National Human Rights Commission Chairman Kazi Reazul Hoque in an exclusive interview with The Daily Star on Thursday touched upon the human rights situation in Bangladesh and discussed the much-talked about probe report by a committee of the commission on the recent Subarnachar gang-rape incident in Noakhali.
The Daily Star (TDS): Different local and foreign agencies have expressed concerns over Bangladesh's human rights situation on various occasions. As NHRC chairman, what is your opinion on this?
Kazi Reazul Hoque: The term “human rights” is used in a broad sense. It includes economic, social, cultural, political and civil rights, as well as women empowerment. It also deals with violence against women. If seen from the country's overall development perspective, I think Bangladesh's image is more or less good in the world.
However, from the country's political and civil rights perspective, some unacceptable incidents took place. For example, many people became victims of extra-judicial killings. Many murders took place. These incidents do not go with our other progress and image. So considering everything, it can be said Bangladesh's human rights situation is in a mixed position. Progress has been made in some areas while there have been questionable incidents in some areas.
TDS: The 11th parliamentary polls have recently been held. Many incidents occurred during pre- and post-polls days. What is the commission's take on this?
Reazul: The whole administration worked under the Election Commission during the election. We tried to ensure that every voter could go to the polling centre and cast vote...We opened a control room for 60 hours starting from the day before the polls, on the day of the polls and to the day after the polls. We had a hotline…We received some complaints. Some complaints were serious like armed men vandalising houses and obstructing voters from going to polling centres…We had been given a directive to inform the EC secretary and the returning officer concerned about specific complaints and our control room did so accordingly.
TDS: The commission is empowered to work on suo moto?
TDS: What step did you take on suo moto during the polls?
Reazul: Not only during the election, we always take into cognisance serious human rights violations on suo moto basis. We come to know about these incidents from the media. If anybody complains, we address it with due importance.
You must remember that in every country in the world there is a different body for different kinds of matters. For example, if someone commits a crime then there is the police or the courts to deal with them…
Where human rights are violated, we investigate those instances. This way we increase pressure. We tell relevant bodies of what we have found in cases of such violations. Afterwards it is up to them to investigate the details and take action.
TDS: As we are talking about the matter of investigations, let us talk about the incident of gang rape which took place in Subarnachar of Noakhali. The Daily Star published a report headlined “AL workers gang rape mother of 4 for voting for 'sheaf of paddy' ”. You took the incident into cognizance and investigated it.
Reazul: As soon as I came across your report on January 1, I immediately wrote to the commission's director (complaint and investigation) that the issue was serious and it should be investigated. I asked to take measure on a priority basis.
I formed a three-member committee to probe the incident. They went to Noakhali the next day. There, they talked with the victim, her husband, doctors and others concerned. On their return to Dhaka, they submitted a probe report. We discussed it in the commission's meeting… I asked the perpetrators be brought to justice in the quickest time and ensure their exemplary punishment. We have made a strong recommendation to the government in this regard. We sent letters to the secretaries of the home and law ministries.
TDS: In your investigation what came out to be the cause of the 'gang rape'?
Reazul: We did not investigate thoroughly. The committee submitted a “primary” probe report. Now it is up to those responsible whether they will do a thorough investigation.
TDS: The victim told the NHRC probe committee about 'threat and rape' centring the election and casting vote. It is mentioned in the report. Then on what basis did the NHRC report write that there was no correlation between the election and the rape incident?
Reazul: The opinion is not of the commission but of the probe committee.
TDS: The report is of the commission?
Reazul: It is the report of the investigation committee of the commission.
TDS: When the commission says “There is no relation between the election and the rape”, what happens then?
Reazul: The commission did not say there was no relation with the polls. We said, “This committee, after the end of fact finding, gives opinion in the fact-finding report submitted to the commission chairman...”
They gave the opinion. We have informed the government that they have given this opinion. We did not justify anything. We thought justification should be done by those who were supposed to justify it. We did not want to take this responsibility.
TDS: But by saying “there is no relation of the incident with the 11th JS election” in the report, you have already taken responsibility.
Reazul: It is the committee's statement, not the commission's.
TDS: Then what is the opinion of the commission in this regard?
Reazul: We cannot say anything about this. We did not want to make any “sweeping comment” on whether it was politically-motivated. The commission's observation is that human rights have been seriously violated in the incident. Those involved in the crime have to be punished. We did not investigate in the way which is required for knowing who committed the crime.
TDS: When the report was published, we took it to be the report of the NHRC.
Reazul: The probe committee said, “We said what the victim told us”.
TDS: Does the responsibility of the report not fall on the commission?
Reazul: You can explain it whichever way you want. We do not think so.
TDS: So, as the NHRC chairman, you do not agree with the report of the committee formed by you?
Reazul: No… No. Here we did not say whether we agreed or not. Here, we identified severe violations of human rights and asked to punish the perpetrators… Those who are responsible to deal with the voting issue will deal with it… Actually, it is not the commission's report.
[See The Daily Star Bangla for the full interview. Visit: www.thedailystar.net/bangla/]