Extrajudicial Killings: ‘Dysfunctional Democracy and Questionable Rule of Law'

27 February 2022
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The consititution of Bangladesh ensures the right to get the justice under the legal system. But we have seen the evidence of killings without any trial without  any trial by law enforcement agencies which falls under the category of extrajudicial killings. Although such attempts are condemned by activists, civil society members and various human rights organizations but we have seen many including politicians in different times tried to justify such killings. Given this circumstances,  to discuss about this vibrant issue Centre for Governance Studies (CGS) organized a webinar titled; “Extrajudicial Killings: ‘Dysfunctional Democracy and Questionable Rule of Law” on 23th February, 2022. 

The speakers at the webinar included Shajahan Khan MP, Former Minister of Shipping of Bangladesh, Zahir Uddin Swapon, Former MP, Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP, Dr Reza Kibria, Convener, Gono Odhikar Parishad, Professor Dr Nazmul Ahsan Kalimullah, Chairman, JATIYA NIRBACHAN PARJABEKKHAN PARISHAD (JANIPOP), Mr Md. Nur Khan, Secretary-General, Ain o Salish Kendra (ASK) and former Ambassador and CGS board member M. Shafiullah.  Dr Manjur Ahmed Chowdhury, Chairman of the Centre for Governance Studies, presided over the program. CGS Executive Director Zillur Rahman conducted the session.

The host of the webinar Zillur Rahman in his introductory highlighted the study conducted by CGS where it was found that between January 2019 and December 2021, 677 persons were reportedly killed extra-judicially. He indicated the use of the fabricated story of the killings happening due to gunfights between criminals and law enforcement and the cases where people died under police custody. 

Shajahan Khan MP, Former Minister of Shipping of Bangladesh, stated that extrajudicial killings by crossfire are an important tool used by the government to keep peace and stability in society and deter criminals. According to the former minister, a society cannot develop without peace and stability. The current rapid development in Bangladesh must be attributed to the actions of law enforcement to deter crime. He also said that this instrument of suppressing criminals was used liberally by the previous BNP government. He cites the failure of the criminal justice system of Bangladesh to bring criminals at large to justice and credits RAB for playing an essential role in making Bangladesh safer. The former minister argued that such kinds of killings happen abroad as well. The net benefit these kinds of actions contribute to society must be considered. The former minister also denies the allegation that extrajudicial killings are not investigated, and perpetrators are never bought to justice. He stated that if cases are filed with the charge of extrajudicial killing, they are investigated, and the perpetrators face legal action. He also defended the rewarding of police officers and members of law enforcement who have allegations of extrajudicial killings against them. 

Zahir Uddin Swapon, Former MP, Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), stated in response during the same webinar that the responsibility for the state of the country should lie with the government. He went on to say that the government must take responsibility for both the achievements and shortcomings of the nation. However, to alleviate the weaknesses of the justice system, the changes that needed to happen hasn’t happened in the last 50 years, and we blame each other’s respective regimes for not being capable of bringing about the change. But change needs to start from somewhere, and only the ruling party can bring about the change. Now Bangladesh is on trial for failing to maintain human rights on the international stage. The former MP admitted that the creation of RAB by the BNP government was a mistake. But he also stated that the mentality behind the creation of such a security force had existed even before, as demonstrated by the creation of the Jatiya Rakkhi Bahini after liberation. The only way to rescue Bangladesh is to get out of this political mentality and create unity among all parties to curb extrajudicial killings. Only when the state is accountable to the people can this extrajudicial killing end, he suggested. 

Md. Nur Khan said that the common people don’t believe the familiar fabricated stories behind the killings. He also pointed out that law enforcement members who are being awarded all have accusations of extrajudicial killing. The law clearly defines the use of force for law enforcement. Law enforcement agencies are not following these laws. No investigation is taking place, and no justice is being delivered. He agreed with Shajahan Khan that peace and security in society are essential for development. He also stated that it is justified to shed blood to liberate the country. But bloodshed in the name of development is unacceptable. He accused the people’s representatives of trying to justify the unlawful killings. He concluded that If the security forces continue to act as judge, jury, and executioner, we do not require the existence of the legal system and the parliament. 

Dr Reza Kibria said that the foreign sanctions are somewhat working as extrajudicial killings have gone down since then. But it is only a pause, not an end. He reflected Nur Khan’s point that those who commit unlawful killings are being rewarded. According to him, they are rewarded because they worked on the government’s orders. The rewarding of killers indicate that the government is culpable. As the power structure in Bangladesh is very centralised, the idea that the head of the government is unaware of their agents behind these unlawful killings cannot be true. He concluded that introducing elements of criminality to supplement the struggle for democracy is not justified. And both the ruling party and the opposition must exercise the rule of law. 

Dr Nazmul Ahsan Kalimullah stated that pointing out instances of extrajudicial killing is not enough. There must be a strong, unified commitment nationwide to stop extrajudicial killings and protect the rights of the people. He spoke out against the use of the death penalty by the government. He also emphasised the need to educate people about human rights. 

Dr Manjur, in his speech, laid down the background behind the current situation of lawlessness and extrajudicial killings. He stated that the current state of lawlessness is not new. It has existed since the liberation of Bangladesh. When operation ‘clean heart’ was conducted in 2003,  security forces killed many convicted criminals without trial. The people who committed these murders were officially pardoned and given indemnity. Even after a change in government, this issue was not brought to justice. This culture of pardoning those who commit extrajudicial killings started when the founding father of  Bangladesh was assassinated along with most of his family. Now, the sanctions we are receiving from abroad remind us of this culture. This is a mark against us all. However, sanctions alone cannot do solve the problem. 

M. Shafiullah stated that many instances of extrajudicial killings are not being reported in the media due to fear of repercussion. The sanctions from the USA comes as a relief to those who are not getting justice from the government. But simply using lobbyists abroad to point at the issue won’t solve the problem at home. He also indicated potential degrading foreign relations with the USA due to Bangladesh’s failings in curbing human rights abuse. 

Please click the link to watch full webinar: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QykutZJ0jLc&t=13s