BANGLADESH/WORLD: Establishing effective governance is way to stop refugee flow out of the country

Two recent reports prove the predictions that the Asian Human Rights Commission has been making for several years, that Bangladesh is likely to become a major refugee producing country in the Asian region. The UK basedIndependent published a report on 5 May 2017, with the title “Bangladesh is now the single biggest country of origin for refugees on boats as new route to Europe emerges”.

On 4 April 2017, Radio Sweden published a report on the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) with a caption “Swedish Radio can reveal a secret recording that uniquely shows how the elite police force Rapid Action Battalion, RAB, in Bangladesh is killing and abducting people. In this sensitive conversation, a high-ranking officer exposes details about their violent methods.”

The report by The Independent is about a new migration route to Europe, and how the human traffickers and smugglers are utilizing this for their benefit. The report covers how these criminal syndicates derive unscrupulous gain from human misery, by selling unrealisable dreams to the unfortunate people in Bangladesh who fall easy prey to these gangs. The article also reports the sufferings these asylum seekers face in transit locations like Libya and other places. The news article ends with the following paragraph:

“But with no solution in sight, carnage continues in the central Mediterranean. One rescue ship recovered the body of a man, friends said was shot by smugglers for his baseball cap, while another vessel pulled six bodies out of the sea.”

The British Foreign Secretary, Mr. Boris Johnson is cited in the article as saying: “ … establishing effective governance is the key to defeating terrorism in Libya and countering illegal migration”. However, what the Foreign Secretary has not commented on is that without ‘establishing effective governance’ in Bangladesh, the country will continue to be a source that pushes its citizens outside its borders in search of basic human security.

As a delegation from the British Government is visiting Bangladesh very soon for a fact-finding mission on the human rights situation there, it would be advisable for the delegation to look into the causes for the breakdown of effective governance in Bangladesh.

If the delegation is able to meet persons in Bangladesh who dare to speak freely about the condition of their country, the delegation would easily discover the following facts:

(i) That the government has lost its legitimacy and is hanging on to power purely by the use of extreme forms of violence upon the people;

(ii) That the Supreme Court of Bangladesh and all other courts are unable to provide any form of effective protection to the citizens of Bangladesh. The incumbent Chief Justice has openly spoken about this, and has stated that ‘judicial independence is not recognised by the government, and the courts are unable to protect the rule of law in the country anymore’. The government, instead of positively responding to this warning by the Chief Justice, openly attacked the Chief Justice in the Parliament proving that the government does not intend to respect the independence of judiciary;

(iii) The government heavily relies on agencies like the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), an agency notorious for murdering the opponents of the government and engaged in the use of torture and other forms of extreme violence, which has terrorised the whole nation. It is not surprising that the government that has lost its legitimacy is using an agency like the RAB that acts outside the framework of law, and which cannot be held accountable to anyone. In fact, when the judicial system is in a precarious situation as described above, there does not exist any accountability mechanism within the country;

(iv) The policing system is paralysed by extreme political control, widespread corruption, and is engaged in all forms of abuse of power. Again, in the absence of a judiciary able to hold the police accountable within the framework of law, there is nothing to stop the extreme forms of corruption and violence that the Bangladesh Police imposes upon the people;

(v) All forms of freedom of expression have been suppressed by direct threats of assassination and other forms of extreme violence. The government, as well as right-wing political forces that mobilise violent mobs, holds everyone, particularly those who wish to exercise a critical voice, within a framework of chilling fear. In addition, the government wantonly uses draconian legislation to silence public expression of dissent;

(vi) Right-wing religious forces are completely outside any form of legitimate control (given the situation of the judiciary and the police there is no legal force to control them anyway). Instead, the government openly associates with these violent movements. Thus, the government besides relying on murderous forces like the RAB also mobilises extremist groups to cause violence;

(vii) All forms of human rights work focusing on civil and political rights are forbidden. Even publishing reports of human rights violations on the internet is treated as a cybercrime, carrying heavy penalties. Many bloggers have been killed, and others exposed to serious harms;

(viii) Meanwhile, the conditions of life of the people is ever becoming poorer, with massive unemployment, extreme forms of price-hikes/inflation, and various forms of helplessness, where they are unable to protect themselves, their families, and their properties from rising criminal elements;

(ix) Women in particular suffer from extreme insecurity, as there is nothing to protect them from rape and other forms of sexual abuse due to the collapse of every form of legal protection as described above;

(x) The most frightening spectacle for the people is the high number of enforced disappearances. In fact, such disappearances only mean abduction, killing, and disposal of bodies often by state forces like the RAB and other law-enforcement agencies. Due to the collapse of legal protection, there are no investigations into the complaints of such disappearances or any other form of legal remedy. In fact, even the possibility of such investigations and prosecutions does not exist. Besides, above a thousand persons have been extrajudically executed and for this also there is no possibility of obtaining any form of legal redress. Another frightening practice is what is popularly known as ‘kneecapping.’ This is the abduction of persons by state agencies, brought to some place where their hands and legs are tied and are shot on their knees. The victims are then left to bleed and only taken to hospitals when they are in extreme danger of death or are willing to pay bribes to the officers. At the hospital their legs are often amputated, and thus they will suffer from this all their life. Then fabricated charges are levelled against the victims and they are thrown in jails, where conditions are appalling. Again, due to the collapse of legal protection as described above, there is nothing the victims or their families could seek by way of legal redress.

This is just a short list of factors that have made living in Bangladesh an extremely dangerous experience. Young people in these circumstances are more likely to flee whatever the risks, in search of ‘the dream’ outside Bangladesh, which means nothing more than trying to survive.

Risk Factors:

The risk involved in living in Bangladesh is greater than that involved in fleeing, with a remote possibility that they may find the solutions to the miserable condition within the country. The risks involved in undertaking perilous voyages, dangers of exploitation by human smugglers, and other risks exposed to in the places they go to, by comparison to the situation they face in Bangladesh, is far less. It is these conditions where a person develops a ‘do or die mentality’ and seeks ways to escape from Bangladesh.

The change needed in Bangladesh to ensure effective governance:

Establishing legitimacy of governance – by way of a credible election, a legitimate form of government needs to be established as soon as possible. Without this first step, things will deteriorate and thus aggravate the present crisis.

Outlawing extra-legal institutions used for carrying out extrajudicial actions– RAB is the foremost such institution. The Swedish Radio has also revealed that officers of RAB are authorised to kill and they engage in such killings and other forms of violence. Despite the constant criticism about the RAB, it has grown in strength rather than being forced to abandon its illegal methodologies. Unfortunately, according to reports, some European governments are also working closely with the RAB. If a legal order is to be restored in Bangladesh, it is essential to stop all extra-legal and extrajudicial functions of organisations like the RAB and other similar agencies.

Strengthening the judiciary and the law-enforcement agencies – the independence of judiciary must be restored in Bangladesh, and a credible judiciary should be established immediately. This is a precondition for the return of any form of stability in Bangladesh. To achieve a properly functioning judiciary it is also necessary to reform the police so that it will function within the framework of the rule of law. If the policing system remains lawless and corrupt as it is now, it is not possible to guarantee the protection to the people and to support a functioning judicial system.

Mob violence and the activities of criminal gangs need to be stopped – mobs unleashed under various pretexts, either religious fundamentalism or political extremism, are a serious threat to the security of the people. By strengthening judicial and legal frameworks, illegal interventions of such groups could be stopped.

Freedom of expression should be guaranteed – the freedom of expression should be guaranteed to everyone and freedom of media should be restored. For this purpose, all threats against those who exercise their legitimate right to freedom of expression should be prevented. All avenues should be opened for legitimate airing of the grievances by the people, particularly the poor.

Human rights organisations and defenders should be protected – no restrictions should be placed on human rights defenders and their organisations to carry out their functions for the protection of the people. Laws such as the cyber space law should not be illegitimately used to curb the legitimate functioning of human rights organisations.

Strategies to deal with this problem:

What appears from The Independent’s article, is that the only strategy the European Union pursues is to do everything possible to close the migratory routes to Europe. This strategy has been adopted by others, for instance Australia. And yet, despite enormous obstacles placed, with the cooperation of many countries and often employing questionable strategies, the refugee flow has not stopped. The nature of the problem is such that risks are seen as relative, and in such circumstances history has shown it is quite normal for people to face such risks with the hope that at least some people may find a light at the end of the tunnel. Given the enormity of the problems they face in the country of their origin, the emergence of such mentalities is only inevitable.

Unfortunately, the European Union and the international community at large have ceased to take a serious note of the only possible solution to this problem, which is to help the establishment of effective governance within the countries of origin themselves. This can only be done by supporting efforts of the local people who want to develop their own systems of functional state institutions, that can guarantee stability in their own territories. International efforts are mostly needed in trying to understand the manner in which state mechanisms become dysfunctional, and to find ways to assist in preventing the emergence of such situations. This is not as difficult as trying to prevent a refugee influx after a situation has gone out of control. Most people want to live within their own countries; the basic precondition for that, is to establish systems of protection within the framework of functioning state institutions, in particular a functional system of judiciary and law-enforcement agencies that could together uphold the framework of law.

It is this strategy that has become quite weak within the international discourse. The world cannot be a safe place without ongoing powerful discourses about ways to support effective governance, particularly in places where the state is failing. The investment needed for that is far less compared to massive investments and human costs in trying to close down migration routes when people are facing extreme dangers to their lives, families and properties.

The role of India:

India being an influential neighbour of Bangladesh, needs to extend its hand to ensure effective governance and stability in Bangladesh. It should not in any way support the destabilisation of the country by internal actions in Bangladesh.