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March 7, 2004

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Police brutality
Please, show minimum respect for human rights

Anisur Rahman

It is very painful to see a police personnel kicking a person as seen in the photo while he is the one who is entrusted to ensure the fundamental human rights for the latter. The conduct of the police is incompatible with human norms, Universal Declaration of Human Rights as well as the fundamental rights guaranteed by our Constitution. Such behaviour by the police denies the very basic rights, i.e. right to be treated according to law, right to dignity and right to get justice. The person being kicked by police might have been an activist of the main opposition, Awami League who, the police complained, threw a bomb that left a police personnel injured. But are they the authority to judge the offence? The duty of the police is to arrest the miscreants and hand them over to the court of law for trial. It is the court only that is entrusted to judge the offence of a person. So this excuse on the part of the police does not substantiate their inhuman act. It is a clear violation of all international human rights documents and the Constitution.

The Constitution of Bangladesh (part 3) guarantees some basic civil and political rights. Among them, the right to protection of law, right to get justice by impartial court or tribunal, right to dignity, right to equality are worth mentioning. The Constitution provides that everyone should be treated in accordance with the law and no action detrimental to the life, liberty, body, reputation or property of any citizen or any resident shall be taken except in accordance with law (Art 31). Now, the question is -- what does 'in accordance with law' mean? In a lay man's view, it means that the matter will be investigated, the person who committed the offence will be arrested and finally produced before the court of law for trial. If anybody threw a bomb to the police, as it's been claimed, they should have investigated the matter and then arrested the person to produce him before the court instead of taking the law into their own hands. Kicking a person or beating a person by police is not consistent with the term "in accordance with law". This Article 31 has much wider consequences than that of "American Due Process". No action inconsistent with this provision can be taken by the law enforcers. Part three of the Constitution, which guarantees the basic rights of the people is the most important part of the Constitution and these rights are judicially enforceable. It is the constitutional duty of every person to abide by the constitutional provision. The police must not be oblivious of the Constitutional provision which begins by saying that 'it is the solemn declaration of the common people'. Any deviation from this part will be termed as violation of the Constitution.

This is not the first time police has acted in such a manner. There have been numerous allegations of maltreatment by police resulting in custodial death. Two persons, one in Chittagong and other in Dhaka died in the police custody only few months ago, though a Supreme Court directive prohibits any interrogation in the police custody except in presence of a relative of the victim. But sadly the direction by the court has hardly been followed. We also frequently say that the conduct by the police is not consistent with the law. But in reality it seems that the police can do whatever they please, showing any respect for the law.

Lack of awareness among the police of the basic human rights of the citizens is simply not acceptable. I think police have already realised that in this country no one will be punished even if they commit any offence like beating or kicking an opposition activist. They are also well acquainted with the fact that there is none to question them as to why they kicked a man on the street in lieu of bringing him to book. Actually this is the result of failure of whole law and order system. Using the police force for political gain paves the way for them to abuse their power or exercise their power arbitrarily. Police know that serving the government's interest is more necessary than protecting human rights or human dignity. The Government itself did not seem respectful for the basic human rights of the people when they let the joint forces go unpunished after allegedly killing more than forty lives during operation clean heart.

The violation of human rights by the police has not been a new phenomenon. But today they do not show the minimum respect for human rights. On the other hand we are yet to see the formation of an independent human rights commission to investigate the incidents of violation of human rights. The human rights organisations also restrict their activities in just compiling list of incidents of human rights violation, persons died in the hands of the law enforcing authority every year. Unfortunately there has not been a concerted effort on their part to strongly raise the issue of forming a human rights commission. It is also worth noting that our Constitution does not mention whether violation of constitutional provision is an offence. The court could only ask the government to ensure the fundamental rights of the people in response to writ petition brought by a person. Therefore, it is time to think whether Constitutional amendment is necessary to declare its violation as an offence.

Anisur Rahman is a Legal Researcher.


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