Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Extra judicial killings RAB democracy and an exhibition in Bangladesh

By Jahangir Alam Akash, The power of RAB is greater than the government. RAB is another black chapter in Bangladesh. 161 people were killed extra judicially in Bangladesh under the present Awami League government. Extra judicial killing have been going on very rapidly violating the highest court ruling order, the Constitution and the Universal Declaration by the law enforcers. The government has closed an exhibition on extra judicial killings in Bangladesh. This is the latest incidents regarding this inhuman issue.

The term “extrajudicial killing” means execution without justice. This is a grave human rights violation. It’s both a violation of Bangladesh’s constitution and of the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights. But these types of killings still occur frequently in Bangladesh.

The State Minister for Home Affairs and the Prime Minister of Bangladesh openly support the extrajudicial killings, despite the fact that Bangladesh signed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Convention against Torture. Not only that, the constitution of Bangladesh also safeguards the right to life.

The government of Bangladesh has been violating the constitution and Universal Declaration of Human Rights since 2004. According to Article 35(5) of the constitution of Bangladesh and Article 5 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” And according to Article 3 of the constitution of Bangladesh, “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.” But, in practice, Bangladesh does not ensure the right to life and has not complied with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the constitution of Bangladesh.

We can see that state institutions such as the judiciary, the rule of law, regulations, the constitution and the national assembly have been disabled. The media’s role regarding extrajudicial killings covered up under reports of “crossfire”, “gunfights” or “encounters” is negative and constrained. The media has only been publishing the normal reports about these encounters filed by the RAB or the police themselves.

A few human rights organizations have long been asking the government to stop the killings, terming them “extrajudicial”. Moreover, the High Court of Bangladesh, on June 29, 2009, asked the government to explain why killing people without a trial, in the form of extrajudicial killings, is not being declared as illegal, and why measures are not being taken against the perpetrators. After this ruling, we still haven’t seen anything happen.

Extrajudicial killings continue even in violation of the High Court’s ruling. How can they continue? It’s very alarming for human rights, democracy and the right to life. And why is the High Court silent regarding this gross human rights violation?

Both governmental and nongovernmental sources have said that the death toll has reached 161 from such extrajudicial killings – labeled as “crossfire” killings, “encounter” killings or “gunfight” killings by the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) and the police – since January 6, 2009 (from January 6, 2009 to March 21, 2010) when the Awami League-led government assumed office. In Bangladesh, we have a so-called democracy, but there is no rule of law. Every day sees more killings of citizens by the state machinery, killings which are both well-planned and covered up.

The government of Bangladesh has been violating the constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights day after day since 2002 (including operation clean heart). In 2004, the BNP-Jamaat government made a decision about extrajudicial killings and formed the RAB. From March 26, 2004 until March 21, 2010 around 1,700 people (including 58 killed peoples in operation clean heart in 2002) have been killed without justice.

The government of Bangladesh has sided with the extrajudicial killings. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has also said, in an indirect way, that extrajudicial killings will continue. She spoke clearly, upholding “crossfire” killings. What was said by our popular Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in New York is very unfortunate for the rule of law, democracy, the constitution, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as well as the people of Bangladesh.

According to the Bdnews24.com, Sheikh Hasina talked with journalists in New York on Sept. 27, 2009. Referring to “crossfire” killings at the time, she said, “I do not believe in extrajudicial killings. But if anyone launches an armed attack (against a law enforcer), then they shouldn’t be allowed to kill them like sitting ducks.”

Bangladesh’s elite Rapid Action Battalion continues to engage in extrajudicial killings despite Supreme Court directives to halt it. Although the court is handling the issue of extrajudicial killings, RAB does not seem to be bothered either about the judiciary or the country’s laws.

At least 29 people were killed in RAB’s custody since the court issued a suo moto order on Nov. 17, last year asking the government for an explanation into such types of killings. The High Court on Dec. 14, last year expressed grave concern over the recurring extrajudicial killings even as 11 people were killed in custody since the issuance of a suo moto order on Nov. 17, asking the government for an explanation on the matter.

During the court hearing, the Attorney General was asked to convey the court’s concern to the director general of RAB. The High Court also asked the Attorney General to take initiatives so that no such killings took place till the next hearing scheduled for January 9. In addition, the HC also asked the state’s top law officer for the names of RAB officials of Madaripur that were involved in detaining two brothers Lutfor and Khairul Khalasi who were killed on November 16. Later we heard that, that particulars bench of the High Court has broken by the Chief Justice before hearing. Why, we don’t know?

When the present ruling Awami League party was in opposition, they often raised their voices against extrajudicial killings. Not only that, during the last general election, which brought them to power, they often said that extrajudicial killings should be stopped. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina also told the international community that her government did not support extrajudicial killings. Indeed, the government’s attitude, work and words on this issue of crossfire are unfortunately inappropriate.

The assertions of responsible people in the present government are shocking. Home minister Sahara Khatun recently said that, there was no crossfire. It seems, either directly or indirectly, the home minister and other ministers are defending the perpetrators of such “crossfire” killings. Finally we can say that, in Bangladesh has no rule of law.

On the other hand, Police has closed a photography exhibition on extra-judicial killings around an hour before it was scheduled to start at Drik Gallery in the city’s Dhanmondi of Bangladesh on 22nd March, 2010. According to the daily Star (23 March, 2010), a contingent of police went to the Drik Gallery building around 3:00pm and barred the invited guests and visitors from entering the building. The police also did not allow anybody to come out of the building, said a Drik Gallery source. Though two exhibitions are going on the first and the second floors of the building, the police only wanted to know whether the organisers have permission for the exhibition on “crossfire” from the authorities concerned. However, in the face of police interference, the exhibition was inaugurated by Indian rights activist Mahasweta Devi on the road in front of Drik Gallery at the scheduled time at 4:00pm. Officer-in-Charge of Dhanmondi Police Station Shah Alam said they have closed the exhibition first, as the organisers did not have any permission for the exhibition and secondly, as such an exhibition may cause fear in public and deteriorate the law and order. Shahidul Alam who set up the exhibition said,” Police asked me whether I have permission for the exhibition. Crossfire for which police do not need permission, then why should I have permission for the exhibition?” He also said, they have organised thousands of exhibitions since 1993 and they never required any permission. Some of those exhibitions were even inaugurated by the present and former prime ministers. “We organised the exhibition to raise awareness and draw the government and the court’s attention to the extra judicial killings through art, Shahidul told.

We want to say that the reports of so-called “crossfire”, “encounter” or “gunfight” killings that are done by the RAB and the police are totally false. We believe that terrorism should never be combated or controlled through state killings. It is the establishment of the rule of law that is essential to control terrorism.

Jahangir Alam Akash
The Human Rights Today


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