Getting out of the extrajudicial mode
Of late, media reports that indicate that the infamous phenomenon of extrajudicial killings has been resorted to more by the mainstream police outfit than the elite unit of the law-enforcing apparatus should bring no comfort, and indeed should be viewed with concern. The explanation is quite simple: extrajudicial killing is admittedly an aberration in the law enforcement process because it is random in application and counterproductive. The fact that its ill effects undermine the norms and nuances of a rules-based society and seriously weaken the foundation of a democracy is a proven reality and cannot be lost on any discerning mind.
If we venture into the Bangladesh perspective, the disturbing scale of extrajudicial killings with the alleged blessings and encouragement of the establishment became an uncomfortable reality to live by in 2002-2003, when the controversial "Operation Clean Heart" led to at least 46 extrajudicial killings by law enforcement officials.
To further confound matters and to the dismay of human rights activists and civil liberty defenders, the culprits behind such blatant illegalities were blessed with immunity from criminal prosecution, made possible due to official patronage. This was quite clearly a significant signal to law enforcers, particularly the errant ones, that legality in law enforcement actions could be thrown to the wind, and punishment for the wrongdoers and the delinquents could be waived, as long as the political executives could be kept satisfied.
The first casualty of such a tactic was the lamentable lack of interest in the criminal investigation, as is stipulated in the time-honoured and tested procedural legislation and the police regulation. To somehow do away with the criminals without them being subjected to the due legal process became the preferred modus operandi. Desperate law enforcers and myopic politicians colluded in eroding the trust reposed in the propriety of the investigative organ of the state. As far as the figures of extrajudicial killings of the immediate past and yesteryears are concerned, they clearly stand out as an elegy of pensive statistics.
Experience would suggest that the antidote to extrajudicial killings has to largely come from the judiciary—particularly the apex body. As far as the legislature is concerned, serious thoughts should be given to the amendment to the Evidence Act. This amendment ensures that in prosecution of a law enforcement member for an alleged offence of causing bodily injury or death of a person while in police custody or control, if there is evidence that the injury or death was caused during the period when the person was in police custody, the court may presume that the injury or death was caused by the said law enforcement member, having custody of that person during that period, unless the accused proves to the contrary.
The Supreme Court, through selective activism, has to come down heavily on police matters. This is obvious because the manner of functioning of the police and the role of the Supreme Court, vis-a-vis individuals' rights as incorporated in the constitution, sharply interact with one another. However, much of the improvement has to come from within the police department.
Police officers themselves have to understand that the practice of breaking law in the name of law enforcement is unacceptable and has no place in a democratic society governed by the rule of law. It has to be realised that order maintained by repression and criminality is the ultimate disorder.
Appropriate training in human rights principles can have an elevating impact. However, the principles and standards of correct practice taught during training have to be sustained by an appropriate organisational culture that lays stress on promotion and protection of human rights. Constant supervision and unswerving adherence to human rights norms by senior officers is necessary to build up such an organisational ethos and make policing ethical, lawful and humane.
The need is to insulate the police from extraneous pressures, and yet make it accountable to the public. A neutral and non-political police can perform their duties in an efficient manner and function as powerful protectors of human rights. This warrants political will and commitment, and also strong public pressure on the government to bring about systemic reforms in police.
Muhammad Nurul Huda is a former IGP of Bangladesh Police.