Monday, December 28, 2009

Special Editorial:


Crossfire: The return of the scourge

By M. Abdul Hafiz Brig ( retd) ONLY a month ago, the nation rejoiced at the denouement of the Bangabandhu murder case with the upholding of the verdict delivered earlier, seemingly establishing the rule of law at long last. It generated great optimism that henceforth there would no more be extra-judicial killings in the country; neither would there be subversion of justice due to anyone, irrespective of party affiliation or family. Such optimism lay in tatters soon after, when the instances of the violation of rule of law came to the notice of rights' activists. It was found that the killings took place during so-called encounters enacted by law enforcing agencies.

Alarmed at the continued occurrence of extra-judicial killings in the name of encounter, gunfight and crossfire while chasing identified criminals with several cases against them, an unconvinced High Court issued a suo moto rule upon the government on November 17, asking the latter for an explanation. It also asked the high-up of the Rab through the attorney-general not to resort to such killings till the next hearing on the matter scheduled for January 9. Never before had the Court been so deeply concerned at the high handedness of law enforcing authorities and been compelled to issue a stern warning.

The rights organisations, Bangladesh Legal Aid Services Trust (Blast) and Ain-o-Salish Kendra (Ask), however, lodged separate complaints to the Court saying that over 1,000 people were killed in custody in so-called crossfire, gunfight and encounter -- in gross violation of human rights -- since the formation of Rab in 2004. The HC, however, came up with suo moto rule against extra-judicial killings taking place after five years of their beginning in 2004.

What the Court is deeply concerned with is another extra-judicial killing, even after the issuance of suo moto rule on November 17. This is in spite of the prime minister's repeated assurance that during her tenure in power there wouldn't be any occurrence of crossfire. The home minister also, on occasions, testified that there had not been any crossfire under the incumbent government. It means that the cases of extra-judicial killings reported by the rights outfits are in defiance of the solemn pledge made by none other the country's chief executive. Where do we go then?

Amid a plethora of pledges and assurances, as well as the denials, crossfire is still recurrent. As a result, the Court composed of Justice A.F.M. Abdur Rahman and Justice Imdadul Hoque Azad once again desperately called upon the government to freeze what they called a "heinous" practice at least till the hearing of the suo moto on January 9.

Even after the solemn outburst of the Court, which has been repeatedly requesting the government to stop crossfire, two brothers, Khairul and Lutfor in Madaripur, were killed in crossfire to the shock and of the entire nation. The public as a whole is shocked by the repeated incidents of such killins, which it feels has been tarnishing the image of the country.

In the meantime, if the Court had taken some action against a few of the offending Rab officials for such incidents, it is felt that the entire force would have been careful and not dared to commit such high handedness.

The scourge of the crossfire death descended on us after Rab was introduced primarily to combat hardened criminals and political opponents. Till now, both politics and Rab had to pay a toll -- politics by decimation of political figures and Rab through its fall from the moral high ground bestowed on them.

Yet, after its roller-coaster journey through many ups and downs -- sometimes pampered and at others rebuked -- it seems to have come to stay to inflict more blows to the rule of law, which is the ultimate casualty of the many aberrations that keep taking place in our body politics. They are invincible in the sense that they follow a story line that can hardly be challenged.

An identified criminal, when apprehended, confesses his guilt and agrees to take the law enforcers to the site of the arms cache, but attempts to bolt while being taken there. An encounter ensues and -- blah, blah, blah. How can one contradict the law enforcers' story? This circus has been going on for years. Those who opposed it as being inhuman are dittoing the same. So the monster is back and with fury.

M. Abdul Hafiz Brig ( retd); Hafiz is former DG of BIISS.

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