A country’s justice system has the responsibility to lawfully try any person accused of a crime, not the law enforcement. A person charged with an offence is supposed to be tried by the court of law until he is sentenced or set free. The law enforcers are only to identify the accused and work to bring him under the purview of justice. They do so to protect the rights and liberties of the citizens. But when the protectors act beyond their powers, it severely hampers the rule of law and the course of justice.
The killing of an offender, who has not undergone the judicial process, by a law enforcer, or “extrajudicial killing”, is illegal in every aspect. It violates the Constitution and cannot be justified even if the accused was involved in the most heinous crime.
In Bangladesh, extrajudicial killings usually go by the name of “crossfire” or “shootout” which is self-explanatory. The description of “crossfire” may have, at first, seemed “realistic” or somewhat plausible; but the frequency with which extrajudicial killings have been taking place in recent times, goes to show that there is reason to be concerned. Usually at a shootout, the possibility of casualties in both parties is high. But what’s surprising is that in the country, it is the suspect that ends up getting killed almost every time. The lack of information and transparency surrounding these killings compounds the problem. According to rights group Ain O Salish Kendra, a record 466 people were killed via extrajudicial means last year. This presents an extremely bleak picture of human rights in the country.
Recently, a man named Nayan Bond was killed in a “gunfight”. Nayan Bond was the prime suspect of the Rifat Sharif murder case that shocked us all. Everyone now knows about the horrific video that circulated around Facebook, which shows Rifat Sharif being brutally stabbed by a group of men, in broad daylight, on June 26. The video provided clear and strong evidence of Nayan’s involvement in the killing. While the video and Rifat’s cruel death were the talk of the town and people were eagerly waiting for the law enforcement agencies to arrest all the suspects, out of the blue, Nayan Bond was found dead after a gunfight took place between him and the police. News reports confirmed the death of Nayan in Barguna Sadar Upazila after a raid conducted by the police. According to the police, Nayan’s accomplices opened fire at them resulting in them retaliating. The accomplices fled the scene leaving a wounded Nayan beside the Payra River.
A surge of mixed reactions from the citizens flooded social media sites, where some people were seen praising the act. They believe a murderer like him deserved it. Are their reactions rational? Yes, to an extent, since the rage they’re feeling is still fresh. But emotions can never fully justify an extrajudicial killing. If all accused persons were given such punishment for their misdeeds, then society would collapse.
Article 31 of the Constitution of Bangladesh states: “To enjoy the protection of law, and to be treated in accordance with law, is the absolute right of every citizen, wherever he may be, and of every other person for the time being within Bangladesh, and in particular no action unfavourable to the life, liberty, body, reputation or property of any person shall be taken except in accordance with law.” When the Constitution itself promotes the safeguarding of life and liberty of the citizens, how can the action of the protectors of the law be contradictory? Isn’t the Constitution the law of the land that all governments and institutions must abide by? The Constitution is the supreme authority which demands that governments do their best to uphold citizens’ fundamental rights. And extrajudicial killings violate the fundamental right to life and liberty.
Extrajudicial killings are condemned all over the world by various human rights groups, such as Amnesty International. The UN also regularly monitors such cases through the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).
Extrajudicial killings are an example of usurpation of the rule of law and a total mockery of the criminal justice system. Recent statistics by local rights organisations show how the situation has deteriorated ever since the drive against drug peddlers began last year: “at least 292 people were killed in ‘shootouts’ with law enforcers till December 30, 2018.” Bringing extrajudicial killings to a halt is a necessity for good governance. If people continue to be deprived of all judicial proceedings and killed in “gunfights” and “shootouts”, people’s reliance and trust in the justice system can never be restored.
Aiman R Khan is an advocate at Dhaka Judge Court.
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