To this writer the expression “extra-judicial killing” is an apt illustration of the term “oxymoron”— that is, words put together which contradict each other. The expression has most likely been coined by journalists, and perhaps social scientists and rights activists, and curiously is not found in the legal lexicon. One could ask if there is actually anything like a judicial killing and if not, how could there be sense or meaning in the expression “extra-judicial killing”?
It would appear that the term “extra-judicial killing” tends to create confusion because being judicial means acting impartially and exercising due diligence, following the correct process of the law. Therefore, while acting judicially one cannot kill, and additionally the “extra” prefix, meaning going beyond the scope simply does not arise.
It is time, therefore, to ensure the discontinuance of the term “extra-judicial killing” to ensure clarity and to perhaps avoid inadvertent smearing of a vital organ of the state. Our judiciary and activists of the Bar may like to ponder over the issue.
Coming to the subject of so-called “extra-judicial killings,” it needs to be continuously stressed that such actions negate the very basis of civilised existence and we should not even temporarily accord approval to such misdeeds however urgent it may appear in certain public exigencies.
Efforts to study the malady of extra-judicial killing would reveal that otherwise sensible public leaders have often appreciated the usefulness of such killings by decrying the failure of the criminal justice system to punish inveterate criminals and bring relief to the suffering public.
The dilemma of our socio-political existence is brought home by the reality that while those wishing to see the effective writ of the rule of law are continuously pointing to the un-tenability of extra-judicial deaths as an acceptable socio-legal response, there is no dearth of supporters or admirers of such apparently abominable method. Random eliciting of opinions by newspapers has shown that a large majority of people entertain the view that the deplorable slide in law and order situation can gradually be stalled by resorting to extra-judicial killings.
So, it is time to do some serious introspection and find out as to how have we arrived at such a lugubrious scenario? The seriousness of the matter is warranted by the fact that if extra-judicial killings succeed in even implicitly acquiring the seal of approval then there remains no justification for maintaining and supporting a justice system at public expense. The question becomes how low shall we stoop and offend the democratic sensibilities?
It needs to be impressed once again that the practice of breaking the law in the name of law enforcement is totally unacceptable and intolerable and has no place in a democratic society governed by the rule of law. It is objectionable because it is arbitrary as a process and random in its effects. A democratic polity venturing to maintain order by repression and criminality is actually creating ultimate disorder because in so doing it creates a link between social order and atrocities.
Law enforcement is a field of activity in which interaction between the world of the powerful and the world of the powerless are manifested. Hence, we have to ensure that law enforcement emphasises principles of purpose and principles of values. We must come out of the degrading thought that those who cannot be taken care of within the ambit of law have to be dealt with through means beyond the law.
What we need is adequate provision of witness protection and victim support in the criminal justice administration. To make those effective we need large injection of governmental funds. Any further delay will only swell the ranks of summary-justice seekers and the admirers of vigilante action. The miseries of the victims of crime demand mainstream support of the system.
The rule of law and criminal jurisprudence may appear to be unequivocally in favour of the offenders, the criminals, the law-breakers, the accused persons. That does not automatically give a license to resort to illegal measures because a civilised government must earnestly strive to demonstrate that law-enforcement effectiveness and civil liberties can co-exist in a society governed by the rule of law.
Muhammad Nurul Huda is a former IGP and a columnist at The Daily Star.