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“All Citizens are Equal before Law and are Entitled to Equal Protection of Law”-Article 27 of the Constitution of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh

Issue No: 203
January 29, 2011

This week's issue:
Law Vision
Human Rights Watch
Rights Corner
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Crime Punishment
Legal Maxim
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Human Rights Watch

World report 2011: A facade of action

The RAB acknowledges that its officers have killed at least 622 people since the force was established in 2004. But in press statements, the RAB has claimed that the victims were shot and killed in "crossfire" after their accomplices opened fire on the force. The home minister has also supported the claim that RAB officers who have killed were acting in self-defense. In a worrying development, the police appear to have increasingly adopted the RAB's extrajudicial methods, and several hundred killings have been attributed to the police force in recent years. Investigations by human rights organizations regularly find that victims were executed while in RAB custody. The bodies of the dead often bear marks of torture, and many survivors of RAB custody have repeatedly alleged ill-treatment and torture. The chairperson of the National Human Rights Commission recommended in December 2009 that all allegations of RAB killings be investigated by an independent commission of inquiry. At this writing the government has taken no action on this, and not a single member of the RAB has been criminally prosecuted for involvement in torture or killings.

In one abortive attempt at justice, the High Court issued a suo moto ruling calling on the government to explain why action should not be taken against the RAB officers responsible for the "crossfire" killing of Lutfar and Khairul Khalashi in November 2009. However, before a ruling could be issued, the relevant judicial bench was reorganized and the case has not since been heard by the court.

Harassment and intimidation of Apparel Industry workers
In 2010 the government continued to severely restrict the work of trade unionists pressing for an increase in the minimum wage. On June 3 the government's NGO Affairs Bureau suddenly revoked the operating license of the Bangladesh Centre for Workers Solidarity (BCWS), a group with ties to international trade union and labor rights groups and representatives of foreign clothing brands sourcing from Bangladeshi factories.

In July the government raised the monthly minimum wage for garment workers from 1,662 to 3,000 taka (US$24 to $43). Workers contended that the increase was inadequate to meet the rising urban cost of living. On July 30 and 31, as they have often done in the past, angry garment workers took to Bangladesh's streets. They blocked roads and damaged factories and other property. Government security forces responded with force, injuring scores of protesters.

On July 30 the government accused Kalpona Akhter, Babul Akhter, and Aminul Islam, the directors of the BCWS, of inciting workers to protest, which the directors denied. Babul Akhter later alleged that on the night of August 28, he was beaten in custody. Kalpona and Babul Akhter were released on bail in September and are awaiting trial at this writing. Islam, who had managed to escape police custody after being detained and allegedly physically abused by the police in June, remains in hiding.

In 2010, members of the security forces regularly escaped accountability for killings, acts of torture, and illegal detentions. Several legal provisions effectively shield members of the security forces and other public officials from prosecution by requiring government approval for criminal actions to be initiated.

Military and police regularly employ torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading punishment against detainees, despite constitutional guarantees against torture and Bangladesh's ratification of the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. The government failed to investigate the causes of numerous deaths in custody, and there was little action to hold accountable those responsible for the deaths of alleged mutineers from the Bangladesh Rifles border force.

In 2009 the parliament passed amendments to the International Crimes (Tribunals) Act of 1973 in order to bring to trial those responsible for human rights crimes in the war of 1971, but the law still falls short of international standards. Five members of Jamaat-e-Islami, a religious right-wing political group alleged to have collaborated with Pakistani forces, were in 2010 charged with war crimes, including genocide, and at this writing are awaiting trial before a special war crimes tribunal established in March to investigate crimes committed during Bangladesh's battle for independence four decades ago.

Women's and Girls' Rights Border Killings
According to Odhikar, a Bangladesh human rights monitoring group, at least 930 Bangladeshi nationals were killed by India's Border Security Force between the year 2000 and September of 2010. A number of Indian nationals have also been killed by Indian forces deployed at the border.

Acute poverty and unemployment prompts millions of Bangladeshi nationals to cross the border into India in search of jobs and commerce. While some of those killed are engaged in smuggling goods and contraband, Indian border forces systematically use lethal force without justification. Bangladeshi authorities have repeatedly complained about killings of Bangladeshis, as have human rights groups in both countries. Bangladeshi Home Minister Sahara Khatun in May 2010 said that she would again ask officials in New Delhi, India's capital, to stop these incidents. Indian authorities declared that their forces have been instructed to exercise restraint, but there was little sign of progress in ending violations during 2010.

Source: Human Rights Watch. This is the abridged version of the World Report, 2011.




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