Since its independence in 1971, successive governments have used the police to further their own narrow interests. As a result of this misuse of the force, and the lack of political will to properly implement police reforms, working conditions for policemen in Bangladesh are poor. Police in Bangladesh often find themselves without certain basic necessities such as a chair to sit on, stationary, forms of wireless communication, transport, or fuel. Added to this, the police are massively under-equipped and under-trained to handle domestic insurgency and internal violence. This prompted the creation of the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB). Since its inception in 2004, the RAB has garnered a notorious reputation for extra-judicial killings and enforced disappearances. According to the Asian Human Rights Commission, almost 600 persons have been killed by the RAB as of November 2009. Wrongdoers must be held accountable for the over 1000 extra-judicial killings perpetrated by paramilitary forces and the Bangladesh Police. Click here to read the AHRC article.
In 2003, the first serious police reform initiative in Bangladesh was started by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). The UNDP Bangladesh Country Office got involved in critical discussions with the key stakeholders of security and criminal justice sector in Bangladesh, including the Bangladesh Police. The UNDP put together a Needs Assessment Report and concluded that an accountable, transparent and efficient policing service in Bangladesh is essential for the safety and well being of all citizens, national stability and longer-term growth and development.
Although 2007 saw commendable momentum on police reforms, not much has happened since. In 2007, the Caretaker Government (CG) appeared to demonstrate the political will necessary to improve police functioning. With the assistance of the Police Reform Programme (PRP), an entity resourced by the UNDP, EU and the Ministry of Home Affairs, the Bangladesh Police put together the Draft Police Ordinance, 2007. The Ordinance sought to update police legislation by creating accountability mechanisms, limiting illegitimate political interference of police operations, and professionalizing law enforcement. Click here to view the Police Reform Programme website. Click here to view the Draft Police Ordinance, 2007.
Unfortunately, the ordinance stalled and was never promulgated before the CG left office in December 2008. Even in the absence of new police legislation, the PRP has continued to do work on the issue of better policing. One initiative has been to create Model Thanas (MTs) in various districts throughout Bangladesh. The aim of the MTs is to engender good policing practice by increasing resource allocation to the thana and fostering an environment that facilitates prevention of crime, provides equitable access to justice and engages the public in a meaningful partnership to effectively address community concerns. This was done by adopting a pro-people, service-oriented approach to policing. Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) that were developed for the MTs through workshops held at each Model Thana. During Phase I (2004-2009), 11 MTs were established by the PRP. During Phase II (2009-2014), 6 more MTs are to be established. With the implementation of Phase II underway, community policing will play an integral part.
With the Awami League’s overwhelming win in the general election of December 2008, the big question was: what will the democratically elected government do to improve the performance of the Bangladesh Police? Unfortunately, as of June 2010, the Government of Bangladesh has not done much in the way of reform. In its electoral manifesto, the Awami League stated: “In order to provide security to every citizen of the country, police and other law and order enforcing agencies will be kept above political influence. These forces will be modernised to meet the demands of the time. Necessary steps will be taken to increase their remuneration and other welfare facilities including accommodation.”
The government has still not taken proactive measures to prevent the extra-judicial killings perpetrated by security forces, which is sadly endemic in Bangladesh. In 2008, when the Awami league emerged victorious in the general elections, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina pledged to eliminate the occurrences of extra-judicial killings besides it being reflected in the Awami League election manifesto. Regardless, Police and RAB were implicated in the alleged extra-judicial executions of up to 70 criminal suspects in the first nine months of 2009. Police authorities usually characterised suspected extrajudicial executions as deaths from “crossfire” or after a “shoot-out”. Click here to view article
In a call for faster movement on this issue, the International Crisis Group issued a report that stated, “If the government fails to move beyond the current modest reform process, the democratic transition could falter should deteriorating security give the military another chance to intervene, using, as it has in the past, the pretext of upholding law and order to justify derailing democracy. Deep structural reforms– including a new police law – and major additional resources are necessary to create an effective and accountable service. Above all, it will take political will –which Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s Awami League led government is sorely lacking – and a vision of the police as something other than a tool of political control and a source of patronage.” Click here to view this report.
To add to this dialogue, the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) organised a consultation in July 2009, in conjunction with the Institute of Governance Studies (BRAC University), BRAC Human Rights and Legal Services Programme and the Friedrich-Naumann-Stiftung für die Freiheit (FNF). The consultation sought to formulate specific recommendations on how the Bangladesh Police can improve its delivery of services. These recommendations can be found here.
On March 3-4, 2010, the GTZ and International Committee for the Red Cross organised a conference on Gender, International Human Rights Law and Community Based Policing at the Police Staff College in Mirpur, Dhaka. The focus was on how community policing could better improve public safety and the international human rights of Bangladeshis. The conference report can be found here.
In 2010, Nagorik Uddyog and the Bangladesh Legal Aid & Services Trust (BLAST) worked with CHRI to publish a Bangladesh-specific version of CHRI’s Indian “101 Things You Wanted to Know About The Police But Were Too Afraid To Ask”.This was called “Police Sampark 101 Prashna Uttar” and was released in Dhaka in August 2010 along NU.
CHRI held a series of legal education workshops in Dhaka in August 2010. The workshops are aimed at educating people, particularly those attached with CSO’s on their rights during arrest, lodging FIR’s etc…
The second visiting programme for South Asian professionals help between November 14-19 in New Delhi and Cochin Kerala was fortunate to have 2 participants from NU and BLAST respectively.
In 2011, CHRI plans to continue their legal education campaign in Bangladesh, this time going to districts Barisal and Khilna to hold workshops. Jointly held with the support of BLAST.