Tue, Jun 12th, 2012 11:21 am BdST
Dhaka, Jun 12 (bdnews24.com) – An influential global rights group has accused India of breaking promises to end killings and other forms of serious human rights abuses along the border with Bangladesh.
In a New York-datelined statement, the Human Rights Watch said India should investigate fresh allegations of human rights violation by its Border Security Force along its porous border with Bangladesh and prosecute the responsible.
It has also urged Bangladesh to "publicly" ask the Indian government to end the violations by its border guards.
"It is time for the Indian government to keep its promises to end abuses and hold its forces accountable," said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia Director at Human Rights Watch.
"At the same time, Bangladeshi government should publicly demand that the Indian government end this scourge of violence along their border," she said in the statement.
The group said despite assurances to Bangladesh and public orders to exercise restraint and end unlawful killings and attacks on suspected smugglers, evidence documented and published by Indian and Bangladeshi nongovernmental organisations suggest that the BSF is once again committing abuses including extrajudicial killings, torture, and ill-treatment of both Indian and Bangladeshi people live along the frontier.
"The Border Security Force has reverted to its previous tactics of unilaterally punishing suspects, defying orders from Delhi issued last year to exercise restraint and protect the right to life," said Ganguly.
"But the central government is also responsible, since it has failed to hold perpetrators accountable. Justice is the best deterrent against further violations," she said.
In December 2010, Human Rights Watch released "Trigger Happy, Excessive Use of Force by Indian Troops at the Bangladesh Border," which documented nearly 1,000 killings by the BSF over the last decade.
In January 2011, the Indian government assured Bangladeshi officials that it would order the BSF to exercise restraint and encourage the use of rubber bullets instead of more lethal ammunition, steps welcomed by Human Rights Watch.
Although BSF attacks decreased significantly over the next year, the new evidence presented suggests that Indian border troops continue to frequently abuse both Bangladeshi citizens and Indian nationals residing in the border area, the statement said.
The recent allegations claim that in order to get around the restrictions on shooting at sight, BSF soldiers have been subjecting suspects to severe beatings and torture, resulting in deaths in custody.
Efforts by local residents and activists to file complaints and secure justice have resulted in threats and intimidation, it said.
The National Human Rights Commission has sought responses when allegations are filed, but without adequate witness protection complainants end up risking further abuse, it said.
The group said large numbers of killings and other abuses have been reported in 2012.
Odhikar, a Dhaka-based human rights group, has documented as many as 13 killings by the BSF since January 2012.
Kolkata-based group Banglar Manabadhikar Suraksha Mancha (MASUM), has documented five other killings during the same time period, based on statements from witnesses and families of victims.
Last year, MASUM released a video showing BSF soldiers brutally beating a Bangladeshi national caught smuggling cattle in West Bengal state. Eight soldiers were suspended but no further information is available regarding their prosecution or punishment.
But, the statement said, HRW knows of no cases in which BSF soldiers have been prosecuted for violations committed along the India-Bangladesh border.
This includes a highly publicised case in which a 15-year-old Bangladeshi girl trapped in the wire fencing at the border was shot by the BSF in January 2011, it said.
"While the Indian government claims that it holds its forces accountable, it produces no information to show that this is actually happening," said Ganguly.
"There appears to be complete impunity for BSF soldiers – even in the most egregious cases. Unless the government orders an independent investigation and ensures the prosecutions of those against whom credible evidence is found, such acts of brutality will continue."
Go by UN principles
Human Rights Watch also called on India to do more to ensure compliance with the United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials.
Given the failure of the BSF's internal justice system to prosecute its members for human rights abuses, personnel of all ranks implicated in serious rights abuses should be investigated by civilian authorities and tried in civilian courts, it said.
This is particularly important because the BSF is now being deployed in security operations against Maoists in central and eastern India. Considering the widespread tendency to subject local residents at the Bangladesh border to verbal and physical abuse including severe beatings, the government should ensure a transparent system of accountability that will prevent violations in these areas.
The statement said Bangladesh, after initially failing to address this issue, finally began to call for the protection of its citizens.
In March 2011, at a joint border coordination conference, Maj. Gen. Rafiqul Islam, head of the Border Guards Bangladesh, called on the BSF to respect the right to life and said that individuals "must be treated innocent unless and until he or she is proved to be a criminal or offender."
BSF Director-General Raman Srivastava promised "to maintain utmost restraint on the border" and also provide troops "with non-lethal weaponry."