‘Disappearance becomes a means to settle political differences’ Professor Akmal Hussain Department of International Relations University of Dhaka (Prof. Akmal Hussain obtained his Bachelor and Master’s degrees in Political Science from University of Dhaka. He earned a PhD in International Relations from the Institute of Law, Academy of Sciences, Czechoslovakia. He has been teaching at the Department of International Relations, University of Dhaka for 36 years. He has written two books in vernacular language on domestic politics, and foreign policy.) Article 2: As a Professor, 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? Professor Akmal Hussain: The people of the then East Bengal participated in the Pakistan movement with an aim to live in a new State that would be free from the evils that were existing at that time. But within a short time they realized that their dreams could not be fulfilled in Pakistan. They again aspired for some ideals and goals that inspired them to fight a bloody war to realise an independent Bangladesh. They wanted the end of all economic inequalities, the creation of a non-communal state, a society based on rule of law and above all, recognition of their linguistic identity. But after a lapse of more than four decades most of these goals have not been achieved. The growing divide between the rich and poor, the creation of a wider space for communal thinking and serious lack of the rule of law demonstrate that the dreams remain unfulfilled even today. 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? Professor Akmal Hussain: The separation of judiciary from the executive is an old demand in Bangladesh. The logic behind this demand is that if the judiciary can act independently of the executive then citizens can get more protection of the law. Officially there has been a separation of powers between the executive and the judiciary in Bangladesh by a Court verdict. But in reality the judiciary is still under the influence of the executive branch. Under the circumstances the independence of judiciary is yet to be realized. Article 2: Is there any inconsistency between the aspirations of the people of Bangladesh with that of the political elite and the bureaucracy? Professor Akmal Hussain: We may notice the inconsistency when the elected governments quite often do not follow what they have promised in the election manifesto. The government is more interested in serving vested interests. The members of bureaucracy are also inspired by their own petty interests. The bureaucracy is still under the influence of an elitist culture that hinders them to play their constitutional responsibility to the citizens. Article 2: To what extent has militarisation contributed to making Bangladesh what it is today. Could it have been different without militarisation? Professor Akmal Hussain: In Bangladesh, like Pakistan, the political process of nation-building was disrupted once the country came under military rule in 1975. Though there was a phase of civilianized military rule it did not contribute to strengthening the political institutions like political parties, parliament, elections etc. The politicians have become opportunists and corrupt under the influence of military rule for 16 years. Parliament has not been functioning in its expected role. The accountability of governments has not been questioned. Even the elected governments are habituated to using military intelligence to face their political opponents. Article 2: What are the challenges in realizing the independence of the judiciary in its fullest sense in Bangladesh? Professor Akmal Hussain: There could be many challenges among which the primary is the government’s interference in lower levels of judiciary. Secondly, the selection of the judges in Supreme Court is based in many instances on political affiliation. Thirdly, the courts sometimes come under undue pressure from either the government or citizen’s group to give verdicts of the latter’s choice. Article 2: What is your opinion about endemic custodial torture, extrajudicial execution, and the government’s often quoted excuses of ‘crossfire’ and ‘gun battles’? Professor Akmal Hussain: These actions by government agencies indicate the absence of rule of law in the society. The custodial torture and extrajudicial killings have negated the rights of an individual, even if she/he is a criminal, for fair trial. Criminals and political opponents of the regime have the constitutional right of self-defence. The growing incidents of these types may turn to fascism. The government is accused of using these extra-constitutional means to silence the opposition. Being encouraged by political inaction to stop these the police are reported to take bribe by making threats of ‘cross-fire’. Article 2: What is the difference between disappearances and ‘secret killings’ that happened before and during the independence movement and that which happens today? Professor Akmal Hussain: Though I have no statistics but I should say that before independence these did not happen regularly. In particular the incidence of ‘disappearance’ was a rare phenomenon. Since 2004 these have become the means to settle political differences with the regime in power. These cannot be civilized norms. 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? Professor Akmal Hussain: As these institutions have been gradually politicized they often fail to act independently. The lower courts and police department are more influenced. Article 2: To what extent has the judiciary contributed towards limiting its own freedom and independence? Professor Akmal Hussain: With the passage of time their politicization has contributed to their limits of freedom. The lawyers in Bangladesh are polarized to the extent that they show unbecoming behaviour like chanting of slogans in the court premises. It creates an anarchic situation. Article 2: Do you think that the criminal justice institutions in Bangladesh have become puppets under various political parties and the military? Professor Akmal Hussain: Yes, these institutions do not very much act independently. They have to receive instructions from the government in power. This is very true for the police department. Article 2: What divides the mainstream civil society in Bangladesh along political alliances and how far has it affected their independence? Professor Akmal Hussain: Basically their ideology divides them among pro and anti-government camps. As the citizens groups are organized along political lines they move in a fashion that pleases their mentors. There is also some sort of patron-client relationship between a group of citizens and the political party they support. There is tendency of the citizens groups to blindly support their respective political mentors. Article 2: Do you think that the human rights organizations of Bangladesh are playing the roles they should have done in principle? Professor Akmal Hussain: I can’t comment about all human rights organisations due to lack information. But some are playing their role in expected manner. Article 2: Is the global paranoia about growing Islamic militancy in Bangladesh true? Professor Akmal Hussain: No. I think the threat of Islamic militancy in Bangladesh is exaggerated. It is to be added that Bangladeshi Islamic militancy is not comparable with that of Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Indonesia etc. Article 2: Are there non-Bangladeshi interests that are involved in promoting this image? Professor Akmal Hussain: If Bangladesh can be portrayed as a country infested with militancy then external intervention in the name of fighting terrorism will be easy. Article 2: To improve the situation of rule of law in Bangladesh what suggestions do you have, and how could leaders motivate the ordinary people to participate in actual nation-building? Professor Akmal Hussain: First the sectarian interests of the national leaders should be minimized to accommodate collective interests, secondly, the law should be indiscriminately applied, and thirdly, the leaders should practise the dictum, ‘example is better than precept’. Article 2: Is the culture of violence inseparable from polity in Bangladesh? What should be done to end widespread violence in the country? Professor Akmal Hussain: In no society can violence be a permanent phenomenon. In this country violence occurs for a variety of reasons like social deprivation, political repression, weakness of policing the crime etc. The rate of violence can be minimized with corrective measures in all these areas. Article 2: Would you like to make any additional comments? Professor Akmal Hussain: Thank you. I have covered the main points of the problem of rule of law, accountability of the political parties, transparency of administration etc. I have no additional comments.