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Diplomacy drives down border deaths

  • Published at 12:41 am September 9th, 2018
Bangladesh India Border
File photo of a portion of the Bangladesh-India border fence Syed Zakir Hossain/Dhaka Tribune

Diplomatic ties between Bangladesh and India have improved over the last few years, positively impacting the situation in the border regions and leading to a lower number of border killings this year compared to previous years

The number of deaths around Bangladesh’s border with India has reduced significantly this year as a result of the improved relations between the two countries and their border protection forces. 

Diplomatic ties between Bangladesh and India have improved over the last few years, positively impacting the situation in the border regions and leading to a lower number of border killings this year compared to previous years, said human rights activists and authorities concerned.

They also said other factors that led to a lower death toll were the introduction of non-lethal weapons in border areas, a significant decrease of cattle smuggling in recent times, and the strict mentality of the border guards of both countries. 

Security experts of the country have long been saying that cattle and drug smuggling, and the lack of non-lethal weapons are the main cause of border killings, and if the smuggling could be stopped and people living around the border made aware of the dangers of trespassing, it would be possible to have a completely non-violent border. 

According to Ain O Salish Kendra (ASK), three people had been tortured to death in the border areas till June this year, while another rights body, Odhikar, said four people had been killed till August this year. 

ASK said the number was 24 last year. 

Statistics from ASK say some 942 people were killed on the border between 2001 and June 2018. 

Between 2001 and 2017, 936 Bangladeshis were killed by BSF and Indian nationals on the border. Among them, 767 were killed by BSF and 169 were killed by others. Since the Awami League came to power, 67 people were killed in 2009, 60 in 2010, 39 in 2011, 34 in 2012, 28 in 2013, 40 in 2014, 45 in 2015, 31 in 2016, and 24 in 2017. 

However, Odhikar’s records state that 1,109 were killed between 2001 and August 2018. 

Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal last year told reporters that due to improved diplomatic ties with India, the number of border killings have reduced. He pointed out that while the number of border killings was more than 60 during 2009-2010, it had fallen to the twenties by 2017.

He told this reporter that the decrease of these killings is a success of the government that involved continuous, committed work on both sides of the border. Border  Guard Bangladesh (BGB) is going beyond the call of duty to secure the border and curbing such violence. 

During a visit to Rajshahi before a trip to India to participate in a scheduled conference with India’s Border Security Force (BSF) in Delhi, BGB Director General (DG) Maj Gen Shafeenul Islam said border killings have been reduced significantly because of good relations between BGB and BSF. 

The conference he attended ended yesterday. 

He hoped that the ongoing conferences and the regular border meetings will provide more opportunities for the forces to work together and control violent incidents in the border areas. 

Shafeenul said they have employed a “zero tolerance” policy to curb drug smuggling and the trafficking of women and children.  

During the previous BGB-BSF conference, held in Dhaka in April 2018, the two countries agreed on various initiatives. These include the consideration of a Coordinated Border Management Plan (CBMP); strict prevention of border crimes such as the smuggling of arms, explosives, drugs, narcotics, gold, and counterfeit Indian currency; and the breaching of the international border fence, theft, and abduction. 

This latest conference will also be focusing on these issues, BGB sources said. 

National Human Rights Commission Bangladesh (NHRCB) Chairman Kazi Reazul Haque said in the last few years, good diplomatic ties have been observed between the governments of the two countries. This has made a huge impact in reducing border violence. 

“BGB and BSF have had numerous flag meetings and conferences, and have made regular attempts to solve crimes at the borders. These endless attempts have finally been paying off, and the number of deaths has decreased greatly this year. However, there are still some deaths, and the two forces want to reduce this number to zero,” he added. 

“Under the circumstances, such cooperation should continue without any interruption which can create space for confusion, and the two forces need to be even more careful about strongly establishing human rights in the border areas,” said the NHRCB Chairman, adding that even though drug smugglers who work across the border are reckless, killing is never the right solution. 

Felani shooting caused a paradigm shift

Human rights activists said the gruesome killing of 15-year-old girl Felani on January 7, 2011 had a significant role in pushing the two forces to enforce strict measures to reduce the number of border killings. 

Felani was killed while returning to Bangladesh with her father after her marriage was arranged in the country. She and her father had been living in New Delhi, and were caught while trying to cross the border illegally using a ladder.

A picture of Felani’s upside-down body hanging from the barbed wire fence of the border was picked up the international media, and triggered an outcry about border security. The spotlight on border killing led some global news organizations to call the Bangladesh-India border “the most dangerous border” in the world.

Following the incident, Felani’s father Nurul Islam, along with human rights activists had the accused tried again and again in an attempt to get justice for her death.

A BSF court in the Indian state of Cooch Behar acquitted the accused Amiya twice in 2013 and 2015, so Nurul decided to go to the Supreme Court. 

Nurul told the Dhaka Tribune that even though his beloved daughter had been denied justice twice by BSF court, he is optimistic that he will get it from the Supreme Court of India 

Kurigram’s Public Prosecutor Abraham Lincoln said the chief justice of the Indian Supreme Court received the writ filed by Felani’s father Nurul, but it is still at the hearing stage. They are still waiting for a possible date for the hearing as it keeps getting deferred. 

Lincoln said: “Felani might not get justice due to all these complicated procedures, but the border violence issue got full attention from the concerned authorities, government, and the general public.

“Strict measures have been taken especially after 2013, and these began showing results after 2015. The two forces have reached the level of understanding required to have a violence-free border, and the general people have also become conscious about the dangers and are refraining from crossing the border illegally,” he added. 

The lawyer said Bangladesh authorities still need to create stronger social campaigns, including having a socio-economic safety net for people living along the border so that they do not have to resort to illegal activities across the border. l