Human Rights Watch has asked the Bangladesh government to order security forces to stop use of excessive force while dealing with the protestors.
The New York-based organisation has also asked the opposition Jamaat-e-Islami and BNP to prevent their supporters from engaging in violence.
“Security forces and opposition militants are engaged in a vicious cycle of attacks that are leading to death, destruction, and fear,” said Brad Adams, Asia Director of the rights group, in a statement on Tuesday.
“Jamaat and others in the opposition may have legitimate reasons to hold protests, but that is no excuse for the appalling levels of violence by their supporters,” he said.
Bangladesh has been witnessing violent protests over the Jan 5 elections that the Opposition led by the BNP has boycotted expressing no confidence in the dispensation that would oversee the polls.
The Jamaat also went berserk after the hanging of one of its leaders Abdul Quader Molla to death after he was found guilty of crimes against humanity that include mass murder during the 1971 War of Independence.
The rights group said the government should set up “an independent commission to carry out prompt, effective, and impartial investigations into the violence and hold all those responsible to account”.
“Security forces appear to have stepped up operations against the opposition in recent days.
“Jamaat supporters have attacked police posts, government buildings, ruling party activists and Hindu communities”.
Citing media reports, it said that security forces have killed at least 20 opposition members during clashes and have arrested many more.
The rights group said more than 100 people had been killed and hundreds injured in the past two months since the political crisis in Bangladesh began over upcoming elections and the conduct of war crimes trials.
It said the crisis worsened following the Dec 12 execution of Jamaat leader Abdul Quader Molla, who was found guilty of war crimes committed during Bangladesh’s war of independence in 1971.
“Jamaat activists allege that many of their colleagues have been wrongfully arrested and mistreated by the police.
“One man described to Human Rights Watch an incident in Noakhali in south-eastern Bangladesh on November 26 in which police got hold of a Jamaat leader and shot him in the leg before arresting him.
“This same witness said he was shot in the back as he walked away from police during a demonstration,” the HRW said.
The Bangladeshi authorities are “obligated to impartially investigate violence by protesters and the unlawful use of force by security forces and to prosecute those responsible for carrying out or ordering such acts”.
“In the past, the government has taken no action, even in cases of well-documented unlawful killings by the security forces during protests”.
It documented numerous “serious acts” of violence by Opposition party members and supporters.
For example, a doctor at the Dhaka Medical College Hospital told Human Rights Watch that the hospital had treated 83 victims of fire bombings, 14 of whom died.
More than a dozen patients and their relatives told Human Rights Watch that while many had not seen who had thrown the bombs, others had been able to identify their attackers as Opposition supporters.
“Members of Jamaat and its youth wing, Shibir, and supporters of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party have engaged in countless attacks on security forces and others.
“Attacks have included throwing homemade grenades and petrol bombs at police, arson attacks to enforce a road blockade, derailing passenger trains, setting fire to the homes and businesses of Hindus and Awami League officials, and throwing grenades into crowded streets”.
More than 12 ruling party activists have reportedly been killed in one district, Satkhira, known as a stronghold of the Jamaat.
Children have been killed and injured in the violence and in some instances by picking up stray homemade grenades, the rights group continued.
“Bangladesh security forces and political parties have a long history of turning their members loose for political purposes, seemingly indifferent to the loss of life that results,” Adams said.
“Most victims are ordinary citizens who have absolutely no involvement in politics, and political leaders should tell their supporters to stop endangering lives.”
It reminded the security forces to follow the UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials, which state that security forces shall “apply non-violent means before resorting to the use of force and firearms”.
And “whenever the lawful use of force and firearms is unavoidable, law enforcement officials shall: (a) Exercise restraint in such use and act in proportion to the seriousness of the offence and the legitimate objective to be achieved; (b) Minimize damage and injury, and respect and preserve human life.”
Source: Bd news24