South Asians for Human Rights

Promoting Democracy, Upholding Human Rights

Published in The Daily Star on Feb. 03 by Abir Abbas Chowdhury ::

States possess broad authority to regulate the movement of foreign nationals across their borders. They exercise their sovereign powers to determine who will be admitted and for what period. However, it is essential to ensure that non-nationals enjoy all of the inalienable rights applicable under international law. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) defines basic rights of all persons such as the “right to life”, liberty and security, the right not to be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment as well as any arbitrary arrest or detention. States are definitely entitled to exercise jurisdiction at their international borders, but they must do so in light of the individual’s human rights obligations.

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) set the Guidelines with a view to translating the international human rights framework into practical border governance measures. According to the Guidelines, the term ‘international borders’ refers to the politically defined boundaries separating territory or maritime zones between political entities and to the areas where political entities exercise border governance measures on their territory. As a result, the principle of non-discrimination shall be at the centre of all border governance measures. Prohibited grounds of discrimination shall include race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status, nationality, migration status, age, disability, statelessness, marital and family status, sexual orientation or gender identity, health status, and economic and social situation.

Notwithstanding the above, the border killing turned out to be one of national crisis for many states over the decades and Bangladesh has been one of them. As reported by the Legal Aid & Human Rights Organisation of Bangladesh, namely, Ain-o-Salish Kendra (ASK), the Border Security Forces (BSF) of India killed 27 civilian-Bangladeshis in 2014 (until 31st October, 2014), 26 people in 2013 and 48 people in 2012 along the Bangladesh-India border. The statistics clearly stipulates the gross violation of human rights of the people residing within the Bangladeshi territory and it has been a significant concern over the years not only for our state-running authorities but also for the international organisations working for guarantee of human rights globally.

Although over the past years our Government raised the issue of killing Bangladeshis along the border and the Indian authorities reaffirmed to bring down the killing to zero level. It is necessary to appreciate that any bilateral relations do not depend only on government-to-government relations but also the sum of the many ways individuals and institutions, public and private manage relations between Bangladesh and India in which people of both countries are involved.  

On Jan 7, 2011, a 15-year-old Felani was shot dead by a trooper of BSF’s Choudhuryhat camp while trying to cross the barbed-wire fencing at Anantapur border point in Kurigram’s Phulbari Upazilla on her way back to Bangladesh. The victim’s body was left hanging from the fence for quite a while and the killing provoked huge outrage in both Bangladesh and India. One of BSF’s constable was accused and tried for the killing but could not be found guilty because of inconclusive and insufficient evidence against him. Due to heavy critics thereafter, the revision trial of Felani killing has been started by the Indian Border Security Force (BSF) at its sector headquarters in Cooch Behar of India.

As appears from the statistics above, we can say the reality has been something different.  The rate of killing civilians around the Bangladeshi border not only inflated over the years, the victims of the incidents were also arbitrarily denied the access to justice.

The Writer Is Barrister-at-law (lincoln’s Inn, UK).


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