Between January 1 and March 14 this year, at least 51 people were killed in gunfights or crossfire. Of them, 38 people were killed by police, six by RAB, five by DB police, one by joint forces and one by the army, according to a report by leading human rights watchdog Ain O Salish Kendra (ASK).
Although the ruling Awami League promised in their 2008 election manifesto that extrajudicial executions would be stopped, human rights organisation Odhikar states that, from January 2009 till November 2016, 1,279 people have fallen victim to extrajudicial killings.
After 2010, when 101 people were killed, the number of extrajudicial killings declined. In 2012, the number was brought down to 53. However, from 2014, the political flux, violence and war crimes trials in the country caused such killings to increase once more.
In 2016, at least 195 people were killed by law enforcement officers: 119 were killed by police, 55 by RAB, 1 by RAB and BGB together, 1 by Ansar and Rail police, 2 by BGB and police, 1 by army and 16 by DB Police.
Of the 195, 159 people were killed in crossfire: 123 were killed before arrest and 36 were killed in custody. Out of the remaining 36 cases, 18 people were killed in shootouts, 12 before arrest and six in custody.
Extrajudicial killings (crossfire, shootouts, gunfights, encounters, etc) committed by the law enforcement agencies are an extreme infringement of the Bangladesh Constitution.
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Source:Ain O Salish Kendra[/caption]
Article 32 of the constitution guarantees an individual the right to life and personal liberty. Such killings clearly violates this basic right. It is also an infraction of Articles 31, 33 and 35, which cover the right to protection of law, safeguard against arbitrary arrest and detention and guarantee protection against torture, cruelty and inhuman and degrading treatment.
The International Bill of Human Rights, specifically the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), 1948 (Article 5); International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), 1966 (Articles 4 and 7) and Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, 1984 all also prohibit such actions.
These killings also transgress Sections 46 and 50 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1898, which state that law enforcement agencies should practice the utmost patience and should inflict minimum violence when attempting to neutralize a suspect.
Such extrajudicial executions first gained notoriety in February 2003 when the then BNP-Jamaat allied government passed an act giving indemnity to military and law enforcement for using whatever measures necessary to “restore law and order.”
Media reports from the time state that during the anti-terrorism drive, Operation Clean Heart, some 57 people were killed by joint force, around 40 people died in custody and hundreds were arrested.
After the formation of elite police force Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) these killings continued unabated, with some 1,062 people being killed by law enforcement officers from 2004 till 2008.
Nur Khan Liton, the head of ASK, told the Dhaka Tribune: “The incidence of ‘crossfires’ and ‘gunfights’ has increased in the name of ‘anti-militant drives.’ People are being killed before the court has declared them guilty.”
However, Inspector General of Police in Bangladesh AKM Shahidul Hoque told the Dhaka Tribune: “I do not know if any extrajudicial killings are taking place in the country. We do not step even an inch outside of the country’s law.”
Dhaka University Criminology Department Chair Professor Dr Zia Rahman said: “The extrajudicial killings take place because the justice system and state-run institutions are not free and strong enough.”
“A civil movement is imperative for the prevention of extrajudicial killings.”