By Jahangir Alam Akash, Human rights in Bangladesh were anything but healthy in 2009 under the ruling Awami League led alliance. According to a report on Thursday by the oldest Bengali newspaper of Bangladesh, the Daily Sangbad, around 4,000 people were murdered, which averages to about 11 deaths each day. There were 10 politically motivated murders and 12,074 torture cases related to women. Tender grabbing was a common feature of the ruling party cadres.
There has been an alarming rise in human rights violations in the country since the new Awami League led coalition come to power in January. But the government denied any wrongdoings. It has also denied any role in the extrajudicial killings in the country and has continued to violate the country’s constitution and other laws.
The attitude of people in law enforcement agencies has not changed, at least on the issue of extra judicial killings despite the judiciary ordering them to stop killing people under the guise of “crossfire,” “encounter,” and “gunfight.” Although much of such action has stopped, it is not a sustainable solution. But the decision has been hailed an eye-opener by many including human rights organizations.
The High Court issued the suo moto order over extra judicial killings on November 17. It gave the government two weeks, initially, to explain why the killing of two brothers, Lutfor and Khairul Khalasi by law enforcement agencies in Madaripur on Nov.16 should not be declared extrajudicial. The government has yet to reply and the Attorney General has sought more time, presumably until the court resumes on January 3, 2010.
During the year although there were some positive activities by the government, most sectors in the country were devoid of any human rights, the rule of law and good governance. Religious minorities were oppressed and press freedoms were violated almost every other day.
When the Awami League was in opposition, they opposed extrajudicial killings but when in power, they turned a blind eye. Despite the High Court orders, law enforcers killed more than 11 people. According to media reports, from Jan.7 until to Dec.14, law enforcers killed some 142 people. Law enforcers have killed some 1,600 peoples since 2002 when Operation Clean Heart, led by the army began.
Repression of minorities and indigenous people has been an ongoing event with impunity to the perpetrators. The murdered include a converted Christian NGO worker Swapan Mondal, Hindu freedom fighter Nirapad Kobiraj – killed by the RAB under the excuse of crossfire, a senior citizen Jatindra Lal Dey, an indigenous girl Maching Khai Marma who was also raped, schoolteacher Akhil Saha, Ashish Sarker, and businessmen Sumon Goala and Goutam Sarker.
During the year, many cases of rape and physical torture of women and girls belonging to ethnic minorities were reported. Also, least 70 incidents of land grabbing occurred in minority communities across the country.
Other criminal acts observed were violence against women, sexual harassment of women and girls in educational institutions, offices, factories and other workplaces. So-called social leaders victimized at least 15 families by issuing extrajudicial penalties such as beatings and canings in the name of arbitration, mediation or conciliation.
Seventy-six people including 57 army officers were killed in a mutiny after the ruling coalition came to power. Reportedly, 66 members of the Bangladesh Rifles died in the custody of the alleged mutineers. It is believed they were tortured and then killed. Yet, the perpetrators have not been brought to justice.
During the year, terrorists killed three journalists including a young community journalist. The New Age reporter F.M. Masum was brutally tortured by so called elite forces for reporting corruption scandals of influential politicians. Many journalists were also threatened, tortured and harassed for similar reporting.
The one good act of the government was to sentence to death the 12 accused in the murder of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the founding father of Bangladesh. The highest court of Bangladesh pronounced the verdict. Although the death penalty is one of the greatest human rights violations, the whole nation looked at the case as a trial of war criminals whose acts led to mass rape, murder, riots, looting and other inhuman activities during Bangladesh’s liberation war of 1971.