Military dealing with case assignments in the Supreme Court and the systematic smothering of the judiciary

A Statement by the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC)

October 14, 2008 

The media reports alleging that it is in fact a military officer who decides the case lists in the Supreme Court of Bangladesh is a shocking revelation which sharply brings to light the militarised political context in the country. Barrister Rafique-ul Haque who is defending two former prime ministers of Bangladesh in graft cases revealed to the Bar and the media that an army major is occupying a room on the second floor of the Supreme Court Building and deciding which judge should decide what case in the country.

It has also been revealed that three senior lawyers, Barrister Rafique-ul Haque, Barrister Shafique Ahmed and Barrister M. Amir-Ul Islam have received letters from anonymous sources stating that they are national betrayers and threatening the lawyers and the members of the judiciary with cross fire, which in the local context means assassination.

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) and several other national and international civil society organisations have reported that the current administration in the country is trying to smother judicial independence in Bangladesh by all possible means. The incidents cited above are the latest in a series of revealing acts where the army has infiltrated the judiciary to an alarming level. The recent reconstitution of High Court judges at the behest of the army is yet another example of this increasing interference.

Interference of any nature, however minor it may be, with the administrative and adjudicating function of the judiciary is a major setback for any country. Bangladesh need not look anywhere else to find shocking examples of how bad such interference could be. Pakistan, Burma, Nepal and Sri Lanka are immediate South Asian neighbours that have suffered severely from such interference with the function of their judiciaries. In Pakistan, however, the Bar was bold enough to challenge this interference when the independence of the judiciary and that of the lawyers was threatened by General Musharraf’s military regime.

The recent history of the administration of justice in these illustrates the fact that the judiciary is weak, subjected to executive control and sometimes even corrupt. The situation of Bangladesh in this regard is no different.

It is obvious that the judiciary in Bangladesh is fully aware of such interference by the executive and the military. In the context of the widespread fear psychosis in the country and the practice of impunity the judiciary may be unwilling to want to put up resistance against such interference. However, there is a widespread feeling among the lawyers and the people that executive and military interference must be resisted.

Threats received by lawyers and senior judges and even the recovery of explosives and explosions in the residences of sitting judges who challenge the current administration is proof that the current administration is bent upon silencing all opposing voices. Even the Bangladeshi media has fallen victim to this tragedy. Unfortunately some senior jurists within Bangladesh rally along with the administration, condemning anyone who opposes the current government and even directly and indirectly support the administration.

It appears that as of now the armed forces of Bangladesh is in absolute control of the government. The armed forces have literally transformed the administration into a puppet that dances to their tune.

So many of the important government posts are occupied by members of the armed forces that demilitarizing the country’s administration will take years. It is unfortunate that most of the country’s politicians are facing graft charges or have such tainted backgrounds that none of them dare to challenge this new status quo that is pulling the country into deeper corruption and nepotism. The support given by the World Bank and some other European countries to the military regime strengthens the militarization process in the country and makes the transformation into democracy and rule of law even more difficult.

The present situation can easily degenerate and the whole country may come under the grip of the military as has happened in countries such as Burma. It is the duty of all to prevent such a situation and it is particularly the duty of all civil society organisations and the international community to ensure that the militarization process should be brought to an end. In this context it is most important that the military presence in the Supreme Court office and other offices such as Sessions judges office, the Special Tribunal on Anti Corruption and the Judicial Magistrate’s Court should be brought to an end immediately.

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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