A persistent human rights issue | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, August 10, 2010 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, August 10, 2010

A persistent human rights issue

Due process of law must be followed. Photo: Jupiterimages

There has been a spate of crimes of all kinds across the globe. The rise of social unrest is attributed to disproportionate distribution of wealth and resources, non-development, availability of firearms, and criminalisation of the society for meeting political and economic ends. These are the bare bones. To get the fuller picture we need to separate the constituent elements, which entails elaborate research.
Apparently the present government is inclined to acknowledging the necessity of resorting to cross fire or gunfight to counter criminals, militants and outlaws, as did its predecessors. This may be why extra-judicial killings continue without respite.
Custodial death, or unaccounted for death of criminals or undesirable elements, is a glaring example of unreasonable killing by a few trigger-happy law enforcers. The Awami League (AL), in one of its election pledges, stated its opposition to extra judicial- killing, terming it as a violation of human rights, but in reality its approach seems lukewarm.
In the consideration of judicial dispensation even a diehard criminal is considered to be innocent unless proved otherwise. The recent intensification of the anti-crime drive saw an incremental rise of killing without trial. This challenges the government's commitment to human rights.
One does understand that unless some drastic punitive or intimidating actions are taken, the criminals that thrive on illegal booty will remain unstoppable in their mission to kill. I, like tens of thousands, believe that nobody is a born criminal. How does a person become criminal then?
Poverty, corruption, flawed investigation, delay in the dispensation of justice, legal loopholes, religious bias and political patronisation are but a few of the reasons behind the spurt of criminalisation in our country. The government says that these extra-judicial killings are acts of self-defence of the law enforcers, who are forced to open fire -- not to kill, but to incapacitate them so that they can be caught and brought to justice.
We are aware that the right to recognition as a person before the law and to equal protection of the law -- besides rights to life, nationality, to own property, to get education, social security, liberty, and health, without any distinction of any kind such as race, colour, religion, sex and political opinion -- are enshrined in the Declaration of Human Rights.
The scope and definition of right to self-defence is not adequately clear. Governments over the years have maintained a prudent silence in providing clarification. It may be because governments intend to keep us in haze so that we do not knock the door of justice to seek redemption.
The government has been heard to be asking about the rights of those killed by the criminals. While free use of arms by anybody is opposed by most in no uncertain terms, it, of course, should not absolve the government of its responsibility to ensure justice and fair play by merely posing counter question. The government should be more up and about to bring them to justice instead of killing them.
Militant activities by criminals of all hues are on the rise. We must focus on the rise in criminalisation, and think dispassionately about how to address this nerve-wracking problem. If I were to be asked for suggestion to strike at the root of the growth of criminalisation, I would give topmost priority to good governance, quick dispensation of justice, freeing administration from the nagging political interference, decentralised planning, devolution of power and local participation in the implementation of development plans.
I would also suggest strengthening of local government, which may play a positive role in preventing the floating population from going to urban areas to stay in slums, which are breeding grounds of criminals. If the slum dwellers cannot be relocated to a reasonable housing areas, living conditions in slum must be improved and arrangement should be made to monitor the activities of the suspects.
NGO's engaged in the rural development should be advised to focus their attention to improve living conditions in the urban slums. Underprivileged children should be provided with appropriate vocation so that they do not fall easy prey to the criminals. Godfathers must be crushed regardless of their status and stature.
It is time we take a pledge to remove the ills that foster criminalisation, which is possible provided there is strong political commitment to uproot it through participation of all the people regardless of partly line, religion, language and power to influence. Sweeping powers should be used prudently, and their use should be probed to apportion blame so that whim does not replace justice.
Officials of the republic who violate human rights should be publicly prosecuted. An order for departmental probe and closing of alleged persons may, for a while, mute public rage but will cost dearly if the investigation records are shelved. Unfortunately, not a single major violation of human rights has been investigated into with the commitment to reveal the truth.
This probably is the reason that we see a spurt in both extra-judicial killing and murder of all sorts. It is noteworthy that awareness in this regard is on the rise, and our media is playing a salutary role in drawing attention of all concerned to seek accountability for extra-judicial killings, and in asking the government to bring the criminals to justice.

Z.A. Khan is a former Director General of BIISS.

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