August 1, 2007
Mr. Fakhruddin Ahmed
Re: Human Rights Situation in
Dear Chief Advisor:
WHEN your caretaker government was established in
Your government has taken some strong initiatives to clean up corruption and hold political and business leaders accountable for their actions. Measures to reform the civil service and bureaucracy have been welcomed by many Bangladeshis, though we caution that due process for civil servants must be observed. And, unlike the previous government, you have made it clear that you will not tolerate or condone the actions of violent militants.
However, we are deeply concerned that the laudable goals of fighting corruption and reforming the political system are not being matched by efforts to protect human rights. Serious and systemic human rights abuses are taking place on your watch. Many of these, such as torture and feigned “crossfire killings,” were serious problems before you took office and continue today. Others, such as emergency rules that do not respect basic due process rights, or the large number of arbitrary arrests and detention without proper judicial oversight or public accountability, are a direct result of your government’s policies.
Since your administration took over, torture of persons in the custody of the security forces has continued to be routine. Many people have died in custody in unexplained circumstances. Your government has not put into place the most basic safeguards to ensure proper independent access to places of detention, requiring all persons to be held in official places of detention, and establishing a process whereby independent investigations are routinely undertaken when deaths in custody occur.
The joint forces, led by the army, have shown almost complete disregard for established legal norms conducting arrests and holding people in detention. Instead of being brought immediately before a magistrate, detainees are routinely taken to army barracks and other unofficial places of detention and tortured, both as punishment and to force them to sign confessions. Many people are being picked up in the middle of the night without warrant. Led by
Bangladeshi civil society and the media, which have often been celebrated in the past for courage and freedom, are under severe threat. Activists and journalists have been summoned by members of the army, particularly those claiming to be members of the DGFI, and threatened. Many have been silenced for fear of arbitrary arrest because they know of other cases of arbitrary detention, torture, and death.
We are particularly concerned because the rule of law appears to be breaking down under your administration. Under the emergency laws, the right to bail and the right to appeal are routinely denied. Court decisions are regularly ignored.
Illegal acts by the security forces are being enabled by the sweeping emergency rules your administration has put in place, which are being misused on a daily basis by the armed forces. Under emergency rules that ban protests and limit effective legal remedies, the security forces believe they can commit abuses with impunity.
The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which
Because the sweeping emergency regulations under the state of emergency now in force do not comply with international requirements and have been misused in practice, we urge you to repeal them immediately. All persons currently detained under the emergency regulations should be charged with a cognizable criminal offense or released. Those mistreated in detention should be able to seek legal remedies through competent authorities.
When challenged about the human rights situation, officials of your government cite the commitment to create a national human rights commission. Creating an independent and competent national human rights commission in accordance with the UN’s Paris Principles on national institutions for the promotion and protection of human rights would be an important step, one in which Human Rights Watch would be happy to offer advice. However, a national human rights commission will take years to set up and act effectively. With so many arbitrary arrests, torture and extrajudicial killings, much more has to be done, and without delay (see recommendations below).
We would particularly like to use this opportunity to remind you of the case of journalist Tasneem Khalil, who has worked as a consultant for Human Rights Watch and as a stringer for CNN. On May 11, 2007, Mr. Khalil was taken into custody after midnight by men in plainclothes claiming to be
We have since learned that Mr. Khalil had been held and tortured by the DGFI. The interrogation center Mr. Khalil was taken to is an extension of the DGFI headquarters in
As you know,
In a sense Mr. Khalil was fortunate. He had the advantage of foreign friends, colleagues, and diplomats who were in a position to appeal to your government for help. However, there are thousands now in custody, unable to secure bail and often subjected to torture, who are not so well connected. We do not know who is being tortured at this very minute by DGFI or others, but we do know that it is happening.
We appreciate your personal intervention and that of other government officials to ensure Mr. Khalil’s release and safe exit from the country. But as his case makes clear, arbitrary arrest and detention and torture are a significant problem in
Your government knows who was responsible for Mr. Khalil’s torture – and that of many other victims – where they work, and where the torture centers are located. Your government knows that these are not isolated cases – an untold number of people are being tortured every day. As a matter of basic human decency as well as your obligations under international law, you must act to close down such torture centers without delay. We look forward to public statements from you and members of your government on this subject, as well as action.
We take your government’s claims to be reform-minded seriously. For that reason, you would expect nothing less than to be held to the domestic and international standards that
Specifically, Human Rights Watch urges your government and the armed forces to take steps to protect human rights and follow the rule of law by:
Immediately repealing the emergency regulations under the state of emergency and restoring fundamental rights guaranteed by the constitution.
Charging or releasing those detained and give them access to legal counsel and family members.
Restoring the right to petition for bail and challenge detentions.
Using only official places of detention and end the use of irregular sites, such as the one maintained by DGFI, to prevent torture.
Ensuring that those whose rights have been violated have an effective remedy before competent authorities.
Allowing access by independent monitors to all places of detention.
Prosecuting members of the army, RAB, police and other government officials responsible for human rights violations.
While some in your government claim that the human rights situation is no worse than under the previous democratically elected government, I’m sure you will agree that this is not an appropriate standard. You and your colleagues have chosen to lead the government. We are certain that you did not take your positions in order to preside over a government and security forces that routinely abuse human rights, but that is the reality in
It is now your responsibility to ensure that the rights of all persons in
Thank you for your consideration. We would be pleased to meet with you and appropriate officials in your government to address these matters further.
Press Release, May 11, 2007
Press Release, January 25, 2007
Judge, Jury, and Executioner: Torture and Extrajudicial Killings by
Report, December 14, 2006
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