Saturday, December 12, 2009

Editorial:

Proponents of extrajudicial killing no less guilty than perpetrators.

WHAT the state minister for home affairs, Shamsul Haque Tuku, said on Thursday, i.e. ‘If the law enforcers are attacked by criminals when they are fighting terrorism and maintaining law and order, they must have the right to self defence’, is not essentially different from what his predecessor, Tanjim Ahmed Sohel Taj, said in May or the home minister, Sahara Khatun, has been saying ever since or the prime minister, Sheikh Hasina, said in New York in September. His statement also underlines the Awami League-led government’s seeming acceptance of extrajudicial killing by members of the Rapid Action Battalion and other law enforcement agencies as a ‘necessary evil’ that needs to be tacitly endorsed, if not actively encouraged. It also substantiates what we have written in these columns time and again, that the government’s tough talk in its early days against extrajudicial killings may have been just that – talk; and that the rights-conscious sections of society need to mobilise opinion and sustain pressure on the incumbents so that they are forced to take decisive and demonstrative actions again such a blatant violation of human rights by the law enforcement agents of the state.

In the first 11 months or so of its tenure, the government’s stance vis-à-vis extrajudicial killing by members of the law enforcement agencies has undergone a slow but sure shift from condemnation through denial to outright justification. The Awami League did promise an end to extrajudicial killing in its election manifesto and, in the first few months of its tenure, senior members of the government did take a tough stance, in public, against such killings. In fact, at a review meeting of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva on February 4, the foreign minister, Dipu Moni, proclaimed her government’s ‘zero-tolerance’ policy against extrajudicial killing. Subsequently, the local government, rural development and cooperatives minister and AL general secretary, Syed Ashraful Islam, asserted that ‘no extrajudicial killings will be allowed to be used as a tool of law enforcement agencies.’ Since then, however, things have gone downhill, with the home minister, the state minister for home affairs, and even the prime minister harping on self-defence as a ‘justification’ for extrajudicial killings by law enforcement agents, and those ministers who had talked tough against such killings either keeping mum or falling in line.

Of late, in keeping with the steady surge in the number of extrajudicial killings (nearly 140 people have been killed over the past 11 months or so), the government’s distorted argument seems to have gathered force, with the shipping minister claiming on October 5 that the government would need to continue with extrajudicial killings until extortion and terrorism was uprooted. Meanwhile, the government has dithered in responding to a June 29 rule of the High Court that demanded an explanation as to why extrajudicial killings by law enforcers in the name of ‘crossfire’ and ‘encounter’ should not be declared illegal and why the authorities concerned should not be asked to take legal and departmental actions against the perpetrators of such killings.

Overall, the government has not only defaulted on its pre-election pledge but, importantly, undermined the very concepts of the rule of law and human rights that it so tirelessly professes commitment to. If the government is really sincere about establishment of human rights and protection and promotion of human rights, it needs to take decisive and demonstrative actions against not only the perpetrators but also the proponents of extrajudicial killings. The ministers who have so brazenly endorsed extrajudicial killings should lose their place in the government. Meanwhile, the social forces need to maintain maximum pressure on the government so that it is forced to take actions against extrajudicial killing.

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