Thursday, December 24, 2009

Special column:

The deficits causing extra-judicial killings

Md. Nurul Huda: DEATHS in extra-judicial killings appear to be a pathetic recurrent reality in Bangladesh. It was, therefore, quite natural for The Daily Star to once again editorially (December 17) condemn the menace of extra-judicial killings and highlight the non-tenability of such retrograde actions resorted to by state organs. What, however, is distressing is that despite assurances from the highest quarters about not allowing any kind of extra-judicial killings, some people continue to be the unfortunate victims of unlawful killings.

The above reality should move the guardians of law enforcement and custodians of law and order to find out as to why a patently lawless method appears to be the preferred mode of action of a section of lawmen. In fact, it has to be urgently ascertained as to why rash and vigilante action by sworn individuals are not only looked upon without disfavour but are often appreciated by otherwise law abiding citizens.

If one has to believe that only the worst of criminals tainted by the commission of multiple heinous crimes are dying in the extra-judicial killings, one can reasonably demand to know why such elements were not booked and tried at an earlier stage? This is only normal because if criminal cases were lodged, then investigation with a view to prosecuting was the logical course of action. It, therefore, follows that statutory investigation was not pursued in serious earnest.

The supposition is that proper investigation was blocked and stalled by vested groups that wielded considerable political influence and power. In plain words, criminal elements were misused for so-called political gains. In the process, helpless people had to watch silently when their near ones were killed or properties forcibly taken away, and often compelled to pay toll without protest.

The utter lawlessness created a debilitating despondency amongst the general population, which has lost faith in the due process of law. No wonder in Bangladesh today we have silent and vocal admirers of lawless actions.

It has been reported that prosecution cases often failed, as sufficiently credible evidence could not be gathered, that state witnesses were terrorised and did not reach the court, and that investigation at times was perfunctory. All these are illustrative of an unhealthy scenario in the law and order sector. The considered view is that this has not happened overnight and that the accumulated defaults of many have brought us to this sorry state of affairs.

When unhealthy influence is exercised or exerted in the domain of regulatory organs of the state the end result is invariably tragic, and putting the rails back on track may prove to be a daunting task.

However, since we cannot reconcile to unacceptable actions, we have to rise above factional interests and re-establish the administrative ethos; we have to effectively demonstrate that the state itself is the complainant against the criminal predator and that unbiased, effective investigation is its sacred responsibility.

Investigative skills have to be regularly brushed and a scientific temperament has to be inculcated. Evidence has to be largely physical, material and forensically credible and the investigator has to proceed from the evidence to accuse, and not otherwise. The disproportionate reliance on judicial confession has to stop.

A matter of paramount importance in this regard is a total stoppage of interference in the process of investigation. The investigator's control should be unfettered till he submits the final report under Section 173 of the Code of Criminal Procedure.

The autonomy and neutrality of investigation can be ensured through the mechanism of an independent body that may at best remain accountable to judicial scrutiny. The important issue is to insulate the investigation from the undesirable interference of extra-departmental executives. The law police, that is the outfit responsible for investigation, has to be functionally autonomous in the interests of legally correct performance.

When investigative skills entailing unbiased efforts emerge consequent upon a strong political direction, there would not be any need to resort to extra-legal measures. In such an atmosphere, information and intelligence would come voluntarily to the benefit of victims of crime. We must, therefore, strive to create an environment where the blight of extra-judicial killings would be blissfully absent.

Muhammad Nurul Huda is a columnist for The Daily Star.

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