5:16 pm - Saturday May 24, 4656

Repeating lies does not turn ‘falsehood’ into the ‘truth’

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) in a statement said, Bangladesh Police again attempted to justify extrajudicial executions with the excuse of “self-defence”. The latest attempt, according to AHRC, has been made in a media release sent out from the Police Headquarters and circulated to the country’s media on 2 August 2015.

In order to hide its crimes of extrajudicial executions, the Bangladesh Police has tried to take shelter behind the controversial actions of the executive officers called ‘executive magistrates’ in Bangladesh. The police media release states that:

“… An executive committee headed by a Magistrate investigates whether the police have exercised their right to self-defence correctly, or whether they have used excessive force. This matter can also be tried in court. Only the Magistrate or the Court can determine whether the right of self-defense practiced by the police at a human-rights-Bangladeshparticular time was legal or unlawful. In the month of July, no Magistrate or court claimed that incidents where the police were engaged in gunfights were extrajudicial acts… “

When read in light of the truth of extrajudicial killings in Bangladesh, the statement does, in fact, correctly depict the actions of ‘executive magistrates’ and showcases how incompetent is the country’s judiciary, especially when it comes to crimes committed by law-enforcement agencies.

Having maintained primitive investigation methods and an analogous forensic examination system to backup its criminal investigation mechanism, the police, by default, use torture to extort confession from crime-suspects. Such a torturous investigation system has created deep fear in Bangladeshi society. The ‘executive magistrates’ are aware of the dire consequences of investigating extrajudicial executions with credibility in the given circumstances.

Whatever the Police Headquarters’ state to justify the ongoing murders of citizens under the pretext of “crossfire”, “encounter”, “gun battle”, “self-defence”, and so on, the truth is that the police commit all possible crimes including murdering human beings routinely. As a matter of fact, the law-enforcement agencies habitually abuse Section 46 (1) of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1898, which authorises the police to use “self-defence”, which reads:

“In making an arrest the police-officer or other person making the same shall actually touch or confine the body of the person to be arrested, unless there be a submission to the custody by word or action”.

The legal authority of the police to use “self-defence” is being abused by the police in violation of Section 46 (3) of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1898, which reads:

“Nothing in this section gives a right to cause the death of a person who is not accused of an offence punishable with death or with transportation for life.”

Bangladesh’s judiciary acts upon the expectation of the executive authorities. As a result, the constant violations of these legal provisions are undermined by all the branches of the Judiciary in the cases of gross violation of human rights concerning the right to life. Even if the Judiciary condones the crimes, and refuses to entertain allegations, the truth does not change.

Of the thousands of extrajudicial executions, the Ministry of Home Affairs has, in fact, investigated two cases of extrajudicial executions in Bangladesh, following intervention by the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC). These two cases involved Mr. Mohiuddin Arif, a health technician by profession, and Mr. Kaisar Mahmud Bappi, a showbiz performer. Both were killed while in custody.

The AHRC suggested the then Chairperson of the National Human Rights Commission of Bangladesh, Justice Amirul Kabir Chowdhury, ask the Bangladesh government to form a Probe Committee, one that would have at least one member from the civil society representing victim families.

Subsequently, two Probe Committees were formed, headed by Ms. Smriti Rani Gharami, who is currently an Additional Secretary in the Ministry of Home Affairs. These two committees included Supreme Court lawyers, representing the families of the victims. The Probe Committees found relevant evidence to conclude that both the deaths were extrajudicial murders by the law-enforcement agencies, involving Police and the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) officers.

And, how did the government respond to this knowledge? The government amended the law governing the National Human Rights Commission, removed its Chairman, and the probe reports were shelved to protect the perpetrators.

Now that is as far as the government goes. What about the Judiciary? Such probe reports could easily have been utilised by the Supreme Court of Bangladesh to uphold justice in the jurisdiction of Bangladesh. At the very least, Court could have acted like a High Court Division once did when issuing a “suo moto” Rule against the Rapid Action Battalion and other entities of the Government regarding the extrajudicial killing of two siblings, Mr. Lutfor Khalashi and Khairul Khalashi, at Madaripur District, in November 2009. However, the Supreme Court chose to keep its “eyes wide shut”. In doing so, the Judiciary, once again, transmitted a clear message about its own leanings and its quality.

And, that was the Supreme Court itself. In cases involving extrajudicial killings, the government deliberately engages “executive magistrates”, who are mere administrative officers, i.e. directly under the Executive. The government does so in violation of Section 176 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1898, and Section 4A (2) (a) of the same law. It indicates that a “Magistrate” should inquire into cases, and this is supposed to be an officer independent of the Executive, according to the principles of justice.

Therefore, the Police giving itself a clean chit, arguing that no court or executive magistrate has claimed that its “gun-fights” in the month of July were extrajudicial in nature, can only fool those clueless about Bangladesh justice institutions.

However, the media release does not stop there. It accuses two human rights organisations, including Odhikar, for exposing reports of extrajudicial executions. The relevant portion reads as follows:

“… two NGOs are jumping to the conclusion that Bangladesh Police are to be held responsible for acts of murder. This is making the activities of the police controversial; and lowering the reputation of the police in the eyes of the public. This is synonymous to defamation and a criminal act. This country’s laws have not given any NGO the right to act like a court. Therefore, the statements made by those two NGOs regarding extrajudicial killings challenge the laws of this country and the courts…”

It is the actions of the police, day in day out, which can raise or lower the reputation of the police. And, in Bangladesh the public knows only too well that the Police and all the law-enforcement agencies of the country are “hired musclemen” of the government of the day. No human rights group can change perception. The ire is that the organisations have the temerity to expose the morbid truth.

Perhaps the police would like to test this. A Bangladesh-wide survey, conducted by a professional body, to check the reputation of the police, on the basis of the actions of their personnel and officers, would be useful to society. Here are some possible questions:

  1. How do the police behave with the public in general?
  2. Do the police intimidate the public while discharging their duties?
  3. Are the police fair, regardless of political identity or social status of any person?
  4. Do the police extort bribes from the public?
  5. Do the police harass ordinary people under pretext of maintaining law and order?
  6. Do the police torture people on the streets and in custody?
  7. Do the police use torture as one of the tools to extort bribes?
  8. Do the police alter the list of accused in exchange of bribes while investigate crimes?
  9. Do the police fabricate cases against innocent people for political/financial reasons?
  10. Do the police and enforcement agencies murder people for political/financial purposes?

Answers to the above questions will reveal the real image and reputation of the police before the public, whom the police are obliged to serve in accordance with the laws of the land.

The Police have also accused the civil society organisations by stating “the foreign funded organisations’ reports portray controversial pictures of the law-enforcement and judicial systems of the country before the world”.

In making such an accusation against human rights organisations, perhaps the police have not considered the possibility of bursting their own bubble. Law-enforcement agencies in Bangladesh have been receiving more foreign funds than any of the NGOs the police have accused in the media release. For instance, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), jointly with Department for International Development of the United Kingdom (DFID), disbursed USD $20,524,788 between the years 2009 and 2014 for the Police Reforms Programme Phase II. And, the Judiciary has received USD $ 4,000,000 for the Judicial Strengthening project and USD 11,77,809.38 for the Justice Sector Facility project from the same donors. Likewise, the Rapid Action Battalion has been receiving millions of dollars from foreign funders to improve upon its stellar work. Does this make these government institutions dubious?

Rather than making irresponsible public statements and intimidating civil society organisations, law-enforcement agencies should invest time to hasten the inevitable: a fundamental redesign of the institutions of justice so the rights of every person in Bangladesh can be upheld. Inhabiting such re-designed institutions is the best antidote to pesky human rights organisations that have the gall to speak the truth about the existing ones.