Crossfire killings | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, August 26, 2015 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, August 26, 2015


Crossfire killings

Of late, an influen-tial ruling party MP has registered his contempt for the latest rounds of extra-judicial killings by the RAB in Bangladesh. Although it is evident from his statement that he is angry with the paramilitary outfit only because it has started killing ruling party “activists”, yet one may congratulate the MP for speaking up against extra-judicial killings. Better late than never! 

Civilised human beings everywhere consider extra-judicial killing inhumane, barbaric, and a relic of the pre-modern past. No democracy can allow this barbarism in any name or excuse. Interestingly, while the police in Britain, Australia and New Zealand either carry no firearms, or when they carry them, they keep them hidden from public view, one senior Bangladeshi police officer stated publicly early this year, “The government has armed the police not to play kabaddi with them,” but to use them, he implied. This lack of respect for human life is an important factor behind all extra-judicial killings by law-enforcers in Bangladesh.

It is sad that law-enforcing agencies, which are maintained with taxpayers' money, have been engaged in extra-judicial or illegal killing of civilians with impunity. It is even sadder that initially Bangladeshis across the board started congratulating the RAB for killing hardcore criminals – mainly killers, muggers and extortionists – in dubious “encounters” or “cross-fires”. 

The saddest part of the story is that hardly anybody in Bangladesh, who is influential enough to change and modify government policies, has come forward to stop this barbaric system of killing criminals and suspects, without giving the victims the due process of law. Unfortunately, most members of the civil society, lawyers, religious leaders, lawmakers and politicians, professionals, traders, students and the hoi polloi in general have not come forward against these killings for the sake of upholding the sanctity of the rule of law, and independence of the judiciary.

Sadly, people across the board seem to have lost faith in the efficiency, honesty and integrity of law-enforcers. This is ominous. The upshot is the least desirable mass acceptance of extra-judicial killings among every section of the population in the country. People only grumble when their own kith and kin or party members fall victim to “cross-firing”, as the ruling party MP is doing today. It is noteworthy that the average Bangladeshi knows what the expression “cross-fire” implies. Nobody in Bangladesh seems to be convinced by the stories one reads in the newspaper about so-called “cross-fire” incidents. Hence the use of inverted commas – as we see media doing so – before and after the expression! 

It seems, while the people, media, and government agencies are busy playing a cynical hide-and-seek game with each other by tossing the stories of “cross-fire” in the air, the  world looks at Bangladesh with total dismay and disbelief. The UN, human rights organisations, governments and individuals in various countries are worried about the state of affairs in Bangladesh. While others worry about the violations of human rights in the country by law-enforcers, some Bangladeshis seem to be blindly following the Machiavellian dictum: “End justifies means”. How long this expediency will sustain, is the question!

What even many highly educated people do not realise is that the combination of strong and overpowering government machinery with weak, vulnerable and powerless people does not signify the strength of a country. This happens in colonial setups and where there is an erosion of democracy. And Bangladeshis cannot forget that they achieved their independence in the name of overthrowing the overpowering influence of the military and law-enforcers, through democracy and the rule of law. While the creation of the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) without strengthening democratic institutions and the judiciary in 2004 was an imprudent, shortsighted measure, empowering this law-enforcing agency to engage in extra-judicial killings is simply a gross violation of the Constitution. Unfortunately, the successive governments since 2007 have not stopped the extra-judicial killings.

Interestingly, the rationales for special guards and police forces have always been maintaining “law and order” and ensuring “crime free” societies. And eventually, the thin line between criminals and political dissidents disappears without being noticed by anybody. 

This, however, does not mean that I am comparing the RAB with special guards and secret police of yesteryears. What I imply here is: there is an inherent danger in empowering any law-enforcing agency with extra-judicial power and authority to kill hardcore killers and criminals. Extraordinary extra-judicial power to kill criminals with impunity often backfires. As now we know, the  many suspects and even innocent people have been killed in the name of “cross-fire”. Most importantly, there are examples of Special Forces turning into extortionists and criminal gangs themselves in various countries. 

Although some democratic countries around Bangladesh also condone extra-judicial killings by law-enforcers through so-called “encounters”, Bangladesh has no reason to consider them its role models. Since the “Spirit of Liberation” of Bangladesh was all about ensuring the freedom from fear, hunger, extortion, injustice and unaccountable governance, there is no room for any extra-judicial killing and military rule in the country. Any extra-judicial killing, irrespective of the victim's race, religion, criminal background or political affiliation, is an affront to the Constitution and the spirit of Bangladesh. 

Since torture, death penalty and extra-judicial killings are not antidotes to violent crimes like murder and rape, extortion and sedition, there is no room for “end justifies means” type Machiavellian thoughts. Those having a soft corner for extra-judicial killings must realize that the democratic world is fast abolishing death penalty as a mode of punishment for criminals. Human rights activists in general even consider death penalty as “judicial murder”. In sum, every life matters, and an extra-judicial killing is an extra-judicial killing -- immoral, inhumane and unconstitutional.

The writer teaches security studies at Austin Peay State University. Sage has recently published his latest book, Global Jihad and America: The Hundred-Year War Beyond Iraq and Afghanistan. 

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