Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Awarding 'crossfire' raises questions

The Rapid Action Battalion director general Mokhlesur Rahman had received a gallantry award along with 12 of his colleagues this year.

The description of the Bangladesh Police Medal given to this additional inspector general rank official says: "His skillful guidance has led to the arrest of 13 top extremist leaders in RAB operations in 2011, as well as the recovery of large amounts of arms and explosives. Nine other extremists have also been killed in gunfights with RAB."

Prime minister Sheikh Hasina handed over Mokhlesur's the award on Tuesday.

The elite crime-fighting unit of police is heavily criticised by local and international human rights organisations for its alleged extrajudicial killings.

Ain O Shalish Kendra chief Sultana Kamal told it was regrettable that the state had issued honours for a controversial issue such as 'crossfire'.

When asked for a reaction from Mokhlesur on this matter, he defended by saying, "Do you want us to stand by and watch criminals shoot us and run?"

In this year's Police Week, 59 members of the police and RAB were awarded Bangladesh Police Medal and President's Police Medal, 12 of whom were RAB members.

Of these men, Lt Col Monirul Haque, Lt Col Ziaul Ahsan, Kamrujjaman, Shah Mohammad Azad, Jahidul Islam, Taherul Islam and Awlad Hossain received the PPM for 'deaths of pirates and bandits'.

Sultana Kamal said the awards were encouraging extrajudicial killings while people had questions about such deaths, and added this was equivalent to waving off those questions.

"There are cases against RAB for extrajudicial killings and the cases are still unresolved," she said.

PPM-awarded Ziaul Ahsan's award description tells of an incident on June 22 last year. His team saw an empty trawler boat near the forest station on Bhola river in the Sundarbans. Searching around the boat, they found footprints that led deeper into the forest and when they moved along the track, shots were fired from inside the forest.

RAB fired back in the heat of the moment and later four bullet-riddled bodies were recovered from inside the forest.

Since the inception of RAB in 2004, the words 'crossfire' and 'gunfight' have become part of the everyday vocabulary. Human rights organisations allege the law enforcers are committing extrajudicial killings in the guise of gunfights.

According to Ain O Shalish Kendra, 100 people were killed in 2011 in custody or in 'gunfights'.

When asked for a comment on awarding crossfires, National Human Rights Commission chairman Mizanur Rahman said he could not comment without looking at individual cases.

"I think the government should think carefully before awarding an act that is controversial. Capturing extremists, pirates or bandits is more courageous than killing them.

"But I would like to believe the awards were given after sufficient analysis," he added.