South Asians for Human Rights

Promoting Democracy, Upholding Human Rights

International human rights watchdog Human Rights Watch has said that the Awami League-Jatiya Party alliance government has not yet ended systematic human rights abuse, including extrajudicial killing, despite promises.

In its World Report 2011, released in New York on Monday, the organisation said, ‘The Awami League government has not kept its promise after its election victory in December 2008 to show “zero tolerance” for abuses by its security forces. Two years on, new extrajudicial killings have been reported, and those responsible have not been brought to justice.’

According to data available with the national human rights organisation Odhikar, 281 people have fallen victim of extrajudicial killing since January 6, 2009 when the AL-JP-led alliance assumed office. Of the 281, 230 were killed in ‘crossfire’ or ‘encounters’.

The 649-page World Report 2011, the Human Rights Watch’s 21st annual review of human rights practices around the world, summarises major human rights trends in more than 90 nations and territories worldwide.

Bangladesh should immediately end systematic human rights abuses, including extrajudicial executions and torture by its security forces, the Human Rights Watch said in the chapter on Bangladesh.

It should allow the media, political opponents, and labour rights activists to exercise their rights to freedom of expression and association fully, the Human Rights Watch said.

‘The government should not just keep turning a blind eye to all these killings because they are not fooling anyone with their excuses,’ said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director of the Human Rights Watch.

‘Credibility will only come if the government follows the National Human Rights Commission’s recommendation to name an impartial panel of inquiry for each killing and to hold those found responsible to account,’ he said.

The joint police-military force, Rapid Action Battalion, carries out the extrajudicial killing, frequently termed ‘crossfire killing,’ and after the fact, the government has justified each killing as legitimate, the Human Rights Watch said.

The Human Rights Watch noted that often independent groups find signs of torture and abuse on the bodies of ‘crossfire’ victims, and survivors of the RAB custody testify that torture is commonly inflicted by RAB on those in its custody. This is consistent with information in the recently leaked US government diplomatic cables that stated there was credible evidence that the RAB tortures detainees.

The Human Rights Watch also found that it is not only the Bangladeshi security forces who commit abuses. Acute poverty and unemployment prompts millions of Bangladeshis to cross the border into India in search of jobs or to engage in trade. Many of them are killed by India’s Border Security Force, which engages in indiscriminate and excessive use of deadly force.

The Bangladesh government should be more vocal and determined in pressing the Indian government to restrain the Indian border forces and to end the killings that too often occur all along that border, the report said.

The government regularly harassed, repressed, and retaliated against its political opponents and labour union activists during 2010, the Human Rights Watch said.

Leading opposition daily newspaper Amar Desh was forced to close down and the editor was arrested. The editor, Mahmudur Rahman, claims to have been tortured by the RAB while in custody, said the organisation.

Labour union activists also bore the brunt of the government crackdown against public protests and organised demands. While demanding further increase in the minimum monthly wage, many apparel workers were arrested, and some were allegedly beaten while in custody, the rights watchdog said referring to credible human rights institutions and journalists.

The government also stripped the internationally respected Bangladesh Centre for Worker Solidarity of its non-governmental organisation status, and arrested its top leaders along with other senior labour leaders on unsubstantiated charges of incitement connected to worker disturbances in late July. Two BCWS leaders publicly stated they were tortured while in police custody, the report said.

In a new development, the government took steps to bring to trial the people responsible war crimes during the country’s war of independence in 1971. The government arrested five activists of opposition parties but there are strong suspicions that the detentions at this time are politically motivated. Equally troubling, the International Crimes (Tribunals) Act of 1973 still falls well short of international standards, the Human Rights Watch said.

‘Bangladesh has a long way to go to live up to its commitments, in both national policies and meeting international obligations,’ Robertson said. ‘It is only when its people can live free of fear of torture, repression, curbs on free speech, or politically motivated actions that it can truly lay its claim to being a democratic country.’