The 57-page report of Human Rights Watch, released on the 4th of July 2012, starts with: “The Fear Never Leaves Me”, a quote from MA whose father worked with the Engineering section at Pilkhana barracks, was picked up, blindfolded, put into another car, and driven to RAB headquarters. MA, who was also arrested was eventually released, and cleared of all charges.
The report mentions cases of 11 suspected mutineers and on another section, details sufferings of seven others who, as per the report, may not have received fair trials. Manuel De Perise of the 9th Rifle Battalion in Marishya, was “made to wear ankle chains and handcuffs” all the time; Abu Kasim Sigdal faced no criminal charges and was sentenced to four months in prison; Nasmul Huda Chowdhury of BDR barracks and Abul Kasim Majumdar were arrested without knowing the specific charges against them; “Abdul” Rahim complained of sleep deprivation; Mozammel Hoque’s hands and feet looked decomposed; “Abdul” Jalil Sheikh, the hospital quartermaster is currently in Central Jail, lying paralysed…
I watch my neighbour’s flat everyday. She lost her husband in Feb 2009 in the BDR mutiny. So did the families of 74 people including 56 other army soldiers who were killed in the Pilkhana Barracks on the 25th and 26th of February, 2009. With the electronic media coverage almost peaking to obscene irresponsibility during that particular day followed by next 33 hours of anxiety, pain and helplessness, I knew that I would never be safe in BDR. The present promised nothing but fear of uniforms.
Yet the other day when two of our export bound trucks were stolen off the Dhaka-Chittagong highway, yours truly sought the intervention of RAB and recovered the entire consignment within 24 hours. So, as far as I was concerned, RAB meant action and promise. Yet when it comes to the national platform, many of us often tend to take a back seat, put on a pair of 3D glasses and exercise extra caution and critique and then leave a nation confused.
(By the way, why was RAB ever clothed that way? Was it just to instil fear in our common psyche? )
But it is indeed doubly deadly when institutions jump from one nation to the other and consider it their duty to prescribe governance. Human Rights Watch’s report on the victims, highlights only a few cases and recommends our government to abolish RAB, mentioning the detention of 6,000 BDR members, who were reported to have suffered “systematic torture and mistreatment, both as punishment and to obtain confessions”. This is unacceptable. HRW’s report mentions Bangladesh being a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which endorses the creed to ensure fair trials with specific mention to Article 14 that states that all accused are equal before courts and tribunals, while Article 14(3) demands ensuring information to the accused of the charges, time to prepare the defence and to have counsel of choice. However, the report also mentions that the court can be vulnerable when military trials are conducted. HRW’s report also refers to Article 15 of the UN Convention Against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, which mentions that Bangladesh, as a state party, cannot use any evidence based on the statements extracted from the accused that have been tortured. And thus spoke HRW…
This 57-page report, however, was an interesting read, evoking curiosity and pain. But ironically, the Human Rights Watch itself has been accused of bias in places like Gaza and Afghanistan where there was a definite lack of credible witnesses. HRW founder Robert Bernstein has himself accused the organization of poor research methods and of resorting to witnesses whose stories are not verifiable. HRW has also been accused of using faulty methodology.
Moreover, HRW was associated with Gaddafi regime and later on erased its references to its own director, Sarah Leah Whitson promoting Saif-al-Islam Gaddafi as a “reformer”. And yes, HRW has also been criticized for holding fundraisers in Saudi Arabia and for not releasing the names of its Saudi donors. Some time ago, its investigator, Marc Garlasco was reported to have been a collector of Nazi memorabilia…
Question is, how far has the integrity of HRW been compromised in our case? While HRW has asked the government to “disband RAB and create a non-military unit within the police or a new institution, which puts human rights at its core to lead the fight against crime and terrorism”, may we also humbly suggest the HRW to be more careful about their methodology, tools, and sources? After all it’s who bleed and not them. It’s our land, and not theirs. With too many issues and too many controversies popping up around us, we need to figure places for our priorities. The hour to swallow the bile and cleanse our own systems ourselves has arrived. The time to echo, the Chairman of the National Human Rights Commission, Mr. Mizanur Rahman’s sentiment about Human Rights Watch, is ripe.
Don’t cross lines in our soil. We know where we stand.
Rubana Huq is a poet, researcher and an entrepreneur.