What goes around comes around

In November 2006, in an interview with the US-based National Public Radio, the then Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Moudud Ahmed, speaking about extrajudicial killings, said: “Although technically you may call it extrajudicial—I will not say killing—but extrajudicial deaths. But these are not killings. According to RAB, they say all those who have been killed so far have been killed or dead on encounter or whatever crossfire, whatever you call it—people are happy.”

Little did the BNP leader know that he would have to take a different stance someday and denounce extrajudicial activities, including killings, torture, and enforced disappearances, at the hands of law enforcement officials!

Very recently, Moudud made another comment at a discussion on “enforced disappearance, extrajudicial killing, and abduction,” in contrast to his 2006 comment.

He alleged that 118 people were killed extrajudicially and 84 became victims of forced disappearance in the last 10 months (The Daily Star, July 16). He, however, did not mention the source of the information. But a recent report by the Human Rights Watch (HRW), titled We Don’t Have Him: Secret Detentions and Enforced Disappearances in Bangladesh, supports Moudud’s claim.

This newspaper has also run a news report referring to the HRW report that says security forces in Bangladesh are accused of extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances and secret detentions, including that of opposition activists. According to the HRW report published on July 6, 2017: “Human rights organisations and media have documented over 90 people ‘disappeared’ in 2016, of whom 21 were later found dead. The whereabouts of nine remain unknown at the time of writing. The others, after varying periods of secret detention, were ‘released’ before being formally arrested.”

The global rights watchdog in its report also quoted witnesses and family members of the victims as alleging that Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) or the detective branch of police were behind the disappearances.

So what Moudud alleged is not wrong as extrajudicial activities do exist in the country now. At the same time, records of different human rights organisations indicate that this practice has been going on since the creation of RAB in 2004 by Moudud’s party-led government (the then BNP government) following the success of an anti-crime operation named “Operation Clean Heart” in 2002.

Over the last 10 years, nothing has changed in terms of extrajudicial executions. Bangladesh has a predominant culture of political intolerance between the two major political parties—Bangladesh Awami League and BNP. But at one point, both the parties act alike, using law enforcement agencies to hunt down political opponents.

Each and every government in Bangladesh has used law enforcement agencies to deal with their political opponents, branding the latter as “criminals”. Therefore, even if a government is replaced by another, the state-sponsored “executions” using law-enforcement agencies remain in play.

It’s worth mentioning that, before the last BNP-led government’s tenure expired, then opposition leader Sheikh Hasina, critical of RAB for extrajudicial killings in violation of human rights and the rule of law, in 2006 said: “Many people think if Awami League comes to power again, it will abolish RAB. But we will not do so. Rather, RAB will be given a special assignment to capture corrupt people” (The Daily Star, March 17, 2006).

Awami League is in power now, but there is apparently no sign of improvement. Between January and June this year, as many as 68 people have been killed in “crossfire” during encounter with law enforcement agencies, says human rights organisation Ain o Salish Kendra. In addition, plainclothes men identifying themselves as security officials picked up 44 people during this period. Seven of them have returned, two bullet-hit bodies were recovered, and three others were shown arrested later (The Daily Star, July 1, 2017). Meanwhile, Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal, like his predecessors, brushed aside the allegations brought against the law enforcement agencies in the recent HRW report, and termed it “fabricated” and “motivated”.

Is what Kamal said something new? Since the introduction of anti-crime drive “Operation Clean Heart” in October 2002, no government ministers have taken the blame. They have either justified the actions or trashed the allegations outright.

It is really shocking to see that the opposition, which raised its voice against the extrajudicial executions, applies the same technique after coming to power. The BNP, which created RAB and used it as a death squad, now loudly calls for holding the RAB officials accountable for their actions. On the other hand, the AL, which was critical of its activities while in opposition and promised “zero tolerance” for extrajudicial killings after it came to power in 2009, refuses to acknowledge that some security forces are violating human rights.

From the above discussion, a point can strongly be made that the practice of extrajudicial executions is a politically-motivated decision. We have hardly seen any strong public statements from the subsequent governments to stop this practice, encouraging the law enforcement agencies to feel they are invincible. This carefree attitude can even turn dangerous. In this regard, researchers Edy Kaufman and Patricia Weiss Fagen (1981) observe that when any government heavily relies on police, military, and security forces for silencing dissenting voices, those security forces are likely to “act independently of government control.” The Narayanganj-seven murders or the shooting of Limon are some of the best examples, but they are an exception, too, as the guilty officials were handed down punishment. But in all these years, we have rarely seen any government move to try law enforcement officials for violating human rights.

Once a staunch supporter of extrajudicial executions, Moudud is now worried as the method is being used by the AL-led government against his own party men. Doesn’t the AL think that, in case of a democratic change of power, the same technique will be used against the AL men? The sooner the AL realises this, the better. What goes around comes around.

Source: The Daily Star

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