Saturday, May 30, 2009

Killing in 'crossfire' causing concern

Death of two students raises questions: Probe begins

By Bangladesh Media; Despite repeated protests at home and abroad, extra-judicial killings by the law enforcers continue unabated, causing concern among the people. Apart from constituting human rights violation, killings in the name of 'crossfire' or 'encounter' raise questions over the law enforcers' training and skills in handling firearms.

Sources said around 800 people were killed in 'crossfire' or 'encounter' across the country since 2004. Of them, 570 were killed by the Rapid Action Battalion (Rab) and the rest by the police. Some 70 people were shot during 'gunfight' with police and Rab in last one month.

Rab sources said 458 people were killed in 'crossfire' between December 31, 2004, and December 31, 2007, while over a hundred others were killed in 2008 and another 24 in the last four months. Moreover, around 200 people were killed by the police in 'crossfire' in the last five years.

The latest killings of two students of Dhaka Polytechnic Institute by Rab members have raised questions, as not a single general diary was filed against them with any police station. Zinnah Ali, a third year student of mechanical department, and Mohsin Sheikh, a final year student of electrical department, were killed in an 'encounter' on Manik Mia Avenue at around 12:30am Thursday.

Rab-2 personnel claimed that the two had fired first, prompting them to retaliate. Locals however said they did not hear any gunshot during the time mentioned. The institute's Principal Prof Shamsul Alam said as far as he knows not a single general diary was filed against the two.

Meanwhile, a source at the Rab headquarters said a departmental probe was going on to look into the incident. Inspector General of Police Nur Mohammad has denied the allegations of abuse of power by the law enforcers.

"Members of police and Rab have been given firearms to use against criminals. They are not killing any innocent people," he said. "Killings in crossfire or encounter are not a new phenomenon. There is no instance of killing of any innocent person in crossfire," the IGP said adding that law enforcers have the right to self-defence.

Human rights activist Sultana Kamal, also former adviser to a caretaker government, told The Daily Star, "Extra-judicial killings in the name of crossfire or encounter cannot be tolerated under any circumstances. "If they want to say they kill people to save themselves, it would bring into question their training, skills and orientation as well as the abuse of firearms bought with the money of the people."

"We saw most of the victims had received bullets in their chests or heads, not in legs," she said. The former adviser said the incidents of 'crossfire' or 'encounter' prove that the law enforcers have been abusing power. She also said the ruling Awami League in its manifesto pledged not to put up with extra-judicial killings, but it has not made good on the promise.

Former IGP SM Shahjahan, also former adviser to a caretaker government, said, "The law enforcers do have the right to act in self defence, but they must be more cautious to avoid killings in custody." "The practice of custodial deaths must not be tolerated as it is the duty of the law enforcers to protect the people in their custody. Steps should be taken to prevent such incidents," the former IGP said. He also demanded judicial enquiry into the incidents of 'crossfire' and 'encounter'.

Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Dipu Moni yesterday said the government wants to put an end to the culture of 'crossfire killings', but that may not be possible overnight. "We're trying to stop it," she said in reaction to a journalist's comment that killings in 'crossfire' are on the rise despite her announcement at an UN meeting in Geneva that her government would show zero tolerance to extra-judicial killings.

Asked if the government has control over the law enforcement agencies in this regard, State Minister for Foreign Affairs Hasan Mahmud said the government does not support extra-judicial killings and has given necessary instructions to the law enforcers.

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