The rule-of-law concerns that government must attend to

Published: 00:00, Apr 20,2019 | Updated: 22:30, Apr 19,2019


A REPORT that rights group Odhikar launched in Dhaka on Thursday paints a grim picture of extrajudicial killing and enforced disappearances, both going unabated. The report finds that 91 people, at least one every single day on an average, have been extrajudicially killed, in custody or in reported ‘gunfight’, in January–March — in the hands of the police, the Rapid Action Battalion, the Border Guard Bangladesh, detectives, the Bangladesh Coast Guard and the army commando. Although many of the killings took place as part of the drive against drug substances, which began in the middle of May 2018 and has left 351 people dead till March 31, 2019, the types of hands that appear at the scene suggest that almost all law enforcement and security agencies have, more or less, been involved in the incidents. Everyone, crime suspect or criminal, has the right to defend and this is not the right way of justice dispensation. The report also lists at least 12 people disappearing in the duration. Of the people who disappeared, two are reported to have been found dead and five to have landed in police custody, one to have returned home and the rest four to have been traceless, suggesting a culture of impunity reigning.
While a group of rights campaigners think that that reality on the ground is more alarming that what has come up in the report, the National Human Rights Commission thinks that the number of extrajudicial killing and cases of enforced disappearances as claimed in the report appears to be higher than what happened on the ground. Rights activists, however, think that while both extrajudicial killing and enforced disappearances continue unabated, the inaction of the government or its denial about the incidents would only encourage the offenders. The home minister is reported to have said on several occasions that no extrajudicial killing or enforced disappearances are committed and the law enforcers fire gunshots in self-defence after being attacked by armed criminals. In a situation like this, the Paris-based International Federation for Human Rights in a report titled ‘Vanished Without a Trace: The Enforced Disappearance of Opposition and Dissent in Bangladesh’ on Thursday said that enforced disappearances in Bangladesh constitute crimes against humanity. The organisation, which based its report on 30 interviews of victims of enforced disappearances taking place in 2012–2018, suggests state actors behind such cases and calls out the international community on taking measures to ensure that the Bangladesh authorities fulfil the right of the victims to truth, justice and reparation. The report terms such incidents being systematic as most of the victims were targeted on political grounds.
While the train of such events constitutes an affront to the rule of law, it also weakens the judicial process. It creates a fearful situation so much so that every single citizen is concerned about giving any opinion, which puts a curb on a functional democracy in which opinions should be a norm and not an exception. The government, as manager of the state, must act to stop extrajudicial killing and enforced disappearances both of which deny some indefeasible rights, such as the right to defend, that the constitution confers on citizens.

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