By Maskwaith Ahsan:
In the wake of “strong action” against drugs in Bangladesh, young people and alleged drug-suppliers are being killed in “shootouts” by law enforcement agencies. When the legality of these “deaths” by crossfire is raised, the home minister claims that those killed attacked first and died in shootout with the police. Most of the bodies are being found along with guns and some drugs on them. The scene is so convenient and wrapped up neatly in a bow that it screams of extra-judicial killing.
We call them law enforcement agencies but no law authorizes such “encounters” unless the country is at war, and even then there are Geneva rules that need to be followed.
Recent statistics show that almost six million people in Bangladesh suffer from drug related addictions, and the government claims it has to take “strong action” to clean up the mess, an action that has the support of a large number of citizens.
The previous government of Bangladesh Nationalist Party had also initiated “strong action” against criminals and terrorists named Operation Clean Heart, again supported by a large number of people. More than a decade later, the justification for such questionable operations remains the same; that the judiciary is not capable of delivering justice. Society continues to consider “extra-judicial” killing as an alternative to justice, claiming that “the jungle must be cleaned up”.
These extra-judicial actions have yet to deliver; over a decade later the jungle is still not clean, but a significant number of people continue to hope for a jungle-free tomorrow. Mob action is a fetish in Bangladesh and other South Asian societies. An-eye-for-an-eye is traditionally celebrated as a means for delivering “justice”. Even in mainstream entertainment like Television and Films, elements of revenge and alternative justice by a superhero are pivotal themes for public amusement and satisfaction. In such an environment, it becomes extremely difficult to develop a low-crime based society structured on the concept of “correction not killing”.
In the last decade, Bangladesh has taken no measure to strengthen its judicial system; instead law enforcement agencies have trained to become flawless in methods of alternative justice by taking strong action against only the blue caller criminals. The script of crossfire, encounter or shootout hasn’t changed a bit in the last ten years. Even a fifth-grader now can rote out the fairytales spun during police press conferences.
This endless stream of extra-judicial killings is basically like pronouncing the judicial system dead. So if one pillar of the state is down, that is an obvious indication of a failed state.
In the recent “strong action” against drugs, we find dead-bodies of only the drug peddlers while drug mafia bosses (white caller criminals) remain untouchable. Allegedly one of them is a member of the parliament belonging to the party in power. The Home Minister claims these are mere allegations. Had it been any other civilized society such allegations would have been enough to send the MP packing, if not arrested.
Family members of a few victims have already raised complaints against law enforcement agencies (LEAs). According to them, their loved ones were innocent and had nothing to do with drugs; they were picked up by LEAs for “extortion” and killed when the poor families could not pay up. Some “encounters” were a matter of confused or wrong identities, others were simply kidnapping for ransom in the guise of government’s “strong action” against drugs. In the worst cases both life and money were snatched away.
There’s no sane voice from the higher-ups in these times of insanity. Sentiments of ultra-nationalism can be heard mixed up in the war cries of the drum-beating pro-crossfire mob, with its misplaced patriotic urge for a drugs-free society. The unconstitutional and illegal act of extra-judicial killing has never successfully resolved any crisis in human history. The Sheikh Hasina-led Awami League’s utopia has no destination and no future, other than leaving a bloody mark on the history of this land.