Extrajudicial killings by law enforcement agencies, especially the Rapid Action Battalion, continued unabated in the past year despite intense criticism at home and abroad. The situation last year hardly reflected the Awami League-led government’s repeated assurances that there would be no more ‘crossfire’ killings.
Since the Awami League-led government assumed office on January 6, 2009, a total of 149 people have been killed in ‘crossfire’ till the High Court on December 14 asked the Rapid Action Battalion not to kill anyone in the name of encounter until the court hears a suo moto rule.
Among the victims, 72 were killed by the police, 42 by Rapid Action Battalion, 26 by RAB and police, three by army, two by ansars, one each by Bangladesh Rifles, Forest Guard, Coast Guard and jail police, according to the human rights watchdog Odhikar.
The victims include activists of Purba Banglar Communist Party (Janajuddha), Gana Mukti Fouz, Biplabi Communist Party (Red Flag), an actor, garment workers, a union parishad chairman, freedom fighter, two students of Dhaka Polytechnic Institute and other crime suspects.
The High Court on June 29 asked the government to explain in four weeks why extrajudicial killings by lawmen in the name of ‘crossfire’ or ‘encounter’ should not be declared illegal. The High Court bench of Justice Syed Mahmud Hossain and Justice Quamrul Islam Siddiqui also asked the government to explain why it should not be directed to take departmental and legal action against the people involved in such killings.
The court passed the order after hearing a public interest litigation writ petition filed by three rights organisations – Ain o Salish Kendra, Bangladesh Legal Aid and Services Trust and Karmajibi Nari – challenging the legality of extrajudicial killings.
The three human rights watchdogs in the writ petition said 969 people were killed by law enforcers after June 2004 when the Rapid Action Battalion was commissioned. Bangladesh Legal Aid and Services Trust (BLAST) and Ain o Salish Kendra (ASK) submitted a list of 1,057 victims during a hearing on the suo moto ruling on extra judicial killings in the High Court on December 14, 2009.
The High Court on the day ordered the Rapid Action Battalion not to kill any more people in the name of ‘crossfire’ or ‘encounter’ till it hears a suo moto rule over extrajudicial killings. The High Court bench of Justice AFM Abdur Rahman and Justice Md Emdadul Haque Azad passed the order as attorney general Mahbubey Alam sought time for the hearing on the rule. The court wondered how such incidents were still taking place despite the prime minister’s declared stance against extrajudicial killings.
On February 11, 2009, the prime minister, Sheikh Hasina, said in the parliament that those who were involved in extrajudicial killings would be brought to justice. She reiterated her stance at a meeting with Bangladeshi journalists in New York on September 27, 2009. ‘We do not believe in extrajudicial killing,’ she said. Extrajudicial killings in Bangladesh have drawn widespread criticism in recent years from national and international rights organisations.
The LGRD and cooperatives minister, Syed Ashraful Islam, told newsmen on May 5, 1009 that there would be no more extrajudicial killings. He said the government would no longer allow law enforcers to kill anybody in ‘crossfire.’ The foreign minister, Dipu Moni, at the Human Rights Council in Geneva on February 4 said the government would show ‘zero tolerance’ towards extrajudicial killing, torture and death in custody.
Adilur Rahman Khan, general secretary of rights watchdog Odhikar, expressing his concerns, told New Age, ‘Despite repeated assurances that extrajudicial killings would be stopped, the government is yet to take effective measures in this regard.’ ‘With extrajudicial killings continuing unabated, the nation is yet to know whether any inquiries into such killings have been conducted in accordance with law,’ he said. ‘It seems rule of law hardly exists in the country.’
Sultana Kamal, former adviser, to the caretaker government, told New Age, ‘The government is continuing extrajudicial killings in violation of a court order and the constitution.’ ‘We will provide legal assistance for anyone going to court against such killers,’ she added.