On the 10th of July, the Ministry of Information sent a letter to the human rights organization Odhikar requesting a copy of fact finding report carried out by Odhikar on ‘Assembly of Hefazate Islam Bangladesh and Human Rights Violations’, citing the enthusiasm of the government to make public the ‘real facts and actual number of deaths’. The government further said that it was conducting a further in-depth investigation as there has been ‘confusion’ regarding the death toll during the clash between Hefazate Islam and law enforcement agencies. To implement this successfully, it requested a copy of the report including “the detailed list of the 61 deceased persons along with the names of their fathers, mothers and their addresses.”
Odhikar’s fitting reply:
The main facets of the reply were as follows,
1. Odhikar underlines the importance of the government compiling its own list of casualties.
2. Despite the evidence of human rights violations perpetrated by the government, security forces have repeatedly denied any casualties. At a press conference on May 8, 2013, Dhaka Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Benazir Ahmed said that “no one was killed during the operation that flushed out Hefazate Islam men from Shapla Square in the capital. No lethal weapons were used in the operation.” (Source: New Age, 09/05/2013)
3. Furthermore, leading Parliamentarians belonging to the ruling party have time and again claimed in Parliament that no one was killed in the assembly of Hefazat-e-Islam on the night of 6th May and that not one bullet was fired (?). The tally includes leading figures such as Awami League Presidium member and MP Sheikh Fazlul Karim Selim along with PM Hasina herself.
4. From the above, it can be deduced that the claim that nobody was killed that night by the government proves that it actually wants to refute its responsibility; and that it is absolutely not interested to conduct any fair, unbiased investigation, forget making any figures public.
5. The true fact is that the family members of the deceased are living in insecurity and fear. The government filed 23 cases at different police stations accusing at least 133,500 unnamed persons over the Shapla Square incident. The families of the victims fear that the government will harass them further and are afraid to speak out in public.
6. This is because there is no victim and witness protection law in Bangladesh. Being a human rights organisation, it is Odhikar’s duty to ensure the safety and security of the victims.
7. A few suggestions that the government will most likely lose interest in while reading up to this point.
Simple thoughts supporting Odhikar’s stance:
Hasanul Haque Inu, the minister of Information, is no friend of the media or justice. His single handed fat headedness in dealing with the issue of the media blackout on the 6th of May should still be fresh in the minds of many.
PM of Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasina is no believer in justice. On June 19, 2013, during the speech on point of order before the Parliament, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said that “there was no shooting on Hefazat activists on May 5, rather Hefazat activists acted dead by using red dye. They were sleeping in the streets wearing red dye. Later they ran away in fear of the police” (Source: Newsevent24.com, 19/06/2013).
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on the 18th of July said her government will make sure that those who were engaged in vandalism demanding cancellation of quota system in public service recruitment will not get government job in future. “We’ve the pictures, we’ll place them before the PSC before the viva-voce examinations so that these notorious elements can’t get government jobs,” she said in her introductory speech at the Awami League Central Working Committee (ALCWC) meeting at her official residence Ganobhaban.
With the presence of such biased personalities in offices of power, it is hardly surprising that human rights organizations such as Odhikar find no common working space for that important entity called trust.
Although the government has tried hard to keep major human rights organizations in its pocket, and has succeeded in quite many instances (bootlickers such as Ain o Salish Kendro, the Bangladesh chapters of HRW and Transparency International, and the ever oozing National Human Rights Commission spearheaded by the well known government stooge Mizanur Rahman), the human rights situation on the ground has remained largely such that few can ignore its frightful nature. Odhikar as a champion of human rights has succeeded in many instances in filling the voids that the others have so conveniently and intentionally left glaring open.