HRW errs on Bangladesh

Nizam Ahmed

Nizam Ahmed

 The confidence of most people in Bangladesh on the Human Rights Watch (HRW) has dwindled as the international rights watchdog apparently erred in preparing its latest report on Bangladesh, analysts said. Following publication of the report majority of the politically sensitive people in the country apparently could not support the New York-based HRW, which asked the Bangladesh authorities to suspend the trail of those involved in a deadly mutiny of a paramilitary unit more than three years ago.

Because the people remember clearly how all most all the members of the now disbanded Bangladesh Rifles (BDR), killed some 80 people including 57 army officers in the headquarters at Pilkhana in Dhaka, and traumatised the nation across the country during the two-day-long mutiny on February 25 and 26 in 2009. Many people including all the members of the bereaved families want that the trial is complete as quick as possible. They even criticise the government and the legal system of the country for taking so long time in completing the trail.

“Justice is denied when justice is delayed,” said a college going student whose father was killed by his troops during the mutiny at Pilkana. His father’s mutilated body was recovered more than 48 hours after grisly killing.

“HRW could have advised the tribunal to be rational, so that offenders of lesser crime do not get longer punishment. But I wonder how HRW watch could ask to suspend the trail, which is already delayed,” the student said.

A large section of the people also endorsed the view point of the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), which claimed that the HRW had intentionally blamed the force for alleged extrajudicial death of a number of former troopers, though it was not involved in the process of investigation of the mutiny. Some 47 detained former troops of BDR (later renamed as BGB – Border Guard of Bangladesh) died in jail or while staying in under the custody of BGB in course of interrogation, official said. However the HRW report claimed that those former troops of BDR died in the custody of RAB during the process of interrogation on the mutiny.

The HRW has been a very authentic rights watchdog to Bangladeshi people who had been subject to abuse of human rights by army personnel, members of law enforcers, Islamist militants and political hoodlums over the past decades. Each and every reports HRW published on abuse of human rights inBangladesh was highly acclaimed across the relevant arena as those were  accepted by the affected people in Bangladesh. Even governments could not strongly refute the reports on human rights abuse published by the esteemed rights watchdog in the recent past, though the government had protested some reports to save its face.

But this time the government and the RAB, which has been blasted by local and international rights groups for its involvement in dozens of extrajudicial killing in the name of highly doubtful incidents of crossfire or encounter in course of investigation or raids since its inception in 2004, have got a chance to blast the HRW, only because of the erroneous report and wrong perception. Meanwhile more than 3,500 troops have been given jail terms ranging from four months to seven years in prison, for resorting to revolt at their respective units across the country. For the revolt the former troops were sentenced to jail terms ranging from four months to seven years. The tribunal will soon award capital punishment who were involved in killing of army officers during the mutiny.

RAB was neither involved in the investigation of the BDR mutiny nor they died under the custody of  the battalion. Hence RAB has got a strong ground to talk against the authenticity of the HRW report, which was published on July 4. RAB refuted the report in a crowded news conference on the following day. Rapid Action Battalion rejected outright the report terming it baseless, motivated and fabricated.

“Human Rights Watch’s report is baseless and intentional. It is trying to instigate militancy and criminal activities to deteriorate law and order in the country,” Commander M. Sohail, director of RAB’s  Legal and Media Wing, told a news conference. Some local upstart rights bodies and vested quarters are helping the HRW to hatch a plot against the country, complained the RAB official. He however did not give details on the local upstart rights groups.

Brad Adams, director of HRW in Asia, launched the report titled “The Fear Never Leaves Me” at a news conference, in which he also called uponBangladesh government to disband the RAB. Prof. Mizanur Rahman , chairman of The Bangladesh National Human Rights Commission (BNHRC) termed the suggestion of the Human Rights Watch (HRW) to disband the Rapid Action Battalion  (RAB) as a direct interference in the internal affairs of Bangladesh.

“It is an ‘intrusion’ into internal affairs of Bangladesh. No foreign agency should be telling us that a national force should be dissolved. They should know how far to go, what recommendations are acceptable,” Prof. Mizanur Rahman told reporters in Dhaka on Saturday, July 7. With the statement the HRW has crossed the line, he said. “They might be concerned about the human rights situation. But they cannot recommend whether a national force should stay or go,” Mizanur said. A day earlier the home ministry dubbed the report as a part of an ‘international conspiracy’ and called upon the HRW to withdraw the report. A home ministry circular termed the report “part of an international conspiracy” after it called for the abolition of RAB, which besides criticism also drew laurels for curbing crime in the country.

Former adviser to the past Bangladesh caretaker government and a noted rights activist of the country Sultana Kamal, a leader of Ain O Salish Kendra, said she wanted the trail of mutineers and hoped that the trial would be fair. Herself a strong opponent of extrajudicial killing in the custody of RAB and police, Sultana Kamal  also acknowledged that RAB was not involved in the investigation of the BDR mutiny.