A member of Rapid Action Battalion stands guard during an operation.-- New Age file photo
24 September 2018, Mon, 3:31

Pledge to stop extrajudicial killings not kept

The ruling Awami League did not keep its pledge made before the 2008 general election to stop extrajudicial killings as people continued to be killed in reported crossfire and gunfights while rights activists were concerned over continued enforced disappearances and other forms of rights abuse.

The rights defenders alleged that the freedom of expression and other fundamental rights also continued shrinking in the tenures of the back-to-back Awami League-led governments.
‘Secret detention’ was alarming forms of human rights abuse as the victims hardly found narrating their ordeals on release, the right defenders said.

In the 2008 election manifesto ‘a charter for change’, the Awami League pledged, ‘Genuine independence and impartiality of the judiciary will be ensured. Extrajudicial killings will be stopped. Rule of law will be established, The Human Rights Commission will be strengthened and made effective, and an Ombudsman will be appointed. Human rights will be strictly enforced.’

Even before the January 5, 2014 general election, boycotted by all opposition parties, prime minister Sheikh Hasina reassured that National Human Rights Commission would be made into ‘an effective body’ and efforts to establish the rule of law, equality before the law for all and human rights would be strengthened.

‘Independence and dignity of the judiciary will be consolidated’, she said according to the Awami League’s official website.

Even, the then foreign minister Dipu Moni made commitments for a ‘zero tolerance’ policy on extrajudicial killings and torture and death in custody at the Universal Periodic Review Session in Geneva in February 2009 and in the UN Human Rights Council on March 1, 2010 and also when Bangladesh got elected for a 2nd term to the UN Human Rights Council on May 12, 2009.

‘The government retreated from its pledge made before election, and the pledge it made before the international community,’ said rights organisation Odhikar secretary Adilur Rahman Khan.
According to Odhikar, at least 1,822 people were killed extrajudicially in the name of ‘crossfire,’ ‘gunfight’ or ‘encounter’ between January 1, 2009 and August 31, 2018.

Of them, 228 were killed allegedly by the law enforcement agencies in anti-drug drive between May 15 and August 31 in 2018.

Rights activist Nur Khan Liton said that as rights defenders expressed concern over continued extrajudicial killings, the incident of enforced disappearance and other means of rights violation increased alarmingly in recent years.

Many senior government officials, educationists and even a senior cabinet member also voiced concern over the rights situations, especially for the enforced disappearance.

Odhikar reported that 454 people, including politicians, businesses and students, were picked up allegedly by law enforcement agencies from January 1, 2009 and September 10, 2018.
Among them, 55 were found dead later, 258 were kept in secret detention and later either placed before the courts or freed alive while whereabouts of 141 remained unknown.

Of the incidents, three occurred in 2009, 18 in 2010, 31 in 2011, 26 in 2012, 54 in 2013, 39 in 2014, 66 in 2015, 92 in 2016, 86 in 2017 and 27 in the first eight months of 2018.

On December 4, 2017, former diplomat Muhammed Maroof Zaman went missing when he was going to Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport to pick his daughter. His whereabouts are still unknown.

On November 7, 2017, anti-extremism analyst Mubashar Hasan Caesar, also North South University political science faculty, disappeared immediately after leaving a meeting at the UNDP country office at Agargaon in Dhaka.

Mubashar returned home on December 21, 2017 after 44-days and left Bangladesh.

A decorated officer of Bangladesh army, Hasinur Rahman Duke, who lost his job and was jailed over his alleged extremist link in Chattogram, was picked up by a group of people on a microbus at highly secured Mirpur Defence Officer Housing Society on his way home on August 8.

The government did not dismiss all the allegations rather claimed that it took actions if anyone found guilty of abusing power.

‘Rights granted by the Constitution is being protected properly,’ information minister Hasanul Haq Inu told New Age on Saturday. He said that if any allegation was proved, the government took action accordingly.
The Human Rights Council’s 39th session in September 2018, Bangladesh government, however, wrote in the Universal Periodic Review that it did not agree to the proposition that ‘extrajudicial killings’ or ‘enforced disappearances’ occurred frequently in Bangladesh.

In fact, the legal system of Bangladesh does not recognise any term, such as, ‘enforced or forced disappearance.’

Crimes like ‘abductions’ and ‘kidnaps’ which are well defined in the criminal justice system of Bangladesh are often used as ‘enforced disappearance’ with ulterior motive, claimed the note placed by the government in the latest session.

The government also highlighted the enactment of the Torture and Custodial Death (Prevention) Act 2013.

National Human Rights Commission chairman Kazi Reazul Hoque on various occasion blamed
law enforcement agencies for continued abuse of rights, stressing that this crisis would overshadow locally and internationally the development activities.

The commission sent a letter to the home ministry on February 26, 2017 along with a list of 156 complaints against cops pending with the ministry for long.

According to the list, four cases have been remained pending since 2012, 10 since 2013, 53 since 2014, 73 since 2015 and 16 since 2016.

The list contained 27 cases of enforced disappearance, 24 of torture, 20 of police harassment, 12 of extrajudicial killings or crossfire, 4 of negligence in investigations, 4 of land grabbing, 4 of extortions and the rest cases of bribery and other unlawful activities.

The commission recorded 201 allegations against the law enforcement agencies over custodial torture between 2017 and the first two months of 2018.

Odhikar said that between 2004 and 2017, at least 590 people were tortured in custody.
Prime minister Sheikh Hasina in December 2017 in a text message said, ‘As a state-party to all major human rights instruments and as a member of the UN Human Rights Council, Bangladesh has been actively contributing towards the promotion and protection of human rights for all.’

An oral statement to the 39th Regular Session of the UN Human Rights Council, the Asian Legal Resource Centre, however, in September 2018 said that the council had rarely focused on how the Bangladesh government had been unleashing gross violations of human rights against its own citizens.

‘A year ago Bangladesh’s chief justice was reportedly forced to leave his office and the country for declaring the 16th amendment to the constitution illegal. That chief justice, SK Sinha, is in exile in the United States seeking political asylum,’ said the Hong Kong-based rights group in a statement on September 18.

‘Expressing dissents in public incur manifold harassments including arbitrary detention, imprisonment, intimidation, and enforced disappearances,’ said the statement.

‘Prior to the parliamentary elections in December 2018,’ the statement read, ‘the government is systematically intensifying crackdowns against political opposition and dissidents.’

International Federation for Human Rights, better known as FIDH, in a release on September 20 said that the Bangladesh government’s failure to accept 73 recommendations on key human rights issues following the country’s third Universal Periodic Review, denoted its lack of commitment to protecting human rights.

The international rights group came up with the remarks on the occasion of the adoption of the Universal Periodic Review report of Bangladesh by the United Nations Human Rights Council.
‘Bangladesh’s international partners and donors should work with Dhaka to ensure that recommendations that did not enjoy the government’s support are implemented and that the human rights situation does not deteriorate further in the lead-up to the upcoming general election,’ said FIDH vice-president Guissou Jahangiri.

The Bangladesh government accepted 178 of the 251 recommendations it received from other UN member states, up from the 167 recommendations it accepted immediately after the third UPR, held in Geneva in Switzerland on May 14.

Dhaka provided vague justifications for its refusal to accept recommendations related to enforced disappearances, extrajudicial killings and freedom of expression, among others, the statement read.

FIDH said that it remained concerned about the ongoing use of the Information Communication and Technology Act as a tool of repression against online and civil society activists, as well as by the Digital Security Bill, which was approved by Parliament on September 19.

Written by: Muktadir Rashid
Courtesy: The Daily New Age