Extrajudicial killing in the name of “crossfire” and enforced disappearance have emerged as the key challenge to improving human rights situation and establishing rule of law in the country, rights activists say.
This challenge, according to them, may further hamper development goals set by the new government of Bangladesh Awami League (AL).
As foreigners from Europe and America are raising the issue as a matter of concern, Supreme Court lawyer Shahdeen Malik said investments might be affected at one point, should such killing and disappearance continue.
Former caretaker government adviser Sultana Kamal pointed out that some responsible officials virtually confessed to such acts as they termed death in crossfire as a popular measure.
The AL, in its 2008 parliamentary elections manifesto, pledged to stop extrajudicial killing in the form of “crossfire” that formally began with the formation of Rapid Action Battalion on 26 March 2004.
The then government of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) formed the RAB to fight terrorism, extortion and killing of so-called extremists in the south, westerner and northern region.
The BNP govenment had in 2002 launched an anti-crime raid by the army -- Operation Clean Heart. Around 50 people died in what was then called 'heart attack' during quizzing.
In the wake of massive criticism, the government stopped the raid in 2003 but later formed the RAB.
However, the situation has not changed in the past 10 years of the Awami League-led regime. Rather, more alarming incidents like “enforced disappearance” and “assassination” were added to the list of “crossfire.”
A total of 736 people were killed in crossfire between 2004 and 2006, according to an annual human rights condition report of the Ain O Salish Kendra (ASK). Of the victims, 544 were arrested earlier.
Such killing did not stop after the takeover of the army-backed government in 2007 and 256 people were killed in crossfire in two years of that retime.
As many as 380 people were killed in crossfire in the AL's tenure between 2009 and 2013.
And the party had then dropped the pledge to end extrajudicial killing from its manifestoes befiore the one-sided election in 2014 and the fawed one held in 2018.
The narrative of all the deaths in crossfire has been almost the same since 2004.
Law enforcers go out with an arrested person to seize arms. On the way, cohorts of the arrestee attack them with firearms and the law enforcers open fire to defend themselves, leaving the arrested person or another killed.
The re-emergence of “extremist groups” and their violent killing were assigned as the justification for violation of human rights in the form of extrajudicial killing by the law enforcement persons.
The government and the law enforcers claimed success in reining in the “extremist groups” but there was no visible initiative to stop the extrajudicial killing, a matter that the rights activists say, is a important to establish rule of law.
Now, the same method is allegedly being applied to curb social menaces like use of drugs and rape. A large number of people were killed in gunfights and many other bodies were recovered since the anti-drugs drive began in May last year.
The ASK gave the number of deaths in anti-drug drive as 292.
One of the victims was a former councillor of Cox’s Bazar, Ekramul Haque. His family released an audio tape of a mobile phone conversation claiming he was killed. That incident raised questions about the drive.
Recently, bodies of three persons accused of rape were recovered with notes strapped to their bodies. The notes said they met the fate because of raping.
The incident draw global media attention after one of the notes claimed Greek mythological god Hercules killed an accused in Bhandaria of Jhalakati.
Questions were also raised whether this was a new type of extrajudicial killing.
Home minister Asaduzzaman Khan on Friday told newsmen that the mystery of Hercules will be uncovered since such killing does not comply with law.
Global rights bodies like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch categorised the incidents as extrajudicial killings and have been condemning them from the outset.
During the BNP government, then opposition AL condemned the extrajudicial killing and alleged that its leaders and activists were being killed in the process.
The BNP also made similar complaints when it took the opposition seat in parliament.
“We don’t kill anyone extra-judicially. We counterattack when we’re attacked,” home minister Asaduzzaman Khan said to Prothom Alo on Saturday.
Rights activists have observed that victims of such extrajudicial killings do not get justice from the courts in the countries, where the governments tacitly help such incidents.
People lose confidence in justice system and institutions that deliver justice too lose confidence in each other, they added.
A deep sense of insecurity haunts the people in such countries, the rights activists said insisting on taking steps to stop extrajudicial killing, curb corruption and thus establish good governance.
Enforced disappearance and secret killing
After 2009, the incidents ''enforced disappearance'' and ''secret killing'' increased, surpassing earlier records of such incidents.
In June 2010, BNP leader and Dhaka city corporation councillor Chowdhury Alam went missing from the capital. Similarly, two more BNP leaders of Barishal and Chattogram were abducted from Dhaka and Gazipur that year.
In 2011, Khulna district Chhatra Union's former president Shamim Akter was picked up from the capital.
BNP leader M Ilias Ali along with his driver went missing from Dhaka's Banani on 17 April, 2012.
Before the 5 January 2014 national election, incidents of disappearance rose. Six young men were picked up from Dhaka's Nakhalpara in one night of December, 2013.
BNP leader and former member of parliament Saiful Islam (Hiru) along with another BNP leader Humayun Kabir Parvez were picked up and abducted from an ambulance.
The fate or trace of the abovementioned persons could not be known yet.
At least 58 people were abducted and killed secretly in 2013, according to the ASK.
The families of the victims have claimed that they were picked up by the people who introduced themselves as members of law enforcement agencies.
The incidents of disappearance decreased after the 2014 election, but it did not come down to zero.
According to Hong Kong-based Asian Human Rights Commission and local rights organisation Odhikar, some 395 people went missing in nine years from 2009 to 2017.
Of them, 195 came back home but remained quiet over their abduction while 52 were found dead.
The ASK recorded that some 34 people became victims of abduction and disappearance in 2018. Of them, 19 were found arrested in several cases.
However, former army officer Hasinur Rahman and former ambassador to Vietnam Maroof Zaman are still missing.
Rights activist Nur Khan thinks the government can form an independent commission to bring the people who were involved in such acts under trial.
The United Nations expressed concerns over the killing, publishing a report on 29 March, 2017. It insisted that Bangladesh must investigate into the incidents of 'enforced disappearance', 'abduction' and 'extrajudicial killings'.
European Union, the USA and local and foreign rights groups have been raising their voice against these incidents.
Shahdeen Malik said if these incidents continue, flow of foreign investment into the country will not increase. "The government must stop these, also for the sake of country's development," he added.
Sultana Kamal, a former executive director of ASK, said the government does not seem to have taken the incidents of extrajudicial killings into cognizance.
"Extrajudicial killings have been taking place one after another. But, the government has been in a denial mode. In most cases, they (official bearers) say they don't know how the incidents are taking place," she said.
Sultana Kamal also shared her experience saying, "Responsible officials told us at one point that people support their deeds. Through this statement, they effectively confessed that they had complicity in those incidents."
*The report, originally appeared in Prothom Alo print edition, has been rewritten in English by Shameem Reza