Crimes of the armed forces are not beyond judicial procedures

A Statement by the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) 

The New Age, a Dhaka-based national English daily, has published a report yesterday [26 June 2008] quoting a former General of Bangladesh Army, who has launched a political party during the ongoing State of Emergency in the country. 

According to the report, Syed Mohammad Ibrahim, a retired army General, said in a joint press briefing with an adviser of the government, “My request to the government is to remain alert against any attempts to bring the people and the military face to face. . .” Referring to a recent statement of former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia, Gen. Ibrahim reportedly said, “. . . certain political leaders are making adverse criticism of the armed forces. They are making vengeful utterances and deceiving the people into believing that the armed forces are responsible for all wrong doings. We did not expect such a statement from a leading politician. . .” The retired General reportedly feared that such statements might have adverse impact on the society. The joint forces, in his opinion, are assisting the government in carrying out its responsibilities since the caretaker administration is an unelected government. 

The comment of Gen. Ibrahim seems to be provocative to earn sympathy from the armed forces, prior to the elections where his party is a contestant, rather than an articulation in favour of the people. This is an example of the typical “army-flattering culture” in Bangladesh, which has been rooted in the mindset of the politicians and civil servants. 

During the ongoing state of emergency in Bangladesh, the officers of the armed forces have arrested, tortured and detained thousands of innocent people of which more than 200 have been extra-judicially killed by the military-dominated law-enforcing agencies. Likewise, thousands have been permanently or temporarily disabled surviving torture in custody. These actions are simply crime, not law-enforcement at all.

While everyone is aware that none of the citizens attempted any attack on the armed forces, and rather the armed forces committed the heinous crime of inhuman tortures to the “crime suspects”, Gen. Ibrahim did not include this in his comments. He did not clarify whether he had any commitment to bring under prosecution the officers who perpetrated the brutal torture against innocent people, based on mere suspicion before the judicial procedures. 

This is the default mindset of a Bangladeshi politician, let alone Gen. Ibrahim who served in the armed forces,  to begin with the premise that “the armed forces are beyond the judicial process” and compel the ordinary people to suffer continuous injustice. 

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) urges the professionals, politicians, academics and the civil society to de-mystify the imposed myths that the armed forces are always “patriotic” regardless of whatever misdeeds they commit and the politicians are bad on the same ground. Unless the very notion of justice is rescued from such a distortion, a credible justice system will remain a far-reaching dream. 

About AHRC: The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organisation monitoring and lobbying human rights issues in Asia. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984.

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