Appendix II: Open letters on Bangladesh to UN agencies by the AHRC

1. Failure to separate judiciary and executive makes Bangladesh unsuitable for UN Human Rights Council

August 3, 2006
AHRC-OL-038-2006

Luis Alfonso de Alba
President
UN Human Rights Council
c/o OHCHR-UNOG
8-14 Avenue de la Paix
1211 Geneva 10
SWITZERLAND

Fax:  +41 22 917 9012
Dear Mr de Alba

BANGLADESH: Failure to separate judiciary and executive makes Bangladesh unsuitable for UN Human Rights Council

This is the first of five open letters that the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) feels compelled to write to the UN Human Rights Council concerning the horrible human rights situation in Bangladesh, and its causes. We are doing this as we are deeply concerned for the integrity and credibility of the Council if Bangladesh is permitted to sit as a member for the coming three years as intended.

In this first letter we wish to refer the Council to the seventeenth voluntary pledge given by the Government of Bangladesh in its aide memoire of 13 April 2006: “[To] separate the judiciary and executive as soon as feasible.”

The Government of Bangladesh finds it necessary to make this pledge as except for the higher judiciary, judges in Bangladesh are actually petty bureaucrats. In neither district courts or magistrates courts can there be anyone who can be properly called a judge. The same person will in the morning be a tax collector, in the afternoon a magistrate, and in the evening caretaker of a government property. The courts are in fact run by two to four government ministries and the so-called judges answer to all of these.

This overlap of functions is ruining Bangladesh. It denies all possibility of redress for victims of human rights abuse and guarantees impunity for alleged perpetrators. Magistrates and district judges are little more than the agents of whichever political party is in power at the time, and are completely compromised where the accused are police or other state officers. And as all criminal cases must first go through magistrates, they act as an enormous obstacle to countless legitimate complaints of abuse. Even where a case may be heard and in some instances a judicial probe commission is ordered invariably the end result is nothing.

Take the case of Shahin Sultana Santa, a pregnant woman who was brutally tortured by police in Dhaka on 12 March 2006, causing her to miscarry her child. After she made a complaint, the magistrate ordered a probe commission to follow the case. It concluded that the police had committed an offence. But the magistrate, apparently acting under pressure from other parts of government, decided that as there was not enough evidence of some allegations the entire case should be thrown out. Santa has now lodged a writ in the High Court. Like many others, she has not bothered to seek a review of the case at the district level, knowing that it would lead to nothing. Unlike most others, she has the means to be able to approach the higher judiciary in the hope that it alone can offer some form of redress.

The Government of Bangladesh says in another part of its submission for a seat on the UN Human Rights Council that, “The Separation of the Judiciary from the Executive is currently under active process.” What does this mean? When is “as soon as feasible”? The Council members may be unaware that this so-called process has been “active” for the last 15 years. In 1991 the Bangladesh National Party (BNP) promised to separate the judiciary from the executive after the country emerged from nine years of military rule. All major parties made the same commitment at the 1996 elections, but the Awami League, which won, did not bother to make good on its promise throughout its five years in office. This was despite a Supreme Court order in 1999 to the same effect. A caretaker government in 2001 began work, but was advised to leave it for an elected government. The political paddle wheel brought the BNP back into office again with a strong pledge to make the judiciary separate from other parts of government. Needless to say, its five years are also nearly up and virtually no progress has been made. In fact, the administration has done all it can to resist reform: there have been over 23 requests for extension of time in response to the Supreme Court ruling. In 2005 the court finally ran out of patience and said that no more extensions will be given. What this means in real terms remains to be seen; however, contempt of court proceedings are underway.

The separation of judiciary and executive also depends upon the effective functioning of the prosecution. Unfortunately, this is an area that is completely unaddressed by the Government of Bangladesh in its pledges to the UN. At present, prosecutors across the country are replaced each time the major political parties switch places. Many of these political appointees are incompetents, or worse, clever manipulators. Until the prosecution also is reformed to stop its abuse by politicians, talk of an independent judiciary will anyhow remain of limited value.

The AHRC seriously doubts the pledge of the Government of Bangladesh to separate the judiciary and executive. Had the government been sincere about this commitment, it could have begun work years ago, and by now been well upon the way to completing the necessary steps for independent courts of justice in all parts of Bangladesh. Unfortunately, untold numbers of victims like Shahin Sultana Santa are up to today continuing to suffer injustice heaped upon abuse by the country’s so-called magistrates. For those persons “as soon as feasible” cannot come soon enough; for many, it is already too late.

The fifth pledge given to the UN Human Rights Council by the Government of Bangladesh is: “[To] remain prepared to be reviewed under the universal periodic review mechanism during its tenure in the Council”. The Asian Human Rights Commission now urges the Council to call on that pledge, and review the status of Bangladesh as a member of the Council as soon as the means is established to do so. The failure of the government in its commitment to separate the judiciary and executive is a failure of unestimable proportions. It is daily causing misery to the people of Bangladesh and undermining their confidence in all aspects of administration and justice in their country. It is denying the possibility of respect for all human rights. It is the characteristic not of a country that wishes to join the global community in a new movement for human rights into the 21st century, but rather the characteristic of a primitive society that is still unable to move itself beyond feudal notions of power and violence.

I request that your office transmit this letter to all members of the Council for their consideration.

Yours sincerely

Basil Fernando
Executive Director
Asian Human Rights Commission, Hong Kong

2. Failure to criminalise torture makes Bangladesh unsuitable for UN Human Rights Council

August 4, 2006
AHRC-OL-039-2006

Luis Alfonso de Alba
President
UN Human Rights Council
c/o OHCHR-UNOG
8-14 Avenue de la Paix
1211 Geneva 10
SWITZERLAND

Fax:  +41 22 917 9012
Dear Mr de Alba

BANGLADESH: Failure to criminalise torture makes Bangladesh unsuitable for UN Human Rights Council

This is the second of five open letters that the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) feels compelled to write to the UN Human Rights Council regarding the horrible human rights situation in Bangladesh, and its causes. We are doing this as we are deeply concerned for the integrity and credibility of the Council if Bangladesh is permitted to sit as a member for the coming three years as intended.

In our first letter we pointed to the failure of the Government of Bangladesh to separate the judiciary and executive, despite 15 years of promises to do so, and the consequent denial of redress for victims of rights abuses there.

In our second letter we take up the failure of the government to criminalise torture, and the unnecessary suffering that this imposes upon the many victims of cruel and inhuman treatment and torture by the police and other security forces in Bangladesh.

In its 13 April 2006 statement to the UN in advance of getting a seat on the new Human Rights Council, the Government of Bangladesh made a lot of boasts about its adherence to international instruments and institutions. It pointed out that it is a party to “more than 18 international human rights instruments”, including the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

However, as the AHRC has consistently pointed out, the value of joining an international treaty lies only in its being implemented locally. And where this is concerned, the Government of Bangladesh is a human rights failure. What it did not recall in its proud statement was that it ratified the Convention with a reservation on article 14(1). That article is an integral part of the Convention, guaranteeing victims the legally-enforcable right of redress, rehabilitation and compensation. By reserving the article, the government in effect quietly negated the value of the treaty. Not surprisingly, a number of states objected to this action, questioning whether or not the Government of Bangladesh has any real commitment to its provisions.

Since ratifying the Convention against Torture, the Government of Bangladesh has proven that it did so without sincerity. In spite of joining the treaty and having a consitutional provision prohibiting torture, it has taken no steps to criminalise torture or amend domestic laws to give access to remedies, rehabilitation or compensation for victims. This is despite the key General Recommendation of the UN Special Rapporteur on the question of torture that, “Torture should be designated and defined as a specific crime of the utmost gravity in national legislation… the enactment of such legislation should be made a priority”. As a result, the Convention is so far meaningless to the people of Bangladesh.

Take the case of Rashida Khatun, a family planning officer who on 8 June 2006 visited the office of the Satkhira police chief on behalf of a relative. She was brutally assaulted in the chief’s personal office by another officer, using a waist belt and stick. She was rescued, bruised and bleeding all over, by a nearby shopkeeper who heard her cries and dared to intervene. However, when she was taken to hospital, a doctor twice refused to admit her and gave her only some outpatient treatment, due to influence of the police. The police also allegedly removed the medical records so that when she lodged a criminal complaint they could not be used as evidence. The local magistrate on June 26 ordered an inquiry, which is due to be completed; however, these rarely result in any action against police officers. Meanwhile, the victim has been constantly threatened by the police, who have all continued in their posts.

The story of Rashida Khatun is the story of countless victims of torture and cruel and inhuman treatment all over Bangladesh. Without legal provisions to enact the Convention against Torture, there is no special category of complaint for when they are brutalised by police or other state agents. Without arrangements for medical intervention in cases of torture, there is no easy way to get treatment for the suffering caused. Without an independent judiciary, there is little chance to obtain a judgment that will hold the perpetrators responsible. Without any programme to protect witnesses or victims, they are at the mercy of the same powerful people responsible for their misery and degradation.  Without all of these, the Government of Bangladesh has utterly failed in its obligations under the Convention.

The AHRC seriously doubts that the Government of Bangladesh has any intention to implement the Convention against Torture. Had the government been sincere in ratifying the Convention, it could have begun work years ago, and by now have had in place many measures which would ameliorate the worst effects of torture and reduce its incidence across the country. Instead, the police and other personnel continue to enjoy virtual impunity for whatever horrors they commit upon the people under their jurisdiction. As a result, untold numbers of victims like Rashida Khatun are up to today continuing to suffer injustice heaped upon abuse by the country’s so-called justice system, unable to find the avenues and means to obtain redress, rehabilitation or compensation.

The Government of Bangladesh has pledged that it would “remain prepared to be reviewed under the universal periodic review mechanism during its tenure in the Council”. The Asian Human Rights Commission again urges the Council to call on that pledge, and review the status of Bangladesh as a member of the Council as soon as the means is established to do so.  The failure of the government to give meaning to the Convention against Torture, not to mention a host of other international treaties to which it is ostensibly a party, is unconscionable. It is daily causing misery to the people of Bangladesh and further eroding their confidence in policing and all aspects of administration and justice in their country. It is the characteristic not of a country that deserves a seat on the Human Rights Council, but rather the characteristic of a bloody society ruled by feudal lords who are disguised as political party leaders, and a society terrorised by their minions, who are disguised as police, prosecutors and other state functionaries.

I request that your office transmit this letter to all members of the Council for their consideration.

Yours sincerely

Basil Fernando
Executive Director
Asian Human Rights Commission, Hong Kong

3. Failure to stop extrajudicial killings makes Bangladesh unsuitable for UN Human Rights Council

August 7, 2006
AHRC-OL-040-2006

Luis Alfonso de Alba
President
UN Human Rights Council
c/o OHCHR-UNOG
8-14 Avenue de la Paix
1211 Geneva 10
SWITZERLAND

Fax:  +41 22 917 9012
Dear Mr de Alba

BANGLADESH: Failure to stop extrajudicial killings makes Bangladesh unsuitable for UN Human Rights Council

This is the third of five open letters that the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) feels compelled to write to the UN Human Rights Council about the horrible human rights situation in Bangladesh, and its causes. We are doing this as we are deeply concerned for the integrity and credibility of the Council if Bangladesh is permitted to sit as a member for the coming three years as intended.

In our first letter we pointed to the failure of the Government of Bangladesh to separate the judiciary and executive, despite 15 years of promises to do so, and the consequent denial of redress for victims of rights abuses there. In our second letter we took up the failure of the government to criminalise torture, and the unnecessary suffering that this imposes upon the many victims of cruel and inhuman treatment and torture by the police and other security forces in Bangladesh.

In our third letter we wish to raise the unabated extrajudicial killings committed by the police and special paramilitary units throughout Bangladesh, and the practice of granting impunity to state officers who commit murder.

As noted in our previous letter, the Government of Bangladesh has bragged to the UN about its joining many international human rights treaties. Among these, the first on its list is the Convenant on Civil and Political Rights. Among the rights enshrined in the Covenant, none is more valuable than the right to life: and yet, in recent years the state security forces in Bangladesh have spread terror throughout the country by murdering an ever-increasing number of people without fear of consequences. The government for its part has sanctioned, enabled and encouraged these killings apparently without fear of sanction from the international community.

In 2002 the Government of Bangladesh launched the notorious Operation Clean Heart. Ostensibly to crackdown on crime, the operation resulted in the arrest of thousands of poor and innocent persons, and the deaths of many in a term that has since become chillingly familiar to people throughout the country: “crossfire”. This term is used to describe an extrajudicial killing which is organised by the police or other officers to look like an encounter killing with armed bandits or other persons. In 2003, the government granted absolute impunity to all of the police and other state agents responsible for killings, assaults, illegal arrests throughout Clean Heart: an action that was condemned by the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions. By 2004, the operation had spawned a body of paramilitary units called Rapid Action Battalions, comprised of both police and soldiers. The name “Rapid Action Battalion” is now synonymous with “crossfire”: these units are deployed across the country without any other agenda than to do the bidding of their political masters. They kill, maim, illegally detain and spread fear wherever they go.

Take the case of Harun-ur-Rashid and Aslam Hossain, who were arrested by the Rapid Action Battalion in Dhaka on 14 July 2006. They were handed over to another unit in Jessore and on July 16 were killed in “crossfire”. In a familiar story, the unit responsible said that the two men had admitted to keeping illegal arms at places outside the town. In the early morning of July 16 they had taken the two men to two different places to obtain two caches of weapons where in two different incidents they had had two encounters with the two men’s associates, twice had returned fire and each of the victims had died in turn when he attempted to flee. Other sources have alleged that the battalion had been bargaining with the relatives of the two men in exchange for their lives but the families had been unable or unwilling to produce enough money and so they were killed.

Multitudes have been murdered, without possibility of complaint or redress, in the same pattern: arrest, obtain “information” about illegal arms or other wrongdoing at a certain location; go to the place; meet bandits or insurgents; victim flees and happens to be shot dead in crossfire. Some token illegal weapons or other evidence is “retrieved” to prove the case. End of story.

The Rapid Action Battalions are in effect an admission by the Government of Bangladesh that under its administration, the rule of law–to whatever extent it once existed–has collapsed. But in response, rather than try to probe the causes for that collapse and seriously address the institutional problems one at a time, the state has instead chosen to respond to lawlessness with lawlessness. The consequence is further death and distress for the people of Bangladesh, and further decline in public confidence or expectations in the rule of law and human rights there.

The AHRC seriously doubts that the Government of Bangladesh has any interest to uphold the right to life as it has committed to do in accordance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Had it any intention to do so, it would not have indemnified the perpetrators of gross abuses in 2002 from wrongdoing. It also would not have followed the bloody Clean Heart operation with the Rapid Action Battalions, which have spread confusion and mayhem to all corners of the country and have tipped off a killing contest with the regular armed police. As a result, untold numbers of victims like Harun-ur-Rashid and Aslam Hossain are daily being slain while their families, rather than struggling for justice, are cowed and reluctant to complain about their deaths, knowing the power of the perpetrators and the patent inability of the executive-controlled judiciary to afford them any redress.

The Government of Bangladesh has pledged that it would “remain prepared to be reviewed under the universal periodic review mechanism during its tenure in the Council”. The Asian Human Rights Commission for a third time urges the Council to call on that pledge, and review the status of Bangladesh as a member of the Council as soon as the means is established to do so. The failure of the government to address the wanton extrajudicial killings that it has provoked is inexcusable. It is daily causing misery to the people of Bangladesh and further eroding their confidence in all aspects of administration and justice in their country. It is the characteristic not of a country that deserves to be lauded for its human rights commitments but rather the characteristic of country that is a human rights charlatan. The people of Bangladesh know this. It is time that the international community woke up to the same truth.

I request that your office transmit this letter to all members of the Council for their consideration.

Yours sincerely

Basil Fernando
Executive Director
Asian Human Rights Commission, Hong Kong

4. Failure to address rampant corruption makes Bangladesh unsuitable for UN Human Rights Council

August 8, 2006
AHRC-OL-041-2006

Luis Alfonso de Alba
President
UN Human Rights Council
c/o OHCHR-UNOG
8-14 Avenue de la Paix
1211 Geneva 10
SWITZERLAND

Fax:  +41 22 917 9012
Dear Mr de Alba

BANGLADESH: Failure to address rampant corruption makes Bangladesh unsuitable for UN Human Rights Council

This is the fourth of five open letters that the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) feels compelled to write to the UN Human Rights Council on the horrible human rights situation in Bangladesh, and its causes. As noted, we are doing this as we are deeply concerned for the integrity and credibility of the Council if Bangladesh is permitted to sit as a member for the coming three years as intended.

In our first, second and third letters we wrote about the failures of the Government of Bangladesh to address torture and extrajudicial killings, and to make the country’s judiciary independent.

In our fourth letter we draw attention to the rampant corruption for which Bangladesh is infamous and its consequences for human rights and the rule of law there.

In its 13 April 2006 statement to the UN in advance of getting a seat on the Human Rights Council, the Government of Bangladesh said that it “is committed to its fight against corruption”. It pointed out that an ostensibly independent Anti-Corruption Commission has been established under a new law, which can initiate investigations and legal action at will. It pledged to “continue to ensure [its] independence”.

As in virtually every other remark made by the Government of Bangladesh with the purpose of seeing itself elected to the Council, these self-congratulatory words fall far from reality. In fact, the anti-corruption commission has been hamstrung by the government due to problems in its establishment and a lack of working arrangements and resources. Previously there was a failed anti-corruption bureau under the home affairs ministry. Although this bureau was abolished under the new law, its staff were to be absorbed into the new commission; additionally, the secretary of the commission is a bureaucrat transferred from another part of government, raising questions about its “independence” and the integrity of its personnel. Although it is reported that the bureau staff were not later hired by the commission, the decision to take them on deeply damaged its credibility. And from the start also there have been arguments over the size and structure of the commission which remain unresolved. Furthermore, as yet there are no rules of business for the commission–a responsibility of the law ministry–without which it is unable to function properly. As a result, to date the commission is not known to have completed a single investigation, and no one has been charged or punished for corruption as a result of its work.

The anti-corruption commission has so far proven unable to diminish corruption in Bangladesh despite the country being among the most corrupt in the world. Corruption is a part of nearly every government or official transaction in Bangladesh, especially where policing agencies are involved. Transparency International has for some five consecutive years named Bangladesh the most corrupt country in the world. A minister who was identified as presiding over the most corrupt part of civil administration reportedly responded by calling for the researchers and abusing them.

In our previous letter, the AHRC described how two men arrested by the Rapid Action Battalion were killed after their families allegedly failed to produce enough money in exchange for their lives. By way of another example, on 27 June 2005 Abdur Razzak died in Bogra jail after allegedly after being denied medical treatment because his mother could not raise sufficient money for the prison doctor. When she learnt that he had not treated her son despite getting a bribe, Razzak’s mother complained to the authorities, who allegedly responded by ordering a group of prisoners to beat Razzak to within an inch of his life. He subsequently died.

Corruption in Bangladesh is sometimes a matter of life and death, as in these instances, but more often than not is part of a daily struggle for the ordinary person, steadily grinding down public confidence in the role of the state and its institutions. There is a widespread loss of faith in any kind of decent or rational behaviour by officials. When money-motivated police officers and petty bureaucrats constantly interfere in the day-to-day activities of people throughout the country, the making of a successful venture for social improvement is impossible. Corruption kills initiative. All strategies are warped by its presence. Qualified people with hopes for the future find no prospects in Bangladesh and move abroad. Those who are determined to be successful at home must learn to accommodate and manipulate corrupt police, prosecutors, politicians and officials. Ordinary persons with fewer choices go about their lives in an effort to attract minimum attention and avoid the possible negative consequences.

The AHRC seriously doubts that the Government of Bangladesh has any serious intentions to address corruption. Had it any intention to do so, by now the Independent Anti-corruption Commission would be a fully-functioning agency showing the necessary resolve to take hard steps and secure convictions: without which talk of anti-corruption efforts is all but meaningless. When the government of Hong Kong set up its own Independent Commission Against Corruption it provided it with the resources and guarantees that allowed it to launch intense investigations, arrests and prosecutions that within a few years completely transformed the bureaucratic and civic life in the territory. There is no evidence that Bangladesh’s new commission will be capable of doing anything of the same, or that it has any serious backing from the country’s political masters. As a result, the people of Bangladesh will continue to suffer from onerous and incessant demands that undermine both any prospects for enjoyment of human rights or the likelihood of national development any time soon.

The Asian Human Rights Commission has recalled that the Government of Bangladesh has pledged to “remain prepared to be reviewed under the universal periodic review mechanism during its tenure in the Council”. The AHRC for a fourth time urges the Council to call on that pledge, and review the status of Bangladesh as a member of the Council as soon as the means is established to do so. The failure of the government to address the corruption that is suffocating its people is intolerable. It is daily demoralising the people of Bangladesh to the point of no return. It is the characteristic not of a country that is moving forward into the 21st century with legitimate aspirations for its people but one that is being dragged backwards and downwards by the unbearable demands from layer upon layer of insatiable police, paramilitaries, prosecutors and administrators.

I request that your office transmit this letter to all members of the Council for their consideration.

Yours sincerely

Basil Fernando
Executive Director
Asian Human Rights Commission, Hong Kong

5. Failure to establish National Human Rights Commission makes Bangladesh unsuitable for UN Human Rights Council

August 9, 2006
AHRC-OL-042-2006

Luis Alfonso de Alba
President
UN Human Rights Council
c/o OHCHR-UNOG
8-14 Avenue de la Paix
1211 Geneva 10
SWITZERLAND

Fax:  +41 22 917 9012
Dear Mr de Alba

BANGLADESH: Failure to establish National Human Rights Commission makes Bangladesh unsuitable for UN Human Rights Council

This is the last in a series of five open letters that the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has felt compelled to write to the UN Human Rights Council over the horrible human rights situation in Bangladesh, and its causes. As we have noted throughout, we are doing this as we are deeply concerned for the integrity and credibility of the Council if Bangladesh is permitted to sit as a member for the coming three years as intended.

In the previous four letters we wrote about the failures of the Government of Bangladesh to address widespread and institutionalised torture, extrajudicial killings and corruption, and to make the country’s judiciary independent of the executive.

In our fifth and final letter for now, the AHRC wishes to speak on the sixteenth pledge of the Government of Bangladesh for its seat on the UN Human Rights Council, that it would “establish the National Human Rights Commission as soon as possible”.

It is widely recognised that a national human rights institution set up in accordance with the UN-endorsed Paris Principles is not a panacea for human rights problems, and is no substitute for effectively functioning courts and investigating agencies. However, it is also acknowledged that many have played a positive role at one time or another in contributing to a dialogue on human rights and have had some good–albeit limited–effect on other national institutions.

For these reasons, it could be expected that the Government of Bangladesh, which is keen to show off its supposed human rights credentials at international events, would set up a commission as soon as possible. In fact, elsewhere in its April statement, the government says that, “Much work in this regard has already been done and the Commission is expected to be functional soon.”

What does this mean? The AHRC is aware that the Government of Bangladesh had received international funding for its now defunct project to establish the National Human Rights Commission. What it has to show for that funding is less evident. The project itself was in its final days run by a retired national police chief, a fact omitted from the enthusiastic statements about the seemingly imminent commission referred to in the delegation’s statement. How a police officer could be responsible for the establishment of a nationwide human rights body has not yet been explained. Perhaps the Government of Bangladesh is getting lessons from neighbouring Myanmar, where an army general–who is also a government minister   –heads a bizarre human rights committee that at one time was intended as the precursor to a fictional human rights commission under management of the country’s military regime.

A quick examination of documents from various UN bodies also reveals how representatives of the Government of Bangladesh have for years lied about the intention to set up a human rights commission “soon”, such as before treaty bodies, including the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination in 2001 [CERD/C/SR.1458] and the Committee on the Rights of the Child in 1997 [CRC/C/SR.381], and the Third Committee of the 51st General Assembly in 1996.

The AHRC seriously doubts that the Government of Bangladesh has any real intentions to set up a working National Human Rights Commission. This is self evident. The government has had over five years and lots of foreign funding with which to complete its so-called project and start the real work of the commission. Instead there is nothing but a few token gestures to show for this. There are no discussions going on with human rights groups in the country, or with concerned journalists and lawyers or other professionals to suggest that there is any actual activity that will lead to the establishment of this much-talked about body any time soon. As a result, the people of Bangladesh will continue to lack the opportunities that may be afforded them through a national agency for human rights to at least have their grievances heard and perhaps investigated where other agencies have failed to do this much.

The Asian Human Rights Commission has in its previous four letters recalled that the Government of Bangladesh has pledged to “remain prepared to be reviewed under the universal periodic review mechanism during its tenure in the Council”. For the fifth and final time for now the AHRC urges the Council to call on that pledge, and review the status of Bangladesh as a member of the Council as soon as the means is established to do so. The failure of the government to establish a National Human Rights Commission as promised is a shame upon it and a disappointment for its people. It is nothing more than a big joke on the international community, not least of all those countries that gave money and guidance, with goodwill and sincerity, expecting that it would materialise into something real and useful. Instead it has remained a deceptive mirage. This failure is the characteristic not of a country that is engaging in a global and national culture of human rights and prosperity but is rather the characteristic of a country that is being misguided by disinterested incompetents. It is also a country that is being represented abroad by ridiculous frauds who talk in circles and invent mythologies that have nothing to do with the lives and experiences of people in Bangladesh. We urge the international community not to be deceived.

I request that your office transmit this letter to all members of the Council for their consideration.

Yours sincerely

Basil Fernando
Executive Director
Asian Human Rights Commission, Hong Kong

6. Office of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights obliged to respond to rampant killings, torture and impunity in Bangladesh

August 10, 2006
AHRC-OL-044-2006

Ms Louise Arbour
High Commissioner for Human Rights
UN Human Rights Council
OHCHR-UNOG
8-14 Avenue de la Paix
1211 Geneva 10
SWITZERLAND

Fax:  +41 22 917-9012
Dear Ms Arbour

BANGLADESH: Office of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights obliged to respond to rampant killings, torture and impunity in Bangladesh

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) is writing to you today to draw the attention of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to the rampant and unrestrained abuses of human rights that are daily occurring in Bangladesh, contrary to the impression given by its government internationally, and to call for your intervention.

Over the past week, the AHRC has submitted a number of open letters to the new UN Human Rights Council to express our serious concern about the membership of Bangladesh. These letters have pointed to the failures of the government of Bangladesh to fulfil virtually any of the commitments given to UN rights agencies and its people over the last decade, including:

1. FAILURE to separate the lower judiciary from the executive, thereby denying the possibility of effective redress for any human rights abuses by the police, military and paramilitaries in Bangladesh;

2. FAILURE to criminalise torture in accordance with the UN Convention against Torture and Other, Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, to which it is a party;

3. FAILURE to end the policy of extrajudicial killing in “crossfires” during anti-crime and anti-terrorist operations;

4. FAILURE to address seriously the unparalleled level of corruption that is eroding every aspect of public and private life in the country; and,

5. FAILURE to introduce a national human rights institution in accordance with the UN-endorsed Paris Principles, despite having received outside funding and training for this purpose.

The consequences of these failures are self-evident. The AHRC has in this year alone documented and submitted to your office over 30 detailed cases of killing, torture, assault, arbitrary arrest and impunity in Bangladesh. In fact, we have received details of many more cases than we have submitted and at present cannot keep up with unceasing reports of gross abuses and collapsed rule of law reaching us from all parts of Bangladesh. These are also but a tiny fraction of the total number of such incidents occurring in the country.

The cases submitted to your office have involved not only individual victims but also in some instances large numbers of persons which should be of special concern to the global human rights movement. For instance, 20 people were killed, at least three allegedly tortured and ten women raped by state officers, while several hundred more were seriously wounded in Chapainawabganj after protests over rural electricity supply that were attacked by the police during February 2006. An executive probe commission established under intense public pressure has not led to any prosecutions of perpetrators. Subsequent protests calling for government action have again been violently attacked by the police. The AHRC has lodged details of these incidents with your office; however, it is not aware of any action forthcoming.

In fact, the consistent lack of a serious response from your office to the gross abuses that are occurring daily in Bangladesh, despite constant reporting and documentation by the AHRC and other rights groups, is of concern to us, and we feel it requires your immediate attention. We are not aware of any determined interventions by concerned UN officials and experts into the situation of human rights in Bangladesh. Nor are we aware of requests pending for visits by such persons. This must change.

We believe that it is imperative that your office take a much stronger position with regards to the killings, torture, rapes and other grave human rights violations to which the people of Bangladesh are daily subjected, while its government year after year reiterates promises to do this thing or that without ever being called to account or sanctioned by the international human rights community. In fact, you have both a legal and moral obligation to act in view of the government’s broken promises and outright lies, and their consequences. We believe that a firm and uncompromising position taken by the UN rights bodies on the appalling conditions in Bangladesh would have results.

Accordingly, we request that you communicate with the relevant staff and independent experts working through your office to see that commitments given by that country to treaty bodies and other agencies under your mandate are reviewed with a view to imposing sanctions on the government of Bangladesh through the UN Human Rights Council. We further request that these persons make visits to Bangladesh without delay to assess the situation themselves. Finally, we suggest that you consider proposing to establish a position of Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Bangladesh in order that the country can obtain the attention that it deserves.

We look forward to your intervention and await greater action from all UN rights agencies on the same.

Yours sincerely

Basil Fernando
Executive Director
Asian Human Rights Commission, Hong Kong

7. Urgent need for UN experts to visit and assess Bangladesh judiciary

August 11, 2006
AHRC-OL-045-2006

Leandro Despouy
Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers
Attn: Sonia Cronin
Room 3-060
OHCHR-UNOG
1211 Geneva 10
SWITZERLAND

Fax:  +41 22 917 9006
Dear Mr Despouy

BANGLADESH: Urgent need for UN experts to visit and assess Bangladesh judiciary

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) is writing to you today to request your serious attention to the non-independent lower judiciary of Bangladesh, and seek your active involvement in order to overcome persistent delays in separating the courts from other branches of government there.

As you may be aware, on August 3 the AHRC wrote the first of five letters to the UN Human Rights Council articulating reasons for which Bangladesh’s membership should be subject to review. That first letter specifically turned its attention to the failure of the government of Bangladesh to separate its magistrates and district court judges from the executive branch, as it has promised for the last 15 years. Even a 1999 Supreme Court order that the government make good on its promises to cut loose the lower judiciary has so far come to nothing.

All judges in Bangladesh, with the exception of those in the Supreme Court and its High Court bench, are answerable to between one and four government ministries. For instance, the metropolitan magistracy is entirely under the Ministry of Home Affairs, the same ministry that is responsible for the police. Magistrates in other areas are responsible for duties under a range of ministries, including home affairs, finance, establishment and law, justice and parliamentary affairs. They perform multiple functions, deciding cases, supervising police investigations, collecting taxes and overseeing government property, among other things. It is no exaggeration to say that outside of the Supreme Court there is no one that can be properly called a “judge” in Bangladesh. Rather, there are government functionaries who perform a role with the external appearance of a judge while undertaking a range of day-to-day activities on behalf of the state.

The non-independence of the lower judiciary is the main obstacle to the enjoyment of human rights in Bangladesh. On the basis of the many cases of torture, killing and illegal detention that the AHRC has documented as having occurred in Bangladesh, it can state unequivocally that victims and their family members face overwhelming obstacles when attempting to take cases to the courts due in large part to their non-independence. As a consequence, the notion of judicial redress for abuses committed by the police or other state officers is all but non-existent in Bangladesh. At most, victims can expect that a judicial probe will be ordered to investigate and reach a conclusion that may lead to limited disciplinary action against lower-ranked officers.

The complete political control of the prosecution in Bangladesh is another cause for concern. Prosecuting attorneys are replaced en masse every time that a new government comes to power. As a result, they serve the bidding of their political masters loyally and do not accumulate experience or build an institutional legacy to pass from generation to generation. The skills needed for proper prosecuting do not develop, political bias dominates and the country’s so-called courts are sunk further into this morass.

As the authorities in Bangladesh have failed to fulfil their commitment to separate the judiciary and executive and the highest–and only independent–court has been unable to enforce compliance, the AHRC is of the opinion that much greater outside efforts must be directed towards the government of Bangladesh to obtain a result. The AHRC believes that concerted activities by UN rights bodies would do much to contribute to a change.

In this respect, we are surprised to find very little attention paid to the situation of Bangladesh by your mandate on the independence of judges and lawyers. Indeed, apart from a few cursory exchanges between your mandate and the government, there does not appear to be any consideration of the country at all. There has not been any country report on Bangladesh under the mandate, and nor is there any request for a visit pending. We strongly feel that this situation must change.

The Asian Human Rights Commission urges your direct involvement to address the failure of the government of Bangladesh to make its judiciary and prosecution independent. We request that this intervention take four forms. First, we request that you obtain and study in detail the many documents and reports through the UN system and independent agencies speaking to this failure, despite years of promises to the contrary, and the consequences. Secondly, we request that you obtain from the government an explanation as to why it has failed to separate the judiciary from the executive despite years of promises that it would do so. Thirdly and most importantly, please seek an opportunity to visit Bangladesh at the nearest possible opportunity and see the situation yourself. Fourthly, publicly report your findings and carry the same to other UN agencies with the intention that growing international influence be applied to the government of Bangladesh to oblige it to act.

We sincerely believe that the people of Bangladesh and waiting and hoping for the intervention of you and other UN experts and their offices. Years of efforts on their own part to bring about a change to the dreadful way in which their country is being mismanaged by one corrupt and self-interested government after another have not yet obtained the expected results, and they need your support.

We look forward to your involvement and stand ready to assist at any time and by whatever means at our disposal.

Yours sincerely

Basil Fernando
Executive Director
Asian Human Rights Commission, Hong Kong

8. Determined UN involvement needed to address uncontrolled torture in Bangladesh

August 14, 2006
AHRC-OL-046-2006

Manfred Nowak
Special Rapporteur on the question of torture
Attn: Mr. Safir Syed
C/o OHCHR-UNOG
1211 Geneva 10
SWITZERLAND

Fax:  +41 22 9179016
Dear Professor Nowak

BANGLADESH: Determined UN involvement needed to address uncontrolled torture in Bangladesh

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) is writing to you to seek your determined involvement to end the uncontrolled use of torture by the police and other government security forces in Bangladesh, which we strongly believe is posing a grave threat to the entire system of policing and justice there.

You may be aware that in recent weeks the AHRC has addressed both the UN Human Rights Council and the High Commissioner for Human Rights on a range of grave human rights concerns that are overwhelming the people of Bangladesh. Among them is the incidence of torture.

Although domestic rights groups have for over a decade struggled to address the widespread use of torture and arbitrary violence by the police, army and paramilitary units in Bangladesh, their efforts have been hampered by the persistent failure of the government to criminalise torture in keeping with its obligations under the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. There is no law to prohibit the use of torture by state agents in the country, there is no evidence that the government intends to introduce such a law, and there is no explanation forthcoming as to why it has failed to do so.

In this respect we recall the first of all general recommendations of the Special Rapporteur on torture, that, “Torture should be designated and defined as a specific crime of the utmost gravity in national legislation… the enactment [of which] should be made a priority.” The patent failure of the government of Bangladesh to meet this fundamental duty under international law effectively renders meaningless its joining of the treaty to prohibit torture.

The consequences of this failure too are manifest. The AHRC has in recent times communicated dozens of cases of torture by the police and other agencies in Bangladesh to your office. In none of those cases have the victims obtained redress. For instance, Rashed Ullah was arbitrarily arrested and severely assaulted by police in Chittagong, resulting in his death in custody during the early morning hours of 29 June 2006. The police said that he was a victim of a “mass beating” by unknown persons and allegedly intimidated and coerced his family into accepting money not to lodge a complaint. As the most that the family could hope for is a drawn-out judicial probe that may result in the transfer or demotion of one or two junior officers, they took the money.

The AHRC has noted with appreciation the communications from your office to the government of Bangladesh with reference to some of the specific cases that have been brought to your attention. However, we feel that the time has come to expand your role with regards to Bangladesh, in view of the unchallenged practice of torture and systemic impunity enjoyed by torturers there.

Accordingly, the Asian Human Rights Commission urges you to take the following steps at your earliest convenience. First, seek an explanation from the government of Bangladesh as to why it has failed to criminalise torture, despite its obligations under the Convention against Torture and the key general recommendation of the Special Rapporteur. Secondly, issue a strong public statement on the failure of Bangladesh to meet its international obligations and permit the continued widespread use of torture by state agents under its authority. Thirdly, visit Bangladesh without delay to see the situation yourself, and meet with victims and local groups working for the elimination of torture there. Fourthly, expand discussion in international agencies on the use of torture in Bangladesh and ways to eliminate it without any further delays, broken promises and lies by its government.

We strongly believe that concerted intervention by you together with other UN human rights experts and agencies will precipitate a response from the government and greatly support the work already being undertaken by human rights defenders in Bangladesh, against considerable odds, to reduce the level of brutality and increase the level of humanity in their society.

We look forward to your involvement and stand ready to assist at any time and by whatever means at our disposal.

Yours sincerely

Basil Fernando
Executive Director
Asian Human Rights Commission, Hong Kong

9. Please intervene to end Bangladesh’s unremitting killing contest

August 15, 2006
AHRC-OL-047-2006

Philip Alston
Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions
Attn: Lydie Ventre
Room 3-016
c/o OHCHR-UNOG
1211 Geneva 10
SWITZERLAND

Fax: +41 22 917 9006
Dear Professor Alston

BANGLADESH: Please intervene to end Bangladesh’s unremitting killing contest

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) is writing to you to seek your urgent intervention to bring an end to the contest of killings that has in the last two years steadily grown between the regular police and special anti-crime paramilitary units in Bangladesh, which is causing both fear and outrage throughout the country.

It may have come to your attention that in recent weeks the AHRC has addressed the UN Human Rights Council, High Commissioner for Human Rights and other UN independent experts on a number of critical concerns over human rights in Bangladesh, including the prevalence of deaths in custody and killings in “crossfires” there.

As you will be aware, the current contest of killing in Bangladesh was precipitated in 2002 by “Operation Clean Heart” in which large numbers of persons were killed due to a policy of violent actions against alleged criminals. This operation was followed by a general amnesty law for killers, torturers and other abusers of human rights in the police force, which your office rightly condemned as contrary to international law. This was in turn followed by the establishment of the Rapid Action Battalions, which are combined police-military units that are dispatched around the country with the ostensible purpose of arresting crime and the actual purpose of causing terror.

The police and the new units are now engaged in a competition to see who can outdo the other in its anti-crime credentials by killing or threatening to kill as many people as possible. Deaths are explained away as caused by “crossfires”, suicides, heart attacks or otherwise. Iman Ali, for instance, was allegedly shot dead by Rapid Action Battalion personnel on 9 March 2006 after he was arrested when he was leaving a court hearing against him. The paramilitary unit claimed, as usual, that the man died in an exchange of shooting between them and a group of assailants connected with the victim. However witnesses say that it was a blatant murder. Sajedur Rahman Sajid was a victim of the police. He somehow managed to hang himself on 21 May 2006–in the Gaibandha police version–from a bar only four feet off the ground: less than his own height. He was purportedly found with an illegal weapon but the real reason for his arrest is believed to have been that he was seeing the daughter of a local politician against her father’s wishes.

The AHRC appreciates the earlier expressions of concern that the office of the Special Rapporteur has made regarding the indemnity law for the 2003 bloodshed, and following of some specific cases referred for its attention. However, in view of the alarming number of reports of killings now frequently reaching us from Bangladesh and the apparent policy of its government to encourage unrestrained extrajudicial killings and impunity for the perpetrators we feel that it is time for you to play a greater role.

The Asian Human Rights Commission therefore requests that you act with regards to Bangladesh as follows. First, demand that the government repeal the 2003 law indemnifying murders and other abuses by the security forces during Operation Clean Heart. Secondly, demand that it disband the Rapid Action Battalions and special crime units under the police which are largely responsible for the escalation in killings since 2003. Thirdly, make a visit to Bangladesh at the nearest opportunity to assess the situation yourself. Fourthly, raise your concerns over the persistent extrajudicial executions in Bangladesh in available international bodies, in order to raise global awareness about the atrocious situation of human rights there and the need for change.

The AHRC is of the opinion that to the present time the amount of attention directed by the international human rights community on gross violations of human rights in Bangladesh has been extremely limited. By the same token, a relatively small amount of work on the part of you and other UN rights experts and agencies will contribute greatly to saving the lives and limbs of countless persons in that country. We sincerely believe that you will be as concerned as we are about the situation there and will be enthusiastic to take the necessary steps to make a difference.

We look forward to your involvement and stand ready to assist at any time and by whatever means at our disposal.

Yours sincerely

Basil Fernando
Executive Director
Asian Human Rights Commission, Hong Kong

10. Bangladeshi women the victims of systemic violence and denial of means for redress

August 16, 2006
AHRC-OL-049-2006

Yakin Erturk
Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women
Attn: Mara Steccazzini
Room 3-042
c/o OHCHR-UNOG
1211 Geneva 10
SWITZERLAND

Fax: +41 22 917 9006
Dear Dr Erturk

BANGLADESH: Bangladeshi women the victims of systemic violence and denial of means for redress

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) is writing to you to draw your attention to the need for a more concerted effort on the part of UN experts to deal with the appalling human rights situation in Bangladesh, particularly for women.

In recent weeks, as you may know, the AHRC has written to the UN Human Rights Council, High Commissioner for Human Rights and other UN independent experts drawing their attention to particular concerns that we have for the rights of people in Bangladesh, including the incidence of torture, extrajudicial killing, rape and the related non-independence of the judiciary and non-existence of a national human rights institution there.

As you are aware, women bear the brunt of frequent acts of violence and systemic lawlessness by law-enforcing agencies in Bangladesh. The AHRC is among other groups that have communicated to you the details of numerous cases of alleged killing, assault, torture, rape and other gross abuses of women by the police. We also appreciate the fact that you have communicated your concerns about many of these cases to its government. Similarly, we acknowledge the work of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women in pointing to the “rampant” and “increasing” violence against women in Bangladesh “indicating the failure of… laws to act as an effective deterrent” and the lack of changes in relevant legislation (CEDAW/C/SR.653, 2004. paras 23 & 38).

The AHRC supports the assessment of the UN that violence against women in Bangladesh is extremely high, and in our opinion this is a direct consequence of the absence of measures for effective redress. It is also concerned that the purported measures to address violence against women by the government of Bangladesh do not serve their stated purpose. For instance, although the Women and Children Repression Prevention (Special Provision) (Amended) Act 2003 has been introduced together with special tribunals across the country, as the AHRC has pointed out to the Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, the lower courts in Bangladesh do not operate independently of the rest of government (AS-OL-045-2006). These tribunals are themselves answerable to the ministries of home affairs and law, justice and parliamentary affairs. It follows that where cases involve allegations against state officers the tribunals are liable to reach problematic conclusions.

The case of Shahin Sultana Santa is indicative. Santa was brutally assaulted in public and later in custody by the police on the orders of senior officers. Despite a judicial probe commission having concluded that “the victim was excessively tortured unnecessarily, which is a punishable crime under the Penal Code, if it is sanctioned by the authority according to the section 132 of the Code of Criminal Procedure”, special tribunal Judge Kaniz Fatema Nasrina Khanam dismissed the entire case on the ground that the intent of the police to cause harm to Santa had not been proven as required by the Women and Child Repression Prevention Act. Santa is now appealing the decision in the High Court Division of the Supreme Court. Meanwhile, her family and witnesses to the case have faced relentless harassment by the police against which they have obtained no security. In her case, the enactment of a law and establishment of a special tribunal to protect her rights failed because of the wider legal and political conditions of the country.

The Women and Children Repression Prevention Act has also been distorted to serve as another weapon for harassment and arbitrary arrest and detention of innocent persons. The AHRC is informed by concerned professionals that as much as 90 per cent of cases lodged under the act have been false, and have been made not to protect women’s and children’s rights but in order to attack business or political rivals, or for similar reasons. In this respect the act is again the product of the wider legal conditions in which it has been placed, where existing provisions, notably section 54 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, have been misused since independence and earlier to detain anyone on a general allegation of an offence.

The Asian Human Rights Commission is convinced that a more active approach taken by United Nations rights bodies and experts would have an effect on the situation in Bangladesh. Up until now, it is notable that the country has escaped serious sustained international scrutiny through vague commitments by its representatives to treaty bodies and other concerned mandates. As a result, it has obtained a position for itself on the new UN Human Rights Council without strenuous examination of its actual record on human rights and its commitments to international laws.

Accordingly, the AHRC requests of you that you seek to make a visit to Bangladesh at the nearest opportunity to assess the situation yourself, and in particular examine the prevalence of violence against women there in reference to the wider violence and systemic impunity enjoyed by security forces, and the country’s compromised and defective judicial system. We strongly believe that a greater emphasis on the situation of women in Bangladesh from your office together with similar work by other UN experts will contribute greatly to effecting the necessary changes for better protection of both their rights and lives.

We look forward to your involvement and stand ready to assist at any time and by whatever means at our disposal.

Yours sincerely

Basil Fernando
Executive Director
Asian Human Rights Commission, Hong Kong

11. UN should stop deploying Bangladeshi peacekeepers until government disbands Rapid Action Battalion

August 17, 2006
AHRC-OL-050-2006

Jean-Marie Guehenno
Under Secretary General for Peacekeeping Operations
c/o Office of the Spokesman for the Secretary General
United Nations
S-378 New York
NY 10017
USA

Fax: +1-212-963-7055/ 2155
Dear Mr Guehenno

BANGLADESH: UN should stop deploying Bangladeshi peacekeepers until government disbands Rapid Action Battalion

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) wishes to draw your attention to the fact that personnel from Bangladesh being deployed for United Nations peacekeeping missions abroad may be responsible for systemic and grave abuses of human rights in their own country, and to request that you review their role in these missions with a view to suspending further deployments from Bangladesh until such a time that the government of Bangladesh has disbanded its Rapid Action Battalion, for the reasons that follow.

As you are well aware, Bangladesh is today the lead contributor of UN peacekeepers. Over 10,000 of its citizens are now stationed around the world. The country earns a great deal of respect and prestige for its part in these operations. We too strongly appreciate the work of your office in carrying out peacekeeping missions, and the contributions that countries such as Bangladesh make towards ending conflict globally. There is no doubt that your work must continue and be strengthened: in this you have our wholehearted support.

We are also concerned, as will you be, that peacekeepers be persons of the highest professionalism and integrity: persons who respect and uphold the UN charter as well as international humanitarian and human rights law, and persons whom the UN should be able to look upon with pride even long after they have finished their missions. Peacekeepers are ambassadors for the UN: not only abroad, in their place of mission, but also once they return home.

In recent times, attention has been paid to abuses by UN peacekeeping troops in the field. These include allegations of sexual abuse and rape, and of combat operations that have targeted civilians. We are aware that you are taking steps to address these concerns. But we are not fully aware of what steps, if any, your department has taken in recent times to curtail the deployment of personnel from countries where soldiers, police and others are alleged to have committed human rights abuses against their own people.

In 2005 the AHRC drew your attention to the deployment of troops from Nepal at a time that mass disappearances, extrajudicial killings and other gross violations were occurring in that country. We appreciated your response then, to the effect that you would “be keeping under review the participation of members of the [Royal Nepalese Army]” in UN operations given the serious allegations of atrocities committed by its troops at home. We are now urging you, with good reason, to conduct a similar review of involvement of troops and police from Bangladesh. This requires some explanation.

In late 2002 the government of Bangladesh ordered a joint anti-crime operation, codenamed “Clean Heart”, which in three months resulted in at least 58 deaths in custody and arrest and torture of an estimated 11,000 or more persons, of which at least 8000 were completely innocent persons against whom no case was ever lodged. In 2003 it indemnified all army, police and paramilitary personnel from any legal action for abuses arising out of this period. Both the operation and indemnity law have been strongly condemned by independent UN human rights experts.

The government followed the operation by establishing the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) in 2004. The RAB, of which there are in fact 12 separate battalions around the country, is neither fish nor fowl: it is again a joint force with personnel from the military, police and elsewhere. It is ostensibly a special law and order unit. In fact, it is an agency that has spread lawlessness, confusion and fear throughout Bangladesh.

The RAB has no mandate other than to do the bidding of whichever government is in power. Its range of generic duties includes “investigation of any offence on the direction of the government” and “such other duties as the government may… assign”. In effect, RAB personnel are the hired guns of the state.

The RAB has a licence to kill. Its own website lists among its “achievements” that 283 persons have “died during exchange of fire” by its members since it was established. This phrase, or “crossfire”, as it is commonly known in Bangladesh, is a euphemism for extrajudicial killing. The standard scenario, as described by the RAB, runs as follows: a suspect is captured; he admits to having illegal weapons or other materials hidden outside a town or village; the RAB takes him there–sometime between midnight and dawn–to recover the said objects; his criminal or terrorist gang is waiting; they exchange fire; the suspect attempts to escape and dies in the shooting. Case closed.

Most human rights groups in Bangladesh put the number of dead by the hands of the RAB at two or three times higher than the figure openly admitted. And this is to say nothing of the killings by police, which appear to have increased since the time that the RAB was formed. The two have engaged in a contest to prove who has more anti-crime credentials, i.e. who can kill and detain more people at will. Personnel also freely move in and out of the RAB and other agencies–a former RAB commander is now police chief–carrying the lessons learned with them back to their original units, thereby steadily weakening the discipline of all security forces in Bangladesh.

The RAB is engaged in a multitude of attendant abuses, including torture, robbery and extortion. In cases documented by the AHRC and its partners, RAB personnel have allegedly taken and held persons incommunicado, assaulted and tortured them in custody, and sought money from family members to have them released or to spare them from “crossfire”. Such incidents are public knowledge in Bangladesh, and many are widely reported in the local media.

Despite the number and scale of allegations, we are not aware of any single case of RAB personnel facing criminal prosecution. You may wish to enquire of the government of Bangladesh as to whether or not there has ever been such a case. RAB members enjoy impunity both due to the patronage they obtain from the highest authorities and the obstacles placed before persons seeking to take legal action against state officers by the defective and non-independent legal system in Bangladesh. Nor has the country enacted necessary measures in accordance with UN human rights treaties to which it claims to be a party, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. As a result, a RAB member found to have committed serious abuse may be transferred back to his original military or police unit, perhaps with other minor disciplinary action imposed. Occasionally he may be dismissed. But for the most part, he will continue in service of the state in one way or another.

Here is the problem for your department: as the RAB is considered an elite unit, its personnel–or those who have served in it–may be particularly likely to be selected for prestigious UN missions. In fact, virtually all of its commanding officers already boast credentials from UN peacekeeping operations: Additional Director General Md. Mahbubul Alam Mollah, UNIKOM; Lt. Col. Mirza Ezazur Rahaman (Operations Director), UNOMIG; Lt. Col. Gulzar Uttin Ahmed (Intelligence Director), UNTAC, UNIOSIL; Commander Fatema Begum (Investigation Director), UNIOSIL; Commander Md. Moyeenul Haque (Communications Director), UNMIL; Lt. Col. Asif Ahmed Ansari (RAB-1 CO), ONUMOZ; Additional DIG Md. Akbar Ali (RAB-2 CO), UNTAC, IPTF; Lt. Col. Farhad Ahmed (RAB-3 CO), UNIIMOG; Lt. Col. Md. Badrul Ahsan (RAB-4 CO), UNIOSIL; Lt. Col. Md. Hashinur Rahman (RAB-7 CO), UNIKOM, UNPROFOR; and, Lt. Col. Md. Manikur Rahman (RAB-10 CO), UNPROFOR, MONUK. Any one of these officers or their personnel, or former and future members of the RAB from other parts of the armed forces and police, may yet again be invited to serve abroad under the blue and white flag.

Needless to say, it does little good to the reputation of the United Nations at a critical time in its history to have alleged gross violators of human rights serving on its peacekeeping missions. In this, the AHRC would point out that we hold very strongly to the principle of command responsibility for rights abuses: a senior officer is liable for the actions of his subordinates. It follows that even where RAB officers may not have been directly involved in abuses, they are nonetheless equally accountable. We would expect that you share our belief in this principle. We also expect that where an entire agency is identified as a key contributor to systematic and gross human rights abuse, as is the RAB, you would not look upon it and related agencies favourably when assessing contributors to UN missions.

Therefore, the Asian Human Rights Commission requests that until the government of Bangladesh fully disbands the Rapid Action Battalion and ceases all such joint military-police operations that cause wanton arbitrary and illegal arrest, detention, assault, torture, rape and extrajudicial killing, Bangladeshi personnel should be prohibited from taking part in any further United Nations peacekeeping operations. If these steps are not taken, to invite Bangladeshi personnel to participate in UN activities abroad will be nothing less than a betrayal of the very principles upon which the UN is founded.

We understand that this will be difficult for you. As Bangladesh is the largest contributor to your operations, and has even received funding from abroad to set up a centre for the formal training of its peacekeepers, it will not be easy to suspend it from involvement in your activities, least of all at a time that demands for a UN presence are emerging and growing all over the world. Nonetheless, this is what we are asking. We believe that the request is fully justified, and we urge you give it due consideration without prejudice. We also believe that as you yourself remarked in 2005, your capacity to make this critical decision, which would greatly affect the country’s international standing, gives you a unique leverage on its government. We sincerely trust that the government of Bangladesh would take any communication from your office on these issues extremely seriously. The consequences could only be good: for the people of Bangladesh, for its security forces, and for the UN.

We hereby also inform you that we intend to begin a campaign on the role of Bangladesh in UN peacekeeping operations vis-a-vis atrocities committed by its security personnel at home, notably the RAB, until such a time as the RAB is disbanded and conditions in the country enable effective redress for victims of abuses there.

We look forward to your early and considered intervention.

Yours sincerely

Basil Fernando
Executive Director
Asian Human Rights Commission, Hong Kong

12. The illusion of democracy and need for a UN special envoy on Bangladesh

August 18, 2006
AHRC-OL-051-2006

Kofi Annan
Secretary General
Office of the Spokesman for the Secretary General
United Nations
S-378 New York
NY 10017
USA

Fax: +1-212-963-7055/ 2155
Dear Mr Annan

BANGLADESH: The illusion of democracy and need for a UN special envoy on Bangladesh

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) is writing to you today to call for greater UN intervention to address the atrocious situation of human rights and concomitant corruption, failed governance and defective judicial institutions in Bangladesh, and to request that you consider assigning a special representative to the country on your behalf. The reasons are as follows.

In a series of letters to the UN Human Rights Council, High Commissioner for Human Rights and some special rapporteurs, we have described in detail how the government of Bangladesh, despite its pretensions to the contrary, has failed in virtually every respect to meet its international human rights treaty obligations and fulfil its repeated promises both to the UN and to its own people. Above all, it has failed to separate the lower judiciary from the executive, thereby denying the possibility of effective redress for any human rights abuses by the police, military and paramilitaries in Bangladesh, and has failed to criminalise torture in accordance with the UN Convention against Torture and Other, Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment or Punishment, to which it is a party. It has also failed to address the unparalleled level of corruption that is eroding every aspect of public and private life in the country, despite the surface appearance of a law and institution to address it, and has failed to introduce a national human rights institution in accordance with the UN-endorsed Paris Principles, despite years of assurances that it was imminent, which if nothing else ensured it a flow of funding and training from outside sources (AHRC-OL-44-2006).

The government of Bangladesh has also pursued an open policy of extrajudicial killing and lawlessness, ostensibly in order to combat lawlessness, through the creation of special anti-crime paramilitary units. In a separate letter to the UN Under Secretary General for Peacekeeping Operations we have described how the existence of personnel of these units in past, present and future UN missions abroad may seriously jeopardise the credibility of the United Nations (AHRC-OL-50-2006). We have requested that his department review the role of Bangladeshi peacekeepers in forthcoming operations, until such a time as these special units are disbanded and victims of abuses in Bangladesh are given legitimate, not fraudulent, opportunities for redress.

These are just a few of the obstacles to the enjoyment of human rights and human dignity in Bangladesh. So why has the country not been made the subject of greater international scrutiny?

We believe that the answer to that question lies in the illusion of democracy which today bedevils much of Asia, including Bangladesh. This illusion–created by the ritual performance of elections, existence of political parties and some independent media outlets–hides a malfunctioning judiciary and judicial process; the placing of law and order before the rule of law; the exaggeration of the threats of criminal and terrorist elements from outside of law enforcement agencies and deliberate undermining of the effective functioning of these agencies; and, the use of the poor as political slaves. All of these characteristics can be found in every facet of public life in Bangladesh, where most judges are a part of the executive, where the threat of criminality has been used as a pretext to set up death squads, and where the capacity of the police to investigate real crime has been destroyed, thereby ensuring that the criminal elements in positions of authority are free from any possible repercussions. It is also a place where political patronage and influence reaches into every corner and every life: whether or not a person is targeted by the police or their henchmen, whether or not a criminal investigation occurs, whether or not a person is appointed public prosecutor–all depend upon the country’s political paddle wheel, which brings one major party or the other into power through empty rhetoric and only the guarantees of favours for its supporters.

Bangladesh is, as you know, a country of immense poverty. It is also a place of immense impunity: the result of the failed institutions described above and government policies to protect members of the elite who instead rely upon their own power bases for protection. However, the connection between these two conditions is rarely made explicit. While poverty is established as a global and regional problem, its relationship with impunity is not properly identified. The tendency has been to treat impunity as a problem of some importance, but not as the key to unlock the reasons for economic deprivation. So UN organisations together with other international bodies and bilateral agencies go into countries like Bangladesh with generic solutions to poverty based on economic and social reform, which avoid hard questions about the legal and political structures that engender poverty, corruption and human rights abuse. The solutions fail because they are dependant upon defective institutions: in fact, institutions that have been rendered deliberately defective by national authorities that retain the appearance of being cooperative while undermining every possible outcome through the systemic spread of impunity. Money is poured into institutions from which it drains out of innumerable holes long before reaching its intended recipients. Meanwhile, the country remains saddled with a primitive police force, a cardboard cut-out version of a lower judiciary, and dangerous, self-interested politicians.

Undoubtedly, Bangladesh deserves and needs active UN intervention, just as it looks forward to active involvement in the UN. However, the AHRC is concerned that at this time the relationships between UN agencies and Bangladesh, whether the Human Rights Council, Department of Peacekeeping Operations or humanitarian agencies in the country, have not been properly informed by a well-researched and overarching strategy This creates a false impression about the actual conditions in the country and causes unnecessary wastage of resources.

Therefore, the Asian Human Rights Commission suggests that you appoint a special representative or envoy on Bangladesh. We believe that the need for such a person to study Bangladesh and inform UN agencies through your office on progress towards change there is at least as great as the need for your appointees to Cambodia and the country’s neighbour, Myanmar. We strongly feel that were you to make this appointment it would have a considerable effect on the government of Bangladesh that may cause it to speed up many promised reforms, and would also greatly encourage human rights defenders and social change-makers there to continue their work with renewed vigour in the hope of seeing a lasting difference, rather than more of the same.

We understand that the decision to appoint a special envoy is not made lightly; however, we also are not suggesting it lightly. It is only after sustained and serious work on the situation of human rights in Bangladesh that we are making this suggestion to you. We trust that you will give it the serious consideration that it deserves, and look forward to your much-needed intervention.

Yours sincerely

Basil Fernando
Executive Director
Asian Human Rights Commission, Hong Kong

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