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Expectations from the NHRC

  • Published at 12:01 pm June 8th, 2018
Gun Violence

What can the commission do about alleged human rights violations by law enforcement agencies?

The “killing” of Teknaf municipality councillor Akramul Haque has emerged as one of the most iconic cases of the ongoing anti-narcotics drive in Bangladesh. 

This case got a dramatic turn when on June 1, 2018 at a press conference in Cox’s Bazar, Akramul’s wife handed over four audio clips to the journalists. 

These audio clips of chilling conversations clearly suggest a purported plot to kill Akramul in the name of “gunfight.”

After the initial denial, Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) informed the media that they have formed a committee to investigate the entire operation that led to the killing of Akramul Haque. The home minister has also said on Sunday that “the audio clips are now being collected and a team led by a magistrate is looking into it.” 

Although, an obvious question arises here -- we have always heard from the government and the LEAs that as a regular procedure, each incident of death in crossfire or gunfight is investigated by an executive magistrate. 

If so, then before saying that a committee has been formed or a team is looking into the audio clips, the concerned authorities should tell us the report of the magistrate who first investigated the supposed “gunfight” that claimed Akramul’s life. 

The authorities concerned should also disclose the name of the magistrate who did this initial investigation, so that journalists can further reach out.

It seems that the bravery shown by Akramul’s wife has, at least for a while, been able to shake the entire machinery which was previously giving a deaf ear to all the hue and cry made by the human rights activists, academics, other professionals, political parties, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), the UN, foreign embassies, and so on. 

It seems that they have pulled the string a bit, as seen by the sharp reduction of the number of alleged “killings in gunfight” since June 1, 2018. While there were more than 10 such killings on average each day in the last two weeks of May, around 18 killings have been reported in the first week of June, 2018. 

However, for us, for the human rights activists, journalists, the NHRC, this should not be a time to stop and relax. 

Let us take a deep breath and get back to our work in a more enthusiastic manner. Let us keep following up on the progress made by the multiple investigation teams. 

Let’s not fall into the trap that time will erase everything. We know our challenge, that in Bangladesh, every day there is a new issue, and we ought to rush from one issue to the other. But at least this time, let us stick with this issue for some time.

Let’s do it as a gesture to express solidarity with Akramul’s wife and his two little daughters. I am sure all of us who are reading this article have taken a moment to hear the audios.  Let us recall again and again the words of Akramul’s daughter over the phone: “Why are you crying, Abbu?” and his wife screaming, “Don’t kill him, he has done nothing.” We should realize and appreciate the risks they have taken to seek justice for Akramul’s killing, and we should stand beside them by adding our voice.

And here comes the role of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), who are committed to play the role of independent human rights watchdogs in the country. Since the beginning of the anti-narcotics drive, the NHRC has issued a number of statements. 

In addition to those statements, on May 28, NHRC Chairman Kazi Reazul Hoque wrote a letter to Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan, requesting him to take necessary measures on an urgent basis, so that the human rights of the accused or suspected persons are maintained, and their constitutional rights are being protected while conducting the anti-narcotics drive. However, NHRC’s call did not specify what kind of measures they were asking the home minister to take. Also, the content of the letter seems a little contradictory, as it praised the minister’s leadership in eliminating terrorism and militancy from the country, while many of the anti-militancy drives raised the question of not maintaining due process and violating human rights principles. 

Despite this, shall we expect that the NHRC will follow up on the progress of the investigations and keep informing all of us? 

Also, will they immediately take some concrete steps to ensure the safety of Akramul’s wife and daughters? The NHRC always reminds us that because of the limitation in their founding act (NHRC Act 2009), they cannot investigate the allegations of human rights violations by law enforcement agencies, but can only seek reports from the authorities concerned. 

Given that limitation, can they at least seek information from the authorities about the progress made into the investigations? Can they do it again and again, if they do not get any response? And can they keep the media and all of us informed? 

This very small action from the NHRC may create a huge impact. λ

Sayeed Ahmad is a Human Rights Defender based in Bangladesh.

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