Sunday, May 31, 2009

Crossfire deaths must stop

It's a violation of the most basic law, and giving Bangladesh a bad name

By Bangladesh Media; Let us begin with the hard truth. It is that the recurrent incidents of so-called crossfire deaths are beginning to give Bangladesh a bad name around the world. It is not just Amnesty International which is concerned about the seeming impunity with which agencies such as the Rapid Action Battalion have been shooting people dead. There are others, in the country and outside, who are repelled by such unacceptable patterns of behaviour on the part of an agency of the state. The latest incident of the killing of two young men in the Jatiyo Sangsad area by RAB only underscores the malignancy that goes in the name of 'crossfire.' It deepens our sense of shame about ourselves, especially at a time when we are collectively striving to establish a social system based on the rule of law.

From our point of view, an opinion we strongly believe is shared by very large sections of people in Bangladesh, those who have caused the deaths of individuals from so-called crossfires over the years have committed a most reprehensible act. The values and standards of civilized behaviour which have underlined our evolution and development as a society and nation have clearly been laid low by the propensity on the part of security agencies to shoot citizens dead and then come up with the old stereotyped explanations of the victims having opened fire on the RAB men, who in turn were compelled to shoot back and kill them. Such explanations have become at best a joke and at worst an outrage. We believe these crossfire incidents, which in truth are extra-judicial murders, should forthwith be stopped and those responsible for them should be made answerable to the law. Unless such action is taken, we will be looked upon as a nation acquiescing in such deplorable instances of make-believe drama and of course grave human rights violations.

We must also note here that the nation had expected pro-active action from the newly elected government on the issue of extra-judicial killings. Indeed, the manifesto of the Awami League had promised action on the issue. Sadly, though, despite nearly five months having elapsed since its coming into office, the government has failed to tackle the issue head-on. Making things worse is the foreign minister's comment that the culture of crossfire killings cannot come to an end overnight. Let us note that killing is not and can never be part of culture. And then comes our question: in the suggestion that these killings cannot be ended overnight, might there be a subtle hint that we look away from the issue while the killing goes on, at least for the moment? Surely we expected better from Dr. Dipu Moni.

The deaths of people in supposed crossfires is an affront to the principles of law enforcement and the legal system. To suggest that individuals, even those alleged to be criminals, be swiftly dispatched in questionable circumstances is a perversion of logic and reason. Unless these deaths are stopped, the credibility of the government where promoting democracy is concerned will take a bad mauling, both at home and abroad. That is surely not a prospect we look forward to. Let us not forget, each time a cross-fire death occurs, it stands out as an expression of no-confidence in rule of law.

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