Renowned rights activist Sultana Kamal has said the UN bodies and other international organizations, while taking information on human rights issues, should not rely on a single source.
Verifying and validating the data with credible organisations, preferably those within the country, is an essential part of the process, she said.
Otherwise, it may run the risk of being dismissed by groups with vested interest, she told UNB, highlighting the importance of accuracy in avoiding “fake abuse” cases for the sake of protecting interests of the genuine victims.
Sultana, also Bangladesh Poribesh Andolon (BAPA) President, said there should be a rigorous fact-checking process in place to keep things credible.
Indian media outlet India Today ran a report recently, saying a UN report listing “victims of enforced disappearances” in Bangladesh is “riddled with mind-boggling inaccuracies” that expose the global body's over-reliance on “biased” NGOs.
“We – human rights activists — are working on a very sensitive issue,” Sultana said, adding that any mistake in the information provided might lead to denial of justice to genuine victims.
Responding to a question, she said it is natural that political parties will have allegations against each other but it is the responsibility of the organizations working on rights issues — both as providers and receivers of the information — to ensure they are using evidenced data.
Sultana recalled her experience while working at the Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB) and Ain O Salish Kendra (ASK) where they used to take information from various sources to maintain accuracy.
Responding to another question as to what measures can be taken in case of false accusations, Sultana Kamal said if someone files a false case, there are provisions in the law of the country to take legal action against persons concerned.
“That is how they should be addressed. But it must be kept in mind that when allegations are made, they are neither proved or disproved until the legal process of proper investigation and trial by a competent court are completed,” Sultana Kamal said.
When the victims bring complaints against the state of human rights violation, the onus of the proof lies with the state of its innocence.
"We unfortunately witness a tendency of the state or the government to completely deny their constitutional responsibility of protecting the victims' rights to get justice by uncovering the truth," she said.
Rather they put the blame on either non-state agents or the victims themselves.
"Even if we are to take their explanation of the cases of disappearance, still it is the responsibility of the state to resolve those. Or else this results in damaging faith in the law and order bodies and also the justice system of the country," she said.
“As long as it is not proven, the people remain in a wavering state, living in doubt," she added.
There were allegations against rights group Odhikar of publishing "a distorted report and photoshopped images" on the May 5, 2013 police action on a Hefajat-e Islam rally in the capital.
Meanwhile, The Daily Star previously reported that upon cross-checking with local BNP leaders in nine districts, it found that there had been 17 deaths between December 26, 2013 and January 27, 2014 as against 152 claimed by BNP chairperson Khaleda Zia.
One victim listed by the UN Working Group on Enforced Disappearances in Bangladesh is a top secessionist leader from Manipur who is living with his family in his ancestral home after serving his jail term in India, according to the India Today report.
The UN Working Group identifies Sanayaima Rajkumar, chairman of the Manipur-based extremist group United National Liberation Front (UNLF) as a victim of enforced disappearance in Bangladesh.
The UN Working Group report also lists Keithellakpam Nabachandra alias Chilheiba as a “victim of enforced disappearance” in Bangladesh. Nabachandra is a "major" in the UNLF armed wing.
The Border Security Force, or BSF, said that they arrested him in 2015 as he attempted to enter India through the Sylhet-Meghalaya border near Dawki.
Talking to UNB, Dhaka University Professor Dr Imtiaz Ahmed said those who are making this list might have a political target but there are genuine cases of disappearances as well.
As fewer cases might get less importance, he said, there might be an attempt to gain a “mileage” by increasing the number of cases which can make genuine cases look questionable.
The international affairs expert said the UN or any organization, even the United States, who will use the information should look into the matter.
The state needs to take initiative to uncover the truth and find out if anyone remains missing or absconding, he said, adding that there should be efforts to bring such cases down to zero.
Foreign Minister Dr AK Abdul Momen said the UN report on Bangladesh contains errors and cited that there were names of individuals in the list of disappeared people who were in Indian jail or live in India.
“This is unfortunate. I hope in the future they will correct themselves,” he said on Tuesday, adding that Bangladesh remains a vocal country in upholding human rights and it always stand against injustice.
The UN Working Group welcomed the fact that the government of Bangladesh provided “substantive information” on cases during the reporting period, which may lead to the clarification of eight outstanding cases, according to the report of the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances.
State Minister for Foreign Affairs Md Shahriar Alam recently said that they have found at least 10 people from the list of 76 victims of enforced disappearance provided by the United Nations.
"We had formed a committee after our agencies got the list of 76 people from the human rights organisation of the UN and submitted the names of 10 people in Geneva. Of the rest 66, 28 have multiple cases against them," he said.
The accused and convicts very often flee to the neighbouring countries and hide there, said Shahriar Alam, adding that the government has been trying to locate the rest of the disappeared people.
The state minister also claimed that the list has names involved in cases which are 20-22 years old, when Awami League was not the ruling party. For example, the case of Kalpana Chakma.
"We have been held accountable for the case (Kalpana Chakma). We are engaged in that case too," Shahriar Alam said.