A scathing report has accused the Bangladeshi authorities of “washing their hands” of any responsibility to find the people who tortured and murdered a prominent union activist.
Despite pledging to investigate the abduction and killing of 39-year-old Aminul Islam, they have failed to make measurable progress or look into allegations of links to state officials, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Tuesday. On the fifth anniversary of Islam’s disappearance, the organisation urged international donors and global brands working in the country to push the government on the need for accountability for Islam’s murder.
“Neither Aminul Islam’s family nor the public know the truth about what happened and who killed him,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at HRW. “The authorities seem to have washed their hands of the entire incident by suggesting that his death was due to a private dispute – without investigating the serious allegations of security forces involvement.”
Islam worked for the Bangladesh Centre for Worker Solidarity (BCWS), supporting the rights of factory workers in the garment and seafood industries. He disappeared on 4 April 2012. His body was found two days later. He had been tortured and left to bleed to death by the side of a road, some 60 miles away from where he had last been seen.
The area’s police chief, Mahbubul Haq, told journalists at the time: “He [Islam] was murdered. His legs had severe torture marks including a hole made by a sharp object. All his toes were broken.”
HRW and Bangladeshi groups have been calling for an independent body to be established to lead an inquiry, and the government had promised a high-level, speedy investigation into his murder after the case caused international outrage. But, while police filed charges in 2013 against a missing suspect, Mustafizur Rahman, a former garment worker, there have been no moves to address allegations that Bangladeshi security forces were part of the conspiracy to kill Islam. Rahman, who disappeared at the same time as Islam, is one of a number of unexplained disappearances.
Islam’s work for BCWS, pressing for better conditions and pay for workers, often brought him into conflict with garment factory managers. Before his disappearance, he reported receiving frequent threats and being under surveillance.
Despite reforms to labour laws since the Rana Plaza disaster in April 2013, which left 1,129 dead, HRW claims the authorities continue to intimidate workers and unions, with dozens alleging that they are facing unfair or apparently fabricated criminal cases after wage strikes in Ashulia, near Dhaka, last year. Bangladesh’s often badly maintained factories remain the world’s cheapest source of clothing.