‘Independence of the judiciary was never ensured’ Mr. Nur Khan Human Rights Defender (Nur Khan is a leading human rights activist in Bangladesh. He has been engaged in documenting cases on torture, extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearance, violence against women, and repressions against ethnic minorities. He leads discourses on fundamental rights issues in various local and international forums. He escaped from an attempted abduction on 15 May 2014. ) Article 2: As a Human Rights Defender, four decades after independence do you think that the promises made at the time of constituting Bangladesh as an independent democratic State have been met? Nur Khan: There have been premeditated murders in the pretext of ‘crossfire’ or ‘gun battle’. There is nothing more to talk about it. All these actions are against human rights and the values of the Constitution. Article 2: What is the actual status of the ‘separation of power’ and ensuring the ‘independence of judiciary’ as one of the three basic pillars of the state in Bangladesh? Nur Khan: In the name of separation of power, in fact, all the past regimes have centralized the powers – political parties, administration and governance – everything has been centralized in the capital city. All decisions have made centrally. The independence of the judicial system has not been ensured in its true sense. Article 2: Is there any inconsistency between the aspiration of the people of Bangladesh with that of the political elite and the bureaucracy? Nur Khan: Of course, it is inconsistent! The aspirations of the general people along with their thoughts, spirits or expectations have never been taken into consideration with the deserved importance. The expectations of the politically and economically powerful elite and bureaucrats stand opposite to the expectations of the people. Article 2: To what extent has militarization contributed to making Bangladesh what it is today? How could things have been different without militarization? Nur Khan: The progress of natural democratization has been hindered by militarization, and, the institutions have put on the clothes of undemocratic arbitrariness to pull the country backward. As a result, the expected progress has not been achieved. Article 2: What are the challenges in realizing the independence of judiciary in its fullest sense in Bangladesh? Nur Khan: the independence of the judiciary is not being considered beyond the partisan interests. The ruling regimes have never considered the significance of an independent judiciary. The lack of political will of the ruling class, financial constraints of the judiciary along with the colonial mindsets among the relevant professionals, and the system of trial itself are the key challenges on the path of achieving the independence of judiciary. Article 2: What is your opinion about the endemic custodial torture, extrajudicial executions, and the government’s often quoted excuses of ‘crossfire’ and ‘gun battle’? Nur Khan: As I mentioned earlier, there have been premeditated murders in the pretext of ‘crossfire’ or ‘gun battle’. Article 2: What is the difference between disappearances and ‘secret killings’ that happened before and during the independence movement and those which happen today? Nur Khan: Whatever types of undemocratic and unexpected incidents that happened during the struggle for independence in the pre-independence era and during the war of liberation are not expected and acceptable in an independent-democratic country. That’s why comparative discussions about those matters are not important now. But, ‘disappearances’ and ‘secret killings’ were illegal in those days, and they are also illegal today. In those days, such crimes were committed by the occupying forces and their collaborators while today the same crimes have been committed in an independent state by its ruling class. Prior to the beginning of the struggle for independence or during the war of independence, crimes like ‘disappearance’ and ‘secret killing’ were not covered up with legal-coats as is happening today. The so called stereo-type stories of ‘crossfire’ and ‘gun battle’ were not endorsed by the state authorities, in the pre-independence period, for the purpose of avoiding the responsibilities [of the government], that have been happening now. Article 2: How far are the criminal justice institutions and the Supreme Court of Bangladesh independent and capable enough to prevent gross human rights abuses? Nur Khan: The independence of the judicial institutions or the Supreme Court can be observed through how much of the freedom these institutions have been actively exercising to secure their independence. Legally, they are independent. But, in preventing the incidents of human rights violations they are dependants on the cooperation of the government, law-enforcement institutions, civil society, human rights organizations, and so on. The judiciary alone is not capable enough [to secure its independence]. However, the individual and collective honesty and courage of the judges can play effective roles to do so. Article 2: To what extent has the judiciary contributed towards limiting its own freedom and independence? Nur Khan: The Judiciary itself has confined its own freedom and independence. It seems that they have imposed self- censorships upon themselves. Brave decisions and initiatives from the judiciary are not being visible as per the requirements. Article 2: Do you think that the criminal justice institutions in Bangladesh have become puppets under various political parties and the military? Nur Khan: I cannot answer that in one sentence. The criminal justice institutions conduct the judicial proceedings with the cooperation from the administration. And, the government under political parties runs the administration – sometimes by an emergency regime or by martial laws under the controlled by military commanders. As a result, the criminal justice system becomes subjugated under these two powers; however, it does not go to the level of being a wanton. Article 2: Do you think that the human rights organizations of Bangladesh are playing the roles they should have done in principle? Nur Khan: I think the National Human Rights Commission and other human rights organizations are not playing their due roles or not being able to play according to the expected roles they should have played in principle. Article 2: Is the global paranoia about growing Islamic militancy in Bangladesh true? Nur Khan: Yes, I think, the global paranoia about the increase of Islamic militancy in Bangladesh is partially true. But, their public base is still weak. Since the 1990s Islamic militancy has been patronized and protected here for different reasons. I don’t think that without the assistance or patronization from the ruling party, government and administration the religious militants have any possibility of growing as the main power in this country. Article 2: Are there non-Bangladeshi interests that are involved in promoting this image? Nur Khan: I don’t think so.