BANGLADESH: Government should probe extrajudicial killings and reform the system instead of making denials — Asian Human Rights Commission

Bangladesh’s Minister for Home Affairs Ms. Sahara Khatun has reportedly said that “no ‘crossfire’ killing [has] occurred since her party has assumed office” in January this year while she was speaking to the media yesterday, 17 November 2009.

The minister made this statement on the same day when a Division Bench of the High Court Division, Supreme Court of Bangladesh passed a suo moto rule against the government and the Rapid Action Battalion asking them to explain within 48 hours that why the shooting and deaths of persons in custody should not be declared illegal.

A Division Bench comprising Justice AFM Abdur Rahman and Justice Md. Emdadul Haque Azad passed the suo moto rule after reading newspaper articles regarding the deaths of two siblings – Mr. Lutfor Khalashi and Khairul Khalashi – who were killed while in custody of the RAB-8 in Madaripur district. The Court asked the Secretary of the Ministry of Home Affairs, Director General of the RAB, Commander of the RAB-8 and a Major of RAB, who arrested the siblings in person, to respond. This is the first ever suo moto rule from any court of Bangladesh regarding the extrajudicial killings.

On early Saturday, November 14, Major Wahiduzzaman led a RAB team from Jatrapur area under Narayanganj district to arrest Mr. Lutfor Khalashi and Mr. Khairul Khalashi. On the same day, the siblings’ family members held a press conference at the Madaripur press club to express their fear of extrajudicial executions of the two. The family urged the authorities to save the two persons from “crossfire”, which is the officially adopted way of killing suspects while in detention of the RAB and the police.

On Monday the RAB-8 claimed that Lutfor Khalashi and Khairul Khalashi were killed in an “exchange of gunfire” in Madaripur while a group of ultra-leftists opened fire at the paramilitary force’s patrol team early that morning. The RAB personnel arrested the two persons from Narayanganj, adjacent to Dhaka city, and killed them in Madaripur, around 150 kilometres away, after around two days of being in custody of the paramilitary force.

The High Court’s suo moto rule questioning the legality of deaths in the name of crossfire, though already very delayed, may help the nation to establish a system of stopping such practice and bringing the perpetrators to justice. The government should have accepted the High Court’s rule as a window of opportunity to solve the prevailing practice of extrajudicial killings in “crossfire”, “encounter”, “exchange of fire”, “gun shots”, “gun battle”, and “shootouts” or “in the line of fire” all of which are synonymous.

Successive governments in Bangladesh have been ensuring blatant impunity to the alleged perpetrators of extrajudicial killings. This practice has barred the nation from stopping extrajudicial killing.

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has documented a number of cases of extrajudicial killings in Bangladesh. It is evident that such killings are one of the many big problems concerning human rights and rule of law in the country. The public of Bangladesh is aware of the trend and nature of the state-sponsored extrajudicial killings as a result of interventions and documentation done by civil society organisations as well as rights groups.

The Director General of the RAB, Mr. Hassan Mahmud Khandker admitted in a press briefing on 3 September 2009 that 577 persons were killed in “crossfire” in 472 incidents until August 2009, since the inception of the RAB on 26 March 2004. On 4 September 2009, most of the national dailies of Bangladesh published the news.

Prior to the general election of 29 December 2008 the Bangladesh Awami League, which assumed office on 6 January 2009 after winning a landslide victory with a three fourth’s majority in the parliament, pledged to the people that it will “stop extrajudicial killing, bring the perpetrators to justice, and establish rule of law and human rights”. But, the statement of the Home Minister Ms. Sahara Khatun does not match her party’s pledge. Instead, the denial of the occurrence of “crossfire” killings strengthens the culture of impunity.

The AHRC urges the Government of Bangladesh to clarify its position in terms of the election pledges and the statement of the Home Minister. The authorities should immediately retract the Home Minister’s statement regarding crossfire and form an independent commission headed by Supreme Court judges to probe the killings in the name of crossfire and synonyms. The probe commission should investigate the depth, trends, reasons and consequences of this practice and assess the level of people’s faith in the criminal justice system, including the complaint mechanism, credibility of investigations, capabilities and efficiency of the prosecution and competence of the judiciary to guarantee fair trial. Such a Commission is needed to give recommendations on what the nation should do immediately for establishing the rule of law.

The Government of Bangladesh should acknowledge reality first, if it really wants to solve the problems. Mere denial neither protects the people’s right to life nor upholds constitutionally enshrined fundamental rights and will never improve the existing criminal justice system, which has been dysfunctional for decades.

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AHRC-STM-227-2009
Countries : Bangladesh,
Issues : Extrajudicial killings,