Bangladesh Rifles Commander backs probe into prison deaths

Oliver Scanlan
1 May 2009

The Director General of the Bangladesh Rifles Border Guards, Major General Moinul Islam, said on Saturday that any investigation into a number of deaths among BDR mutineers currently held in custody will be fair. Over 1,000 BDR troops are currently being held in connection with February's mutiny which resulted in the deaths of 70 people, the vast majority of them army officers charged with commanding the paramilitary force. General Islam's comments come just days after one alleged mutineer accused officials of the Rapid Action Battalion of torturing him while he was in their custody. Speaking at a hearing on 23 April, Harunur Hashid Mia said that security officials had used electric shocks while he was being held without charge by the elite anti-terrorist unit. 

Since the bloody events in February, at least sixteen alleged mutineers have died in custody. General Islam attributed four of the deaths to suicide, six to heart attacks and six to "other diseases".  Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have expressed concern over the deaths, as have national human rights organisations such as Ain O Shalish Kendra. The probe into the mutiny itself, which took place in the Unit's Dhaka headquarters at Rifle Square between 25 and 26 February, has still not published its final report.  

New anti-corruption chief appointed 

On Thursday, the government appointed the chairman of the Bangladesh Energy Regulatory Commission, Ghulam Rahman, to be the new head of the National Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC). Rahman will be replacing Lieutenant General (ret'd) Hasan Masshud Chowdhury, who stepped down from the post suddenly and with almost no explanation on 2 April. Rahman is a former bureaucrat, who retired as secretary to the Shipping Ministry in 2004.  

He will be taking up a role that has been dogged by controversy since the creation of the ACC in November 2004, a point underscored by the frank admission of the acting chairman, Habibur Rahman, that it would be a "relief" to no longer be the country's most senior official responsible for tackling Bangladesh's endemic corruption.  

In making this appointment, the government has downgraded the rank of the ACC Chairman from minister to that of Supreme Court justice of the appellate division. This move will trouble members of Bangladesh's civil society already concerned about suspicious custodial deaths relating to the BDR mutiny and the unexplained failure of the Bangladesh Parliament to ratify the creation of the country's National Human Rights Commission during its last sitting. Many who were optimistic following the Awami League's sweeping electoral victory in December 2008 are beginning to openly question the government's commitment to human rights.   

Swine Flu claims Bangladeshi victim in Mexico 

AFM Ruhul Haque, Bangladesh's health minister, told reporters on Thursday that a Bangladeshi man had died of swine flu in Mexico. Mexican officials confirmed that the man, one of eight foreign nationals to have died from the disease, had been Bangladeshi and had been in the country for six months working as a street vendor. Haque went on to affirm that the Bangladeshi government was working very closely with the WHO in tracking the progress of H1N1 swine flu. Based on Bangladesh's experience with H5N1 avian flu in Febraury 2007 when over one million birds were slaughtered, Haque said that Bangladesh was well prepared for any possible outbreak of swine flu. 

Prime Minister pledges to implement Peace Accord 

On Wednesday, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina told visiting French Naval Commander Gerard Valin that her government will fully implement the Chittagong Hill Tracts Peace Accord signed by her government in 1997. The Accord brought to an end years of warfare between Bangladesh government troops and guerrilla forces drawn from the population of the Hill Tracts Indigenous Peoples. Although signed in 1997, it remains to be substantively implemented, and the Land Commission which forms its centrepiece is currently moribund. Vice Admiral Valin met with Hasina to congratulate her on her party's overwhelming election victory last year and praised her visionary leadership.  

The Awami League Manifesto of 2008 contains specific pledges to implement the Peace Accord and also to alleviate the problems faced by Indigenous People throughout the country, not just the Hill Tracts. Indigenous People or adivasis comprise one of the most marginalised segments of Bangladeshi society. They are denied constitutional recognition, face high levels of discrimination at the hands of the wider Bengali community and suffer from extraordinarily high levels of poverty, a situation exacerbated by the widespread denial of their land rights. 

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