BANGLADESH: End misuse of authority upon the police and by the police

On 31 December 2007 an online news agency — BD — of Bangladesh published a report with the title ‘DMP commissioner blames failure of police on political pressure’. The report said unwarranted influence and pressure from outside, jeopardised the freedom of the police administration. The report further said that the main cause of harassment by police is the decades-old irregularity and absence of rules for which the police is not responsible.  The report stated that these observations were made by Mr. Naim Ahmed, Commissioner of the Dhaka Metropolitan Police (DMP). The Commissioner made the above remarks in his speech in a workshop organised on police reforms.

The workshop and training programme, which aimed at motivating the police to be people-friendly, started on Monday 31 December 2007. About 2,000 DMP officers ranging from superintendent to constable attended the workshop. In his speech, the Commissioner also remarked that the police failed to discharge their responsibility properly due to the pressure from politicians and sometimes even from within the department. In the keynote address, the officer also observed that one of the main causes of public harassment by the police is due to the appointment of inefficient persons as police officers. The Commissioner further admitted that professional inefficiency and lack of knowledge within the police department made things worse and that the police sometimes arrest people without reason, and they intimidate innocent persons with arrest and abuse of law, particularly Section 54 of the Code of Criminal Procedure 1898 and the DMP Ordinance 1976.

While appreciating the confessions of the ‘top cop’ as a first sign of correction of errors, the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) is of the opinion that public confession alone will not improve the situation of policing in Bangladesh. Jurists, bureaucrats, policymakers and human rights defenders must sit together with a view to discuss these real problems of policing in the country.

A number of questions emerge from the admissions made by the DMP Commissioner: Who are those involved in recruiting the inefficient and unqualified candidates to the service? What procedure is available to adjudicate the quality of recruitment as well as to monitor the process of recruitment in the police department? Who is responsible for overburdening the department with such unqualified persons? Subsequent to the recruitment, are there any credible and continuous training programmes to enable the officers develop their skill and to increase their efficiency? Are there any independent and credible mechanisms for taking disciplinary actions against erring officers? Are there any available mechanisms for monitoring their performance and making the police accountable?

If the answer to all these questions is an emphatic ‘no’, then lamenting about the problems alone will not help. These questions are not exclusively limited to the police force, but equally applicable to all law enforcement agencies in the country. As of now in Bangladesh, a uniformed officer is often conceived as an expendable pawn by those in authority and power and a burden and menace to the common man.

Yet another grievance heard quite often within the police force is about unwarranted pressure from outside, meaning the politicians of the country. This is often viewed as a cancer affecting the autonomy of the force. Everyone in Bangladesh is aware that political influence tarnishes the image of the police and also hinders their work. Whatever professionalism is left within the force is thrown out of the window the moment an external element like a politician throws his or her weight upon the force. Such interferences are not limited to some high profile cases, but are expected even for petty disputes which would not even qualify for a police action in other jurisdictions. As of today, the police force in Bangladesh does not know how to deal with this unwarranted interference, but rather enjoys it as an additional means for corruption. The morality of the Bangladesh police is probably the lowest in the region.

The problem is in the mindset of the police force and the policy makers. While the police force consents to exploitation by the authorities, particularly the politicians, the politicians conceive the state police as tool for exerting undue pressure. In this process the police resort to violence against the people like torture or extrajudicial execution.

Currently, there is a programme sponsored by the UNDP to reform the police force in Bangladesh. The Ministry of Home Affairs, for better of worse, is now proposing a bill to address the problems in policing in Bangladesh. The AHRC is of the opinion that now that there is a window of opportunity, all concerned persons in Bangladesh must make use of the occasion to discuss and debate about the decades-long problems in policing in the country. Such an opportunity does not come very often. This discourse should engage the UNDP in understanding the convictions of the ordinary people about their police.

Model police stations and standard best practices are only good on paper. To improve the situation of policing in Bangladesh, the primary requisite is to find ways to improve the confidence of the ordinary persons concerning their police. At the end of the day, the Bangladeshi police are for the Bangladeshis. There is no way out but discarding practices of abuse of power, and replacing them with trustworthy professionalism in the service of citizens.

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AHRC-STM-004-2008
Countries : Bangladesh,