My question on the disappearance of Ilias Ali and other opposition politicians in Bangladesh was taken in the House of Lords earlier today.
These were the exchanges, demonstrating that the UK Government is taking it seriously and has made representations to the Government of Bangladesh:
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what diplomatic representations they have made to the Government of Bangladesh about the disappearance and alleged kidnapping of Mr Ilias Ali and other opposition politicians.
My Lords, I am not going to have much time for any chillaxing today.
We are concerned about the disappearance of Mr Ilias Ali. On 9 May, our High Commissioner to Bangladesh and ambassadors of eight other European countries called on the Bangladesh authorities to conduct thorough investigations into disappearances, including that of Mr Ali. In meetings with the Prime Minister’s Office and senior officials in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, we have urged the Government to do all that they can to locate Mr Ali and investigate the circumstances of his disappearance.
I am grateful to the noble Lord for that reply and for the expressions of concern by the British Government, but is he aware that there are a series of similar cases, including that of Mr Nazmul Islam, a local leader of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, who was abducted and murdered last December, and that according to the BBC 30 people have disappeared in that way in the past year? There are allegations, too, that the police’s Rapid Action Battalion is involved. In those circumstances, do Her Majesty’s Government accept that this reflects very badly on Bangladesh and its obviously fairly fragile democracy? What support can be given to ensure that the individuals concerned are rescued and restored to their families and that this sort of occurrence stops?
The noble Lord is right that this kind of development reflects badly on the political culture of any society in which opposition leaders are arrested or worse. He asked what can be done. The EU had a heads of mission visit in February to Bangladesh and stated its concerns very clearly. We are fully behind that. In addition, our senior Ministers, including my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary, have been in direct personal contact with senior officials, including the Foreign Minister of Bangladesh, and we take every opportunity to express our worries. It is a concern for us. People may ask why we are worried about Bangladesh. It is an important nation and the destination of one of DfID’s largest programmes, with £1 billion due to go to support Bangladesh development from this country over the next four years. It is a nation that we want to see stable and prosperous and to build on its economic achievements, which are beginning to show dividends. That is the rather encouraging side of an otherwise bad story.
My Lords, I had the opportunity to meet Mr Ilias Ali in Luton when he visited the United Kingdom a few months ago and raised human rights issues in Bangladesh with him, as I have with the Minister concerned. Sadly, we hear that Mr Ali has disappeared, along with his driver. However, this is not an isolated case. The New York-based Human Rights Watch has expressed concern over the disappearance of at least 22 people this year. A Dhaka-based organisation says that more than 50 people have disappeared since 2010. Security agencies, including the—
Can these cases be investigated by an international human rights organisation, and can we pressurise the Bangladeshi Government to put an end to such human rights abuses? Finally, can the British Government ask—
Fair enough; those two will do.
A whole range of concerns have been expressed by my noble friend. I understand his feelings. This is not a good story at all. He asks whether we will press for impartial and transparent investigations into these disappearances. We do so, have done so, and will continue to do so. In some cases, we will be pressing at an open door and there will be investigations, but in other cases we may not be so successful. However, one has to accept that the drive for ending this dark atmosphere over Bangladeshi politics must come from within that nation. We support Bangladesh in its efforts to stabilise its politics, to move towards the best kind of elections at the next appropriate time and to develop and lift its people out of poverty and the appalling environmental challenges that they also face and with which, sadly, we are all too familiar.
My Lords, will my noble friend ask the Bangladesh Government whether they will issue an invitation to the United Nations working group on disappearances, which is the proper body to investigate not just the recent disappearances mentioned in the Question but those going back a long way, most of which are attributed to the RAB?
Lord Howell of Guildford:
That sounds like a very positive thought. I will certainly consider it and discuss it with my colleagues.”