Commentary: Extra-judicial killings and disappearances are not matters for downplaying

It is not for any newspaper to find it easy to claim that the figures given by any dependable source is right or wrong, just because no newspaper has the resources to be sure about the number of extra-judicial and secret killings reported in the press from time to time. Many observers were surprised by the enthusiasm expressed by an English daily of good reputation in playing down the figures of such extra-judicial killings and disappearances. What it should have done as serious journalism to take such matter seriously and ask for impartial investigation when concerns are voiced even outside the country internationally.
Incidents of extra-judicial killings and other types of murder have increased alarmingly in the city and across the country in recent times causing anxiety within and outside the country. No matter how big or small is the number, such practices by government law enforcing agencies should be completely unacceptable for civilised life under the rule of law. Even single death in the hands of the government law enforcers should be condemned as loudly as possible.
Incidents of killings are reported almost daily and in many cases people are either being killed or found dead after being picked up. At least 44 people have been shot dead by members of law enforcing agencies in drives in 41 days of this year, said a report in a widely circulated Bengali daily on Tuesday. The country’s image has suffered a serious setback following incidents of extra-judicial killings. Such incidents have provoked sharp reactions and protests from national and international human rights organisations.
Since January 6, at least 138 people, including 32 political leaders and activists, were killed or found dead, media reports said. BNP and Jamaat men were mostly found dead or shot dead in ‘encounters’ during joint forces’ drives. The Awami League men were killed by unidentified assailants or in internal clashes.
Human rights activists and criminologists viewed the situation as ‘outrageous’. They blamed the ‘unusual’ elections as being one of the main reasons behind increasing incidents of such killings.
According to the data of the police headquarters, 2013 was the most turbulent year in the last decade, when 4,393 murders were recorded – the highest in a single year over the period. A total of 507 persons including 15 police personnel were killed and 22,000 were injured in political violence in 2013.
Police headquarters’ data showed that the number of killings has gone up in recent months. In September last year, at least 376 murders were recorded and the number was 353 in October, 354 in November and 404 in December.
The number of extra-judicial killing was 377 in 2005 while it was 362 in 2006, when the BNP led alliance was in power. The AL was very vocal against extra-judicial killings when it was in the opposition.
Sultana Kamal, Executive Director of human rights watchdog Ain-o-Salish Kendra (ASK), condemned any act of extra-judicial killing. ASK has recorded at least 15 incidents of extra-judicial killing, most of them Jamaat-Shibirmen, by law enforcement agencies in January this year.
‘Extra-judicial killings could in no way be accepted. ASK insists on resolution of conflicts of all kinds through due judicial and constitutional process,’ she said while demanding an immediate end to such killings.
Md Ashraful Alam, chairman of criminology and police science at Maulana Bhashani Science and Technology University, told the media that an unusual situation was still prevailing since Bangladesh did not witness a ‘normal change of power’ through participatory elections.
Inspector General of Police (IGP) Hassan Mahmood Khandkar said that there was no scope for law enforcement agencies to act beyond law and judicial procedures.’I believe, the members of law enforcement agencies are performing their duties legally in conducting countrywide operations,’ he told the media.
Security forces were responsible for the largest number of deaths that took place in political violence in 2013, ASK said on the basis of newspaper analysis.
 Out of 507 deaths in 2013, at least 215 were shot dead by law enforcement agencies in response to opposition protests and violent clashes, ASK said.
Two BNP men were found dead in Nilphamari on January 18 and 20 after a case was filed showing them as prime accused in a case of attack on the motorcade of AL leader Asaduzzaman Noor in Nilphamari, that had left five people dead, it said.
Joint Forces consisting of the Bangladesh Police, the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), and the Border Guards Bangladesh continue to arrest opposition supporters, some of whom are accused of involvement in violent protests before and during the January 5, 2014 elections which were boycotted by opposition parties.
On January 21, State Minister for Home Affairs Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal said that the Joint Forces were engaged in an operation against “terrorists” and that none of those involved in violence before the elections “will be spared.” More than 150 people died before the polls, the bloodiest in Bangladesh’s history. Many were ordinary citizens whose vehicles were set on fire by opposition supporters.
Azharul Islam, a leader of student wing of BNP in Satkhira district, was killed on January 27, a day after his arrest for murder and for taking part in the pre-election violence, police spokesman said. The police said he died in crossfire when he was leading the police to an opposition “hideout.”
Two members of Jamaat-e-Islami’s student wing died in similar circumstances in Satkhira on January 26. The police said that Abul Kalam and Maruf died after receiving wounds during a gunfight a day after they were arrested. The police said that they were leading the Joint Forces to a place where other suspects were hiding when the security forces came under attack.
Meanwhile, Brad Adams, Asia Director of New York based Human Rights Watch (HRW) said “We are seeing a frightening pattern of supposed ‘crossfire’ killings of opposition members in Bangladesh. The Bangladesh government needs to ensure proper control of the security forces and order an independent and credible investigation into these deaths.”
The government should authorize an independent investigation into a recent spate of alleged extra-judicial killings by security forces, HRW said. The government should publicly order law enforcement agencies to ensure the safety of all those taken into custody.
HRW called on the government to publicly order the security forces to follow the United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials, which state that security forces shall “apply non-violent means before resorting to the use of force and firearms.”
It has been our consistent view that the selfishness of the few and inaction on the part of the many should be seen as responsible for making the country unsafe for the general public and a haven for dangerous elements. The government itself is becoming less and less unaccountable. Now it has come to a stage when even elections are not necessary to continue in power by the government.
Bangladesh is in great danger and our fate is decided more from outside due to our failure to do what is right inside.