Kazi Reazul Huq joined the civil service in 1973. He became a member of the Human Rights Commission in June 2010 and continued in this capacity till 22 June 2016. In August, last year he was appointed as chairman of the commission. The excerpts of Prothom Alo’s exclusive interview with him are as follows:
The previous Human Rights Commission of Mizanur Rahman did not investigate a single extrajudicial killing as it was not legally entitled to do so. What about your commission?
Kazi Reazul Huq (KRH): Since I took over the commission, I have asked the home ministry for the investigative reports on all such complaints that we have received.
The law minister told the UN Human Rights meet in Geneva that during the BNP rule, there were 261 instances of extrajudicial killings which had come down to just 25 in 2014-15. What did you say in Geneva?
The government presented its progress. We said we were concerned about the extrajudicial killings that had taken place and these must halt. It is the rule for the government, the Human Rights Commission and the NGOs to present separate statements. There is no scope for counter arguments. Only members of the UN committee can question the government.
What was discussed there about ICCPR (United Nationâ€™s International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights) in the presence of the law minister?
The committee members wanted to know what measures had been taken against extrajudicial killings and abductions. The concerned UN committee had published its observations recently, expressing concern in this regard. The committee said that the Human Rights Commission should be strengthened and its manpower expanded. It recommended that the commission be given the authority to directly conduct investigations against the police.
Are extrajudicial killings and abductions actually lessening?
The media reports cannot be denied. We collect data from 12 newspapers. Every month there is an average of 12 extrajudicial killings or killings in so-called gunfights. Also eight persons are abducted or go missing every month on average. We will also gather information from websites. The families of the victims approach us. Even today (Tuesday), the family of Dr Iqbal, who was reportedly picked up by police after to alighted from a bus, inquired about him.
Does the law prevent the commission from investigating allegations against the police?
The law says we can approach the government for reports concerning human rights violations. If we are not satisfied by the reports, we can inform the government of our dissatisfaction. The law needs to be amended. We have not conducted any investigations so far. We have said that we cannot investigate police action due to legal obstacles. But we have come up with a new explanation now. Nowhere does it say that we cannot investigate cases where there is police â€˜involvementâ€™. We have civil court authority. We have started investigating the Sripur incident where Hazrat Ali and his daughter committed suicide. This is our first on-the-spot investigation.
We formed an inquiry committee about the Banani rape case. We will question everyone, including the police. We will summon them to face the committee. If they do not turn up, we will investigate in their absence. One full bench and two additional benches have been formed for the commission to investigate incidents of human rights violation.
The previous government of BNP had some reservations concerning CEDAW (Convention of the Elimination of Discrimination against Women). What about the Awami League government and your commission?
The previous government has strict reservations on two clauses. The present government is somewhat softer, but has said that the society is not ready to accept this as yet. Last November in Geneva I said since there had been significant womenâ€™s empowerment in Bangladesh, now was the right time to list these reservations. Indonesia, one of the biggest Muslim countries, had ratified CEDAW with no objections at all.
What actually happened at that Hefazat gathering in Motijheel still remains a mystery. The human rights commission has also remained silent.
Just last night I was pondering over the issue. I feel the human rights commission needs to conduct an extensive inquiry into this incident. How many people actually died? Did anyone actually die? Was the police aggressive? Or were they simply maintaining law and order? There needs to be documentation of all this.
How would you evaluate the overall human rights condition of the Chittagong Hill Tracts?
There are skirmishes now and then between the armed forces and the local hill people there. On 6 April this year, uniformed persons picked up college student Romel in Naniachar. He later died while undergoing medical treatment. We are investigating this incident. The overall human rights condition in the hill tracts is not satisfactory.
Why not? Who is responsible for this? Would you say the failure to implement the peace accord, particular regarding land rights, is a human rights violation?
The failure to fully implement the CHT peace accord is a human rights violation. Many of the clauses of the accord have been implemented and there has been considerable progress. But the most important factor for the ethnic minority is land rights and that has not been given.
The rights of the minorities seem to be at stake. Even the Vested Property Act is inert.
I have examined this personally. One day Rana Dasgupta came to the office when I was a member of the commission. He said that peopleâ€™s property was still being entered in the B list. Hindus feel they will not be able to stay in this country. I approached the law minister and asked him, how would people remain in the country if the amount of vested property went on increasing? He replied, â€œMy own property has been â€˜vestedâ€™.â€ There was a big meeting at the law ministry with certain ministers. It was decided that there was no need for list B as the listing of property there was not justified. The prime minister cancelled this list. The Hindus had hope. But a certain circular is holding things up. We are looking into this. This is a black law.
Why is the incident of rape increasing in the country?
There is a propensity to believe one can get away with anything. A certain section of unruly, dishonest people feel that they can commit any crime with impunity. That is why all this is occurring. This belief has to be broken. This mindset will remain in place until and unless they are tried and punished. Until the investigating police and senior police officers punish the guilty police personnel, this will simply increase.
How do you view investigations of the cases filed by the ruling party against its political opponents? Dozens of cases against Mirza Fakhrul Islam wonâ€™t be investigated. They will simply remain hanging over his head. Do you have no scope to look into this? Are there restrictions for you to speak out on this?
Why will I not speak out? However, this culture has not appeared overnight. This culture must be stopped. This is a reflection of revenge.Â Whoever is in power, nabs their opponents.
What is the role of the judiciary in upholding human rights?
It has a boundless role in this regard. They have played a significant role in human rights cases. The court took a stern stance regarding the UNO and the OC in the Santal incident of in Gobindaganj and the Nasirnagar incident. Then there have been some significant verdicts concerning imprisonment without trial.
There are allegations of harassing political opponents in the name of anti-militant operations. It is said critics of the government are dubbed as militants. This has led to a silent self-censorship. What would you say about this?
Firstly, what the militants are doing is a great threat to the society and the state. We need concerted efforts against them. The law enforcement agencies must be stern. But innocent people must not be victimized in the name of anti-militant drives. That is where the policeâ€™s efficient comes in.
Secondly, we will control militancy but not kill people in the name of finishing off the militants. All out efforts must be made to catch and try the militants. But in most cases we see they are killed as soon as they are caught. This may be a temporary success against militancy, but it is suppressing peopleâ€™s rights. People should not been killed in â€˜crossfireâ€™ in the name of anti-militant drives. The Supreme Courtâ€™s guidelines against crossfire and torture in remand will make a difference.
It does not look like the government is interested in following these guidelines. Donâ€™t you see this as a systemic violation of human rights?
The persons not following the Supreme Courtâ€™s guidelines are virtually violating human rights. The police must follow these guideless carefully.
*The interview, originally published in Prothom Alo Bangla print edition, has been rewritten in English by Ayesha Kabir.