81] “Two Shibir Leaders killed in ‘Shootout,’” The Daily Star, July 2, 2016, http://www.thedailystar.net/frontpage/two-shibir-leaders-killed-shootout-1249009 (accessed January 9, 2017).

[82] Telephone interviews with Rajab Ali, October 10, 2016, and January 2, 2017.

[83] Telephone interviews with Abdullah Al Azad, October 24, 2016, and January 3, 2017. See also, “Shibir Man Killed in ‘Gunfight,’” The Daily Star, July 20, 2016, http://www.thedailystar.net/backpage/shibir-man-killed-gunfight-1256257 (accessed January 3, 2017).

[84] Telephone interview with Lutfur Islam, October 23, 2016.

[85] Ibid.

[86] Telephone interview with Jamilur Rahman Bipul, October 23, 2016.

[87] “Shibir Man Killed in ‘Gunfight’,” The Daily Star, http://www.thedailystar.net/backpage/shibir-man-killed-gunfight-1256257.

[88] Telephone interview with Salima Khatun, October 18, 2016.

[89] Ibid.

[90] “BNP activist killed in ‘Shootout’,” The Daily Star, July 11, 2016, http://www.thedailystar.net/backpage/bnp-activist-killed-shootout-1251886 (accessed January 9, 2017).

[91] Telephone interview, details withheld, September 28, 2016.

[92] Ibid.

[93] “‘Missing Jamaat leader’ found dead in Jhenaidah,” The Independent, http://www.theindependentbd.com/post/55492.

[94] This list is based on a combination of cases documented by Odhikar and Human Rights Watch.

[95]3 abducted indigenous people yet to be rescued,” Observer, April 19, 2016, http://www.observerbd.com/2016/04/19/147397.php (accessed January 12, 2017).

[96] “Musa was arrested a week ago,” The Daily Star, July 1, 2016, http://www.thedailystar.net/frontpage/musa-was-arrested-week-ago-1248724 (accessed January 21, 2017).

[97] David Bergman, “British-Bangladeshi Suspected of Militant Links Believed to Be In Secret Detention in Bangladesh,” The Wire, November 4, 2016, https://thewire.in/77772/british-bangladeshi-suspected-militant-links-detained-secretly-bangladesh-state-four-months/ (accessed January 10, 2017).

[98] Via email, December 5, 2016.

[99]Gulshan Attack Militant Nibras: Case filed five months back, no effort to arrest,” Prothom Alo, July 12, 2016.

[100] Interview of Yasin’s mother, Dhaka, October 29, 2016.

[101] Written interview with Sidrat, November 3, 2016.

[102] Interview with Yasin’s mother, Dhaka, October 29, 2016.

[103] Ibid.

[104] Ibid.

[105] David Bergman, “British-Bangladeshi Suspected of Militant Links Believed to Be In Secret Detention in Bangladesh,” The Wire, https://thewire.in/77772/british-bangladeshi-suspected-militant-links-detained-secretly-bangladesh-state-four-months.

[106] Telephone interview with Moinul Hossain Opu, January 10, 2017.

[107] Telephone interview with Saleha Begum, January 10, 2017.

[108] Telephone interview with Moinul Hossain Opu, January 10, 2017.

[109] Telephone interview with Saleha Begum, January 10, 2017.

[110] “BCL man missing for 18 days,” The Daily Star, February 14, 2016, http://www.thedailystar.net/city/bcl-man-missing-18-days-510808 (accessed January 21, 2017).

[111] Telephone interview with Saleha Begum, January 10, 2017.

[112] “Wife of Police Super shot dead in Ctg,” The Daily Star, June 5, 2016, http://www.thedailystar.net/country/police-officers-wife-shot-dead-ctg-1234663 (accessed January 17, 2017).

[113] Telephone interview with Panna Akhter, January 14, 2017.

[114] “Musa was arrested a week ago,” The Daily Star, http://www.thedailystar.net/frontpage/musa-was-arrested-week-ago-1248724.

[115] “Tk 5 lakh reward for capturing Musa,” Prothom Alo, October 6, 2016, http://en.prothom-alo.com/bangladesh/news/124121/Tk-5-lakh-reward-for-capturing-Musa (accessed January 21, 2017).

[116] Telephone interview with Panna Akhter, January 18, 2017.

[117] Telephone interview with Tahera Tasnim, August 10, 2016. Tahmina Akhter, Mir Ahmad’s wife, provided a similar description in email correspondence on August 11, 2016. Copy on file with Human Rights Watch.

[118] First Information Report, “Case 46 on 22/12/2016.” Copy of FIR on file with Human Rights Watch.

[119] Interview with Tahera Tasmin, Dhaka, January 15, 2017.

[120] Telephone interview with Abul Kalam, August 23, 2016.

[121] “CCTV footage shows police van at abduction spot,” Prothom Alo, November 18, 2016, http://en.prothom-alo.com/bangladesh/news/129525/CCTV-footage-shows-police-van-at-abduction-spot (accessed January 21, 2017). He was released in Dhaka on May 31, 2017. “Doctor Iqbal returns to home in Lakshmipur seven months after kidnapping,” bdnews24.com, http://bdnews24.com/bangladesh/2017/06/01/kidnapped-doctor-iqbal-returns-to-home-in-lakshmipur-seven-months-after-kidnapping.

[122] Telephone interview with Mujahidul Islam, January 13, 2017.

[123] “Missing Jamaat leader arrested,” The Daily Star, March 19, 2016, http://www.thedailystar.net/city/missing-jamaat-leader-arrested-1196212 (accessed January 16, 2017).

[124] “IS Takes credit for homeopaths killing in Jhenaidah,” The Daily Star, January 9, 2016, http://archive.newagebd.net/191749/is-takes-credit-for-homeopaths-killing-in-jhenaidah/ (accessed January 16, 2017).

[125] Telephone interview with Kamrul Alam Nayan, October 18, 2016.

[126] Telephone interview with Iftekhar Ahmed Enam, December 11, 2016.

[127] Telephone interview with Nazma Akhter, December 11, 2016.

[128] “Five Huji Suspects Placed on Remand,” The Daily Star, December 13, 2016, http://www.thedailystar.net/backpage/five-huji-suspects-placed-remand-1329490 (accessed January 9, 2016).

[129] Telephone interview with Mushfikur Rahman, January 14, 2017.

[130] “3 youths go missing being picked up by ‘detectives,’” New Age, May 19, 2016, http://archive.newagebd.net/230836/3-youths-go-missing-being-picked-up-by-detectives/ (accessed January 17, 2017).

[131] “Abducted a month back, trio arrested with machetes,” TerrorismWatchBangladesh, http://www.terrorismwatchbangladesh.us/2016/06/abducted-month-back-trio-arrested-with.html

[132] Telephone interview with Maulana Abdus Sattar, January 12, 2017.

[133] Telephone interview with Mufti Hafizur Rahman, January 12, 2017.

[134] Telephone interview with Maulana Abdus Sattar, January 16, 2017.

[135] Telephone interview with Khadiza Begum, January 12, 2017.

[136] Telephone interview with Masudur Rahman, January 16, 2017.

[137] Telephone interview with Tahera Taslima, September 28, 2016.

[138] Ibid.

[139] Telephone interview with Shamsul Hoque, June 11, 2016.

[140] Ibid.

[141] “Neo-JMB IT expert and three others held in Dhaka,” Financial Express, February 1, 2017 http://www.thefinancialexpress-bd.com/2017/02/01/60652/Neo-JMB-IT-expert-held (accessed April 27, 2017).

[142] Telephone interviews with Shamsul Hoque, January 16 and 18, 2017.

[143] Telephone interview with Ripon Sardar, January 14, 2017.

[144] Interview with family members, August 9, 2016. See also, “Bangladesh: Charge or Release Holey Attack Hostages,” Human Rights Watch news release, July 15, 2016, https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/07/15/bangladesh-charge-or-release-holey-attack-hostages.

[145] Shanifa Nasser, “Tahmid Khan to return to Bangladesh court after acquittal on terror charges for ‘lack of cooperation,’” CBC News, October 3, 2016, http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/tahmid-khan-to-return-to-bangladesh-court-after-acquittal-on-terror-charges-for-lack-of-cooperation-1.3789488 (accessed January 7, 2017).

[146] Humam and his mother were both prosecuted under the Information, Communication and Technology Act, 2006, for offenses involved in the leaking of a draft of the court judgment convicting Salahuddin Quader Chowdhury of crimes committed in the 1971 independence war. After Humam was secretly detained, the court, on September 15, 2016, acquitted both him and his mother. See “Salauddin Quader’s wife, son acquitted in verdict leak case,” Dhaka Tribune, September 15, 2016, http://www.dhakatribune.com/bangladesh/2016/09/15/salauddin-quaders-lawyer-gets-10yr-jail-verdict-leak-case/ (accessed December 18, 2016).

[147] Telephone interview with Farhat Quader Chowdhury, August 10, 2016. See also, David Bergman and Muktadir Rashid, “Bangladesh: Sons of convicted war criminals detained,” Al Jazeera, August 11, 2016, http://www.aljazeera.com/news/
2016/08/bangladesh-sons-convicted-war-criminals-detained-160811134823481.html
(accessed December 18, 2016).

[148] “UN expert group urges Bangladesh to stop enforced disappearances,” United Nations news release, http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=21220&LangID=E.

[149] Statement of Sarowar Hossain, November 6, 2016. Copy on file with Human Rights Watch.

[150] Statement of Zillur Rahman, November 6, 2016. Copy on file with Human Rights Watch.

[151] In July 2016, RAB announced that it would provide financial rewards to militants who surrendered to the authorities and provided information. In October, RAB announced that two militants would became the first to surrender as part of this scheme. See “Tk 10 lakh reward for militant who returns to normal life: Rab,” The Daily Star, July 18, 2016, http://www.thedailystar.net/country/joint-drive-against-militants-underway-bogra-1255552. See also, “Bangladesh: Two Militants Become First to Surrender Under Cash-Incentive Program,” BenarNews, October 5, 2016, http://www.benarnews.org/english/news/bengali/militant-incentive-10052016151827.html (accessed May 2, 2017).

[152] “3 JMB men surrender to Home Boss,” The Daily Star, November 24, 2017, http://www.thedailystar.net/backpage/3-jmb-men-surrender-home-boss-1319554 (accessed January 17, 2017).

[153] Telephone interviews with Zillur Rahman, January 14 and 18, 2017.

[154] Telephone interview with Abul Kashem, January 14, 2017.

[155] “Four Huji-B men held in Gazipur,” The Daily Star, October 29, 2016, https://dev.thedailystar.net/backpage/four-huji-b-men-held-gazipur-1306099 (accessed January 17, 2017).

[156] The human rights group Odhikar reported a total of 53 disappearances in 2013.

[157] The identities of the four men have been anonymized for their safety. Human Rights Watch reconstructed the detention based on their account.

[158] Interview with witness “W,” details withheld, Dhaka, October 21, 2014.

[159] Interview with witnesses, Dhaka, October 21, 2014.

[160] Interview with Sayeed Shammi Sultana, Dhaka, May 9, 2016.

[161] Pintu was subsequently picked up on December 11, see below.

[162] Interview with Kaliz Fatima, Samarat’s older sister, and Taslima Begum, Samarat’s mother, Dhaka, October 10, 2016.

[163] Ibid. The GD, filed by Sultana at the Chowk Bazaar police station, states that her husband “went to Dhaka Central Jail … to see a convict. Since then there is no news of him.”

[164] Interview with Sayeed Shammi Sultana, Dhaka, May 9, 2016.

[165] This was set up after seven men were picked up by RAB officers in Narayanganj and their bodies were found in April 2014. “DMP forms anti-kidnapping squad,” The Daily Star, May 3, 2014, http://www.thedailystar.net/dmp-forms-anti-kidnapping-squad-22540 (accessed December 21, 2016).

[166] Three of the seven activists escaped arrest but witnessed the detention. These events have been reconstructed based on interviews with these three men.

[167] Interviews, details withheld, November 25, 2014, and September 5, 2016.

[168] One of the men that he called, Ujjal, was picked up later that same day, but Ujjal was produced in court.

[169] Interview with witness, details withheld, November 24, 2014.

[170] Interview with Shamsul Rahman, Dhaka, October 15, 2014.

[171] Ibid. The GD, filed on January 7, 2014, at Bangshal Thana, states that Sohel “went out of the house but never came back.… Even after searching every possible place, we did not find any trace of him.”

[172] Interviews with Farzeena Akhter, Dhaka, October 15, 2014, and May 9, 2016.

[173] Interview with Reshma Akhter, Dhaka, May 16, 2016.

[174] Interview with Anwar Hossain, Dhaka, October 15 2014.

[175] The GD, filed at the Bangshal police station by Zahir’s older brother, Kamal Hossain, states: “My younger brother went out of the house just like every other day. Later on at 2 p.m. when I called his cell phone number he told me that he was in the TSC arena. Afterwards I found his phone switched off. After searching every possible place we have found no trace of him.”

[176] Interview with witness, details withheld, Dhaka, October 9, 2016.

[177] Ibid.

[178] Ibid.

[179] Interviews, details withheld, Dhaka, November 30, 2014, and May 14, 2016.

[180] Interview with construction worker, details withheld, November 23, 2014.

[181] Interview with witness, details withheld, November 9, 2014. The contractor knew Sumon as he had been involved in organizing the marriage of his daughters. Shaheen Bagh is about 10 km from Bashundhara Residential Area where the six men were picked up.

[182] Interview with Sanjida Islam, Dhaka, September 22, 2014.

[183] Ibid.

[184] Ibid.

[185] Ibid.

[186] Based on notes taken by Sanjida immediately after the meeting.

[187] Abul Kalam Azad died on March 31, 2017. RAB claimed that he had been killed when a bomb exploded during an anti-militant operation in Sylhet. See Kamrul Hasan and Arifur Rahman Rabi, “RAB intelligence chief Azad dies from Sylhet bomb injuries,” The Dhaka Tribune, March 31, 2017, http://www.dhakatribune.com/bangladesh/2017/03/31/rab-intelligence-chief-azad-dies-sylhet-blast-injuries (accessed on May 5, 2017).

[188] Human Rights Watch carried out a detailed interview with Sanjida the day after the meeting, which took place on May 23, 2016. Copy of the text correspondence setting up the meeting on file with Human Rights Watch.

[189] Interviews with Nusrat Jahan Laboni, October 18, 2013, and May 6, 2016.

[190] Ibid. On December 6, 2013, Russel’s older brother filed a GD at the Tejgaon police station, stating that Russel had gone missing on December 4. “In the afternoon, he went out and did not come back,” it states. The GD is mistakenly dated November 6. Copy on file with Human Rights Watch.

[191] On December 5, 2013, Al Amin’s father filed a GD at the Badda police station, stating that Al Amin had gone missing the previous day. “At around 5 in the afternoon, my oldest son, Md Al Amin, left home to go to Bashundhara, and he did not return until now. His mobile phone is switched off,” it states. Copy on file with Human Rights Watch.

[192] Copy on file with Human Rights Watch.

[193] Interviews with Yakoob, Dhaka, May 5, 2014, and May 9, 2016.

[194] Ibid.

[195] Interview with Ayesha Ali, Dhaka, October 18, 2016.

[196] Interviews with Meenara Begum, Dhaka, October 18, 2014, and May 6, 2016. The GD is dated December 5, 2013, and was filed at the Mugda police station by Meenara Begum. “At around 5 p.m. he went out from my rented house, and until now has not returned home. I have tried to look for him in all possible places including relatives’ homes but could not find any trace of him,” it states. Copy on file with Human Rights Watch.

[197] Interview with Nilifur Rana, Dhaka, November 9, 2014.

[198] Full correspondence of the National Human Rights Commission on file with Human Rights Watch.

[199] Ibid.

[200] Ibid. The case that the ministry and police were referencing had been filed by Al Amin’s family.

[201] Writ Petition no. 2604/2016.

[202] Court order relating to WP 2604/2016, given by Justice Syed Muhammed Dastagir Husain and Justice AKM Shahidul Huq, October 1, 2016.

[203] Affidavit in opposition filed by inspector general of police in WP 2604/2016, in response to order of court.

[204] Affidavit in opposition filed by Lieutenant Colonel Tuhin Mohammad Masud, commanding officer, RAB-1, in WP 2604/2016, in response to order of court, April 4, 2016.

[205] Case no. 24, Vatara police station, January 26, 2014.

[206] Interview with Yakoob Ali, Dhaka, May 7, 2017.

[207] Letter from Zuhair Hossain Khan, detective and crime department north sub-inspector, Uttara Zonal team, to joint commissioner (crime), detective and criminal information department, Dhaka Metropolitan Police, April 11, 2016, annexed to affidavit in opposition filed by the inspector general of police.

[208] Documents annexed to the inspector general of police’s affidavit in opposition.

[209] Interview with Marjina Sultana Tonni, Dhaka, October 18, 2014.

[210] Interviews with Ruhul Amin Chowdhury, Dhaka, October 23, 2014, and May 6, 2016.

[211] Interview with Marjina Sultana Tonni, Dhaka, October 18, 2014.

[212] Interview with Ruhul Amin Chowdhury, Dhaka, October 23, 2014.

[213] Ibid., Dhaka, April 5, 2015.

[214] Ibid.

[215] Ibid.

[216] Interview with witness, details withheld, Dhaka, November 7, 2014.

[217] Interviews with witness, details withheld, Dhaka, November 8 and 28, 2014.

[218] Ibid.

[219] Interview with Komla Akhter, Dhaka, October 19, 2014.

[220] Interview with Jamal, Dhaka, November 25, 2014.

[221] Interview with Mohammad Joshimuddin, Dhaka, October 25, 2014.

[222] Ibid.

[223] Interview with Jamal, Dhaka, November 25, 2014.

[224] Interview with Shamsuddin, Dhaka, May 14, 2016.

[225] Interview with Hasina Begum, Dhaka, October 16, 2014.

[226] Interviews with Saiful Islam Mithu, Dhaka, October 25, 2014, and May 16, 2016.

[227] On December 9, 2013, Jhunta’s mother, Hasina Begum, filed a GD at Dokinkan police station stating that her son had gone missing. “Around 10:30 at night on 6.12.13, he went out of the home to go to the shop, and never returned,” it states. Copy on file with Human Rights Watch.

[228] Interviews with Saiful Islam Mithu, Dhaka, October 25, 2014, and May 16, 2016.

[229] Interview with Shamsuddin, Dhaka, May 14, 2016.

[230] Interview with Azad Md Sadequl Islam, Dhaka, October 20, 2014.

[231] Ibid.

[232] Interview with witness, Dhaka, October 20, 2014.

[233] Interview with witness, Dhaka, December 1, 2014.

[234] Interview with Abdul Jalil Khan, Dhaka, October 20, 2014.

[235] Ibid. The GD was filed on December 11 at Sabujbagh police station by Sujon’s father. It states that Sujon “went outside the house to buy warm clothes for his kids but he has not returned since then, and there is no trace of him after searching all probable places.”

[236] Interview with Shakil, Dhaka, October 20, 2014.

[237] GD filed on December 10, 2013, by Khusdia Akhter Shila. It states, “My brother Kazi Farhad left home for work and until this day he has not returned and his mobile is also switched off.”

[238] Telephone interview with Farhana, November 11, 2014.

[239] Interview with Tarannum Nahas, Dhaka, October 23, 2014.

[240] Interviews with Rehana Banu Munni, Dhaka, September 27, 2014, and May 30, 2016.

[241] Of all the GDs filed relating to the sequence of disappearances in this two-week period, this is the only one in which the police allowed the family to mention that law enforcement authorities were allegedly involved in the initial pick up. Copy on file with Human Rights Watch.

[242] “DMP forms anti-kidnapping squad,” The Daily Star, http://www.thedailystar.net/dmp-forms-anti-kidnapping-squad-22540.

[243] “Guidelines for the Law Enforcement Agencies,” Bangladesh v. Bangladesh Legal Aid and Services Trust (BLAST), Civil Appeal No. 53 of 2004, May 24, 2016, http://www.supremecourt.gov.bd/resources/documents/734650_Civil_Appeal_No_53_of_2004_final_2016.pdf, p. 389.

[244] Ibid., sec. (ii), p. 389.

[245] Ibid., sec. (ix), p. 391.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

A member of Iraqi security forces stands on the turret of an armoured vehicle along a highway near west of Mosul, Iraq, June 22, 2017. 

© 2017 Reuters
 
(Beirut) – Allegations are emerging of Iraqi forces beating and unlawfully killing men and boys fleeing Mosul in the final phase of the battle against the Islamic State (also known as ISIS), Human Rights Watch said today.

Four witnesses told Human Rights Watch that they saw Iraqi forces beat unarmed men and boys fleeing the fighting within the last seven days, and said they also obtained information about Iraqi forces executing unarmed men during this time period.

“As Iraqi forces are poised to retake the entire city of Mosul, allegations of unlawful killings and beatings significantly raise concerns for the civilians there who have been living under ISIS control,” said Lama Fakih, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Iraqi forces are promising liberation, but they need to find out what’s happening now and stop any abuse.”

One witness said that three Emergency Response Division and Iraqi Security Force (ISF) members on a key route for civilians fleeing the city boasted to him that they were executing captured unarmed men who were thought to be ISIS-affiliated instead of detaining them. The Emergency Response Division and ISF fighters, stationed three kilometers from the heaviest fighting in the Old City, said they made an exception for elderly men, the witness said.

Two other witnesses said they saw Iraqi uniformed soldiers pick at least six men and boys out of crowds of fleeing civilians at a checkpoint, beat them, and drive them away. They said they saw soldiers pick out another man, beat him, and then move him into a building they were using as a base. One of the witnesses said that soldiers later said they had killed him.

“I have heard of countless abuses and executions in this battle,” one witness said. “But what’s changed is that in this final phase fighters are no longer hiding what they are doing and are comfortable allowing us to witness the abuses first-hand.”

The same witness said that earlier this week, he heard three screams coming from a building being used by the elite Counter Terrorism Service (CTS), after which fighters from the unit ushered him away. That afternoon in another neighborhood of west Mosul, the witness saw two CTS fighters take down the corpse of an alleged ISIS fighter that had been strung up to an electrical pole, and stone the body before taking a few photos of each other posing with it.

That night, he said, a CTS fighter also showed him a video of a severely beaten man who the fighter said was an ISIS prisoner. In the video the CTS fighter shoots and kills the unarmed detainee, he said.

In the days before, the man said he saw five Iraqi soldiers at a checkpoint pick out at least 10 men over a period of an hour, beat them, and drag them toward a building the soldiers were using as a base. He said that one of the men the soldiers were beating was wounded and that he had arrived with his family from a front-line field hospital. The witness said that as he was leaving the area he saw the soldiers single out more and more men, beat them and take them away, but lost count of how many.

An article published in a Swedish outlet on June 28, 2017, by a Swedish journalist who was on the front-line says that a Federal Police officer boasted about decapitating at least 50 men with knives and beating others, with fellow officers watching, cheering, and sometimes filming. The article said the Federal Police backed up these claims with photos and videos.

Throughout the operation to retake Mosul, Human Rights Watch has documented Iraqi forces detaining and holding thousands of men and boys in inhumane conditions without charge, and in some cases torturing and executing them, under the guise of a screening them for ISIS-affiliation. In May 2016, Iraqi forces retook the city of Fallujah from ISIS, but in the operation committed horrific abuses, including executions, torture, and the disappearance of over 600 men whose bodies have yet to be found.

Human Rights Watch has raised concerns regarding allegations of ill-treatment, torture, and executions numerous times in meetings with Iraqi officials in Baghdad as well as with representatives from US-led coalition member countries. Human Rights Watch does not know of a single transparent investigation into abuses by Iraqi armed forces, any instances of commanders being held accountable for abuse, or any victims of abuse receiving compensation.

Iraqi criminal justice authorities should investigate all alleged crimes, including unlawful killings and mutilation of corpses, committed by any party in the conflict in a prompt, transparent, and effective manner, up to the highest levels of responsibility. Those found criminally responsible should be appropriately prosecuted. Extrajudicial executions and torture during an armed conflict are war crimes. Despoiling dead bodies and other outrages on personal dignity are violations of the laws of armed conflict and may amount to war crimes.

“Reports of unlawful executions and beatings by Iraqi soldiers should be enough to raise concern among the highest ranks in Baghdad and among members of the international coalition combatting ISIS,” Fakih said. “Iraqi officials should translate that concern into accountability for war crimes.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

South Korean President Moon Jae-In attends an interview with Reuters at the Presidential Blue House in Seoul, South Korea June 22, 2017.

© 2017 Reuters/Kim Hong-Ji

(Washington, DC, June 29, 2017) – South Korean President Moon Jae-In should raise the perilous situation of more than 38 North Korean refugees detained in China in his meetings with US President Donald Trump in Washington, DC, on June 29 and 30, 2017, Human Rights Watch said today. The refugees are at risk of imminent return to North Korea, where they face torture and long-term detention.

North Koreans forcibly returned by China regularly endure torture while being interrogated about their activities abroad. They then can disappear into North Korea’s horrific prison camp system, where prisoners face torture, sexual violence, forced labor, and other inhuman treatment. 

Moon should also call for a global partnership to seek improvements on the human rights situation for North Korea people.

Phil Robertson

Deputy Asia Director

“President Moon should urge President Trump to join South Korea in calling on China’s leaders not to send these 38 North Korean refugees back into harm’s way,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director. “Moon should also call for a global partnership to seek improvements on the human rights situation for North Korea people.”

The death of the US student Otto Warmbier after apparent mistreatment in custody in North Korea has already alerted Trump administration officials to the dangers faced by prisoners in North Korean prisons.

Activists and family members have informed Human Rights Watch that at least 51 North Koreans have been detained in China since July 2016, including a baby born in detention, four children ages 10 to 16, and three elderly women in frail health. Based on their information, Human Rights Watch believes that at least 13 North Koreans have already been forcibly returned to North Korea, meaning that at least 38 remain in China. Human Rights Watch is unaware of reliable estimates of the total number of North Koreans in custody in China, or the number of refugees returned to North Korea.

China routinely labels North Koreans as illegal “economic migrants” and regularly repatriates them to North Korea, where they face abuses by prison guards, and forced labor in harsh and dangerous conditions. Those defying the rules of the camps, or seeking to escape face arbitrary punishments, including public executions. Leaving North Korea without official permission is a crime for which abuse and punishment is certain among those sent back to North Korean state security (Bowibu).

As a result, Human Rights Watch has determined that all North Koreans in China who left North Korea without permission should be considered refugees sur place –people who become refugees as a result of fleeing their country or due to circumstances arising after their flight – and thus in need of protection. North Korea’s Ministry of People’s Security enforces a decree that makes defection from North Korea a crime of “treachery against the nation” that is harshly punished, including in some cases through executions.

Among the 38 North Koreans are a group of eight who were detained in March. People monitoring their situation believe they are still held in Suizhong county in Liaoning province. Among the group are two women who escaped after being sold to Chinese men and two women with serious health problems. On June 27, the US government downgraded China in its Trafficking in Persons Report to a Tier 3 country, noting the Chinese government’s continued forced repatriations to North Korea without protections for victims of trafficking.

In a recent case of five North Koreans at risk of repatriation, Human Rights Watch wrote a letter to Chinese President Xi Jinping on June 24, requesting their release and free passage to a safe third country. The latest information received by a family member, “Lim,” on June 27 was that Chinese authorities were still detaining the five near Yanji city in Jilin province. Plans to move them to Helong city had reportedly changed and the group was scheduled to be moved to Tumen city, across the border from the North Korean city of Namyang. Human Rights Watch remains concerned that these five North Koreans could be forced across the border to North Korea at any time.

Lim remains very concerned about her family’s treatment if sent back because police detained and forcibly disappeared her father in 2010. When detainees vanish without information on their whereabouts, trial dates, or result of an administration or judicial procedure, it is common for North Koreans to assume the person has been sent to a political prison camp (kwanliso). Lim fears that because of their father’s status, her family will be lost in the kwanliso system.

A 2014 United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in North Korea found that those fleeing the country are targeted as part of a “systematic and widespread attack against populations considered to pose a threat to the political system and leadership of the DPRK … to isolate the population from contact with the outside world.” It also found that crimes against humanity, including torture, execution, enslavement, and sexual violence are committed against prisoners and people forcibly returned to North Korea from China. The Commission of Inquiry also criticized China for failing to meet its obligations as a party to the UN Refugee Convention.

“President Moon should remind President Trump that it is not just Americans who suffer at the hands of the authorities in Pyongyang and that together they can take a stand to support these desperate North Korean refugees,” Robertson said. “China should provide them asylum or allow them to make their way to another country that will protect them.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

A photo depicting General John Nicholson, Commander of United States forces in Afghanistan (C) with Kandahar's General Abdul Raziq (R).

© NATO/Resolute Support

When it comes to cosying up to alleged torturers in Afghanistan, the United States military has been a slow learner.

The US-led NATO Resolute Support Mission in Afghanistan just published a photo of Gen. John Nicholson, commander of US forces in Afghanistan, sharing a laugh with Kandahar strongman Gen. Abdul Raziq, long accused of forcibly disappearing detainees and having his henchman drill holes in the heads of some of them. Raziq runs secret prisons where torture is rife, and he’s also been implicated in corruption involving cross-border smuggling and unpaid custom duties. Both the United Nations and Afghan human rights activists have accused Raziq’s forces of extrajudicial killings going back at least a decade.

At the UN Committee Against Torture session in April, delegates repeatedly raised Raziq’s horrific record, citing in particular a UN report that month documenting that “a staggering 91 percent of detainees interviewed gave credible and reliable accounts of being subjected to the most brutal forms of torture and ill-treatment” in Kandahar that included “having water forcibly pumped into the stomach, having their testicles crushed with clamps, being suffocated to the point of losing consciousness and having electric current applied to their genitals.”

But the Resolute Support Mission, which “trains, advises and assists” Afghan national security forces, seems undeterred. This latest debacle comes just three years after US Lt. Gen. Joseph Anderson found himself embroiled in controversy when he also posed for a photo op with Raziq. Since US taxpayers effectively pay Raziq’s salary and for the training of his men – including, ironically, human rights education – you would think the US government would care a bit more about what Raziq does with that money.

But the US has treated Raziq as its man in Kandahar, credited with keeping the Taliban at bay – though for how long is a pertinent question. Raziq’s forces’ killing spree has alienated tribal rivals and nurtured grievances against the government throughout the province. For years, the US sought to justify Raziq’s murderous actions as necessary for stability in Kandahar. By now the US and the Afghan government should know that backing corrupt and abusive security forces inflame insecurity. The Taliban certainly do. 

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Thailand's Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha (2nd R) arrives to attend a weekly cabinet meeting at Government House in Bangkok, Thailand June 13, 2017.
© 2017 Reuters/Chaiwat Subprasom

(New York) – The Thai government should promptly act to fulfill past pledges to make torture a criminal offense, Human Rights Watch said today. On June 26, 2017, on the United Nations International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, the government created a committee to receive complaints and investigate allegations of torture and enforced disappearance. But without a law recognizing these crimes, the new body can do little beyond providing compensation for victims and their families.

Since taking power in a military coup in May 2014, the government of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha has repeatedly pledged to criminalize torture under Thai law and to meet Thailand’s obligations under the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, which Thailand ratified in 2007. However, on February 28, the junta-appointed National Legislative Assembly decided to indefinitely suspend its consideration of the Prevention and Suppression of Torture and Enforced Disappearance Bill, and the government has not clarified whether the bill will be reintroduced.

“Thailand needs to stop pretending it is in compliance with the Convention against Torture and recognize that the absence of a law prohibiting torture only encourages mistreatment of people in custody,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Without any real prospect of punishment, the Thai military and police will keep torturing suspects.”

Without any real prospect of punishment, the Thai military and police will keep torturing suspects.

Brad Adams

Asia Director


The draft law would criminalize torture and enforced disappearance with no exemptions for political or security reasons. Government officials who commit torture would face up to 20 years in prison, or 30 years if the torture results in serious injury, and life imprisonment if it causes death. Commanders or supervisors of officials who commit torture would face 50 percent of the punishment ordered by the court if they intentionally ignore information or deny knowledge of instances of torture or enforced disappearance committed by their subordinates. Similar penalties would apply to officials responsible for enforced disappearance.

Torture has long been a problem in Thailand, Human Rights Watch said. Human Rights Watch has documented numerous cases in the southern border provinces, in which police and military personnel allegedly tortured ethnic Malay Muslims in custody. The most common forms of torture have been ear slapping, punching, kicking, beating, using electric shocks, and near strangulation or suffocation with plastic bags. There are also credible reports of torture being used as a form of punishment of military conscripts, which have resulted in some deaths. Since the May 2014 military coup, many individuals taken into incommunicado military custody have alleged being tortured or otherwise ill-treated while being detained and interrogated by soldiers.

Successive Thai governments have failed to conduct serious and credible inquiries into torture allegations. In many cases, Thai authorities retaliated against those alleging torture and other serious abuses by filing defamation lawsuits under the Penal Code or the Computer Crimes Act for intending to damage the reputation of their agencies or individual officials.

The Convention against Torture specifically places an obligation on governments to investigate and prosecute those responsible for torture and other ill-treatment. Article 4 of the convention states that a government should “ensure that all acts of torture are offences under its criminal law. The same shall apply to an attempt to commit torture and to an act by any person which constitutes complicity or participation in torture.” The government should also “make these offences punishable by appropriate penalties, which take into account their grave nature.”

On March 10, the National Legislative Assembly approved ratification of the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, which Thailand signed in 2012. However, the government has not yet set a clear time frame for depositing the treaty with the United Nations secretary-general as required. Enforced disappearance is defined under international law as the arrest or detention of a person by state officials or their agents followed by a refusal to acknowledge the deprivation of liberty, or to reveal the person’s fate or whereabouts.

“Prime Minister Prayut’s pledges on the international stage to end torture just can’t be taken seriously,” Adams said. “Governments concerned about Thailand’s deteriorating human rights situation should speak out and encourage passage of the proposed anti-torture law.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

An Emirati and South Yemen flag painted in Yemen’s port city of Aden. By 2017, Emirati and South Yemen flags flew in many parts of Aden, which President Hadi declared the temporary capital of Yemen after Houthi-Saleh forces took over Sanaa in 2014. 

© 2017 Kristine Beckerle/Human Rights Watch

The Associated Press reported today that US forces were involved in the interrogation of detainees held in secret prisons in Yemen where torture is widespread. The centers are run by United Arab Emirati (UAE) and UAE-backed Yemeni forces.

The details are grotesque: Prisoners in these centers were “crammed into shipping containers smeared with feces and blindfolded for weeks,” beaten, and trussed up on a “grill” – a spit like a roast to which the victim is tied and spun in a circle of fire, the article says. Prisoners were also sexually assaulted, among other forms of abuse. The article also alleges that some prisoners were transferred to a ship where US “polygraph experts” and “psychological experts” conducted interrogations.

It’s a grim reminder that, not long ago, the US Central Intelligence Agency and US military were directly involved in equally depraved torture programs.

In this case, the US is trying to wash its hands of responsibility.

The US has officially denied knowledge of the torture and ill-treatment in the Yemeni centers. But that claim doesn’t fly, as the article says several US Defense Department officials confirmed that senior US military leaders knew about torture allegations. Those officials, however, worked to minimize US responsibility, saying military leaders looked into the allegations and were satisfied there had been no abuse “when US forces [were] present.”

Again, no pass. If US forces are interrogating individuals when there is a credible belief they may have been tortured, they risk complicity in the abuse.

Human Rights Watch, journalists, and other groups have extensively documented torture and enforced disappearances in detention facilities run by the UAE and local forces. Today, we released a report on our investigation of the detention and forced disappearance of 49 people – including four children – in Yemen.

The alleged US involvement would violate international law, including the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and the Convention against Torture, both of which the US has ratified. If there is one thing the US should have learned from its post 9/11 history, it’s that engaging in torture, or cooperating with forces that torture, is counterproductive, helps militant group recruitment, and fosters instability and abuse. Information derived from torture is also inherently unreliable, generating false leads and wasted resources.

By ignoring these lessons, the Trump administration is also putting its military personnel at risk of future prosecution for complicity in torture. 

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Related Content

 

June 22, 2017

Chairman John Thune
Ranking Member Bill Nelson
Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation

CC: All Other Senators

We write to express our serious concerns regarding the nomination of Steven G. Bradbury for general counsel of the Department of Transportation (DOT). Mr. Bradbury’s role in justifying torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment of individuals held in U.S. custody marked him as an architect of the torture program. Not only should the Senate be concerned about confirming a nominee who had a central role in the criminal violation of human rights, but his work during that period calls into question his ability to provide the kind of rigorous, independent legal analysis that is required of any top government lawyer.

Mr. Bradbury was acting head of the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) from 2005 to 2009. During that time, Mr. Bradbury wrote several legal memoranda that authorized waterboarding and other forms of torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment. As such, he is most prominently—and correctly—known as one of the authors of the “torture memos.”[1] His analysis directly contradicted relevant domestic and international law regarding the treatment of prisoners, and helped establish an official policy of torture and detainee abuse that has caused incalculable damage to both the United States and the prisoners it has held.[2]

Mr. Bradbury’s role in the torture program, even then, was notorious—so much so that the Senate refused to confirm him as assistant attorney general for the Office of Legal Counsel during the Bush Administration. The Senate now knows even more about Mr. Bradbury’s record, and the harm caused by his opinions, based on oversight by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and its report on the Central Intelligence Agency’s (CIA) use of torture and abuse.

In Mr. Bradbury’s time as acting head of the OLC, he demonstrated an unwavering willingness to defer to the authority and wishes of the president and his team instead of providing objective and independent counsel. During congressional testimony in 2007, Mr. Bradbury responded to questions about the president’s interpretation of the law of war by declaring, “The President is always right”—a statement that is as outrageous as it is inaccurate.[3] The DOJ Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) reviewed Mr. Bradbury’s “torture memos” and determined that they raised questions about the objectivity and reasonableness of Mr. Bradbury’s analyses; that Mr. Bradbury relied on uncritical acceptance of executive branch assertions; and that in some cases Mr. Bradbury’s legal conclusions were inconsistent with the plain meaning and commonly held understandings of the law.[4] Senior government officials from the Bush Administration who worked with Mr. Bradbury have said that they had “grave reservations” about conclusions drawn in the Bradbury torture memos and have described Mr. Bradbury’s analysis as flawed, saying the memos could be “considered a work of advocacy to achieve a desired outcome.”[5]

Moreover, Mr. Bradbury’s 2007 torture memo was written with the purpose of evading congressional intent and duly enacted federal law. The Detainee Treatment Act of 2005 (DTA), legislation that passed the Senate with a vote of 90-9, stated, “No individual in the custody or under the physical control of the United States Government, regardless of nationality or physical location, shall be subject to cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment.” However, Mr. Bradbury’s memo explicitly allowed the continuation of many of the abusive interrogation techniques that Congress intended to prohibit in the DTA.[6]

Perhaps most concerning from a congressional oversight perspective, Mr. Bradbury affirmatively misrepresented the views of members of Congress to support his legal conclusions. Specifically, in his 2007 memo he relied on a false claim that when the CIA briefed “the full memberships of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees and Senator McCain… none of the Members expressed the view that the CIA detention and interrogation program should be stopped, or that the techniques at issue were inappropriate.”[7] In fact, Senator McCain had characterized the CIA’s practice of sleep deprivation as torture both publicly and privately, and at least four other senators raised objections to the program.[8]

As a senior government lawyer, Mr. Bradbury authorized torture and cruel treatment of detainees in violation of U.S. and international law. Mr. Bradbury demonstrated either an inability or an unwillingness to display objectivity and reasonableness in evaluating the president’s policy proposals. We ask that in reviewing Mr. Bradbury’s nomination for general counsel of the Department of Transportation, another profoundly important position of public trust, you take these serious and disturbing factors into consideration.

Sincerely,

American Civil Liberties Union
Appeal for Justice
Center for Constitutional Rights
Center for Victims of Torture
The Constitution Project
Council on American-Islamic Relations
Defending Rights & Dissent
Human Rights First
Human Rights Watch
The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights
National Religious Campaign Against TortureOpen Society Policy Center
Physicians for Human Rights
Win Without War


[1] See “The Torture Documents,” The Rendition Project, available at: https://www.therenditionproject.org.uk/documents/torture-docs.html.

[2] See Torture Act 18 U.S.C. § 2340 (1994); Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, adopted December 10, 1984, G.A. Res. 39/46, annex, 39 U.N. GAOR Supp. (No. 51) at 197, U.N. Doc. A/39/51 (1984), entered into force June 26, 1987, art. 7, The US ratified Convention against Torture in 1994. http://www.ohchr.org/EN/ProfessionalInterest/Pages/CAT.aspx; International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), adopted December 16, 1966, G.A. Res. 2200A (XXI), entered into force March 23, 1976, art. 2. The US ratified the ICCPR in 1992.

[3] Amanda Terkel, “Justice Department Lawyer to Congress: ‘The President is Always Right,’” Think Progress, July 12, 2006, available at: https://thinkprogress.org/justice-department-lawyer-to-congress-the-pres....

[4] “Investigation into the Office of Legal Counsel’s Memoranda Concerning Issues Relating to the Central Intelligence Agency’s Use of ‘Enhanced Interrogation Techniques’ on Suspected Terrorists,” U.S. Department of Justice Office of Professional Responsibility, July 29, 2009, available at: https://www.aclu.org/files/pdfs/natsec/opr20100219/20090729_OPR_Final_Re....

[5] Id.

[6] Jane Mayer, The Dark Side (New York: Doubleday, 2008): 321-322.

[7] Steven Bradbury, “Memorandum for John A. Rizzo Acting General Counsel, Central Intelligence Agency,” U.S. Department of Justice Office of Legal Counsel, July 20, 2007, available at: https://www.justice.gov/olc/file/886296/download

[8] “Committee Study of the Central Intelligence Agency’s Detention and Interrogation Program,” Executive Summary, Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, December 13, 2012, 435-436, available at: https://www.feinstein.senate.gov/public/_cache/files/7/c/7c85429a-ec38-4...

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am