Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Rights groups urge India to probe deaths, torture at Bangladesh border

SALEEM SAMAD

A LEADING United States rights group has urged the government of India to investigate fresh allegations of killings, torture, and other abuses by the Border Security Force (BSF) at the border with Bangladesh.

New York-based Human Rights Watch said on Sunday that those against whom there is credible evidence of wrongdoing should be prosecuted as part of an effort to end longstanding impunity for abuses along the border.

In December, HRW in a report, "Trigger Happy," documented extrajudicial killings, arbitrary detention, torture, and ill-treatment by the BSF. In the past decade, the BSF is alleged to have killed hundreds of Indians and Bangladeshis.

Indian authorities in March assured Bangladesh officials that the killings would be stopped. The government announced that it would order restraint and encourage the use of rubber bullets instead of more lethal ammunition, which was recommended by HRW.

"Despite orders from New Delhi to end killings and abuse and to exercise restraint in dealing with people crossing the border, new deaths and other serious abuses are being reported," said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director for Human Rights Watch.

The group stated that the government has issued some positive new directives, but it needs to prosecute those who commit abuses so soldiers will understand they can't act with impunity.

The number of deaths reduced significantly in 2011. The Bangladeshi non-governmental organization Odhikar has documented at least 17 alleged killings of Bangladeshis by the border force and other instances of severe abuse since January.

Local rights groups in India have documented several cases of deaths as a result of severe beatings of suspects by the BSF. Indian residents in the border area, while expressing relief that the indiscriminate shootings have stopped, have complained about aggressive intimidation and beatings.

"The excessive use of force and the arbitrary beating of people along the border are unjustifiable," Ganguly said. "These abuses call into question India's stated commitments to the rule of law."

People routinely move back and forth across India's frontier with Bangladesh to visit relatives, buy supplies, and look for jobs. Others engage in petty and serious cross-border crime.

In many of the cases investigated by HRW, however, the victims were cattle rustlers, farmers, or laborers who said they were hoping to supplement their meager livelihoods by working as couriers in the lucrative but illegal cattle trade that is rampant at the border.

The Indian government needs to do more to ensure accountability for violations committed by the border force soldiers and to ensure compliance with the United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials, said the HRW statement.

Saleem Samad, an Ashoka Fellow is an award winning investigative journalist based in Bangladesh. He specializes in Jihad, forced migration, good governance and elective democracy. He has recently returned from exile after living in Canada for six years. He could be reached at saleemsamad@hotmail.com