An international report has argued that by using force and denying justice, the Bangladesh government is providing extremist organisations “an opportunity to exploit the resultant alienation and justify their anti-state agenda.”
The Brussels-based International Crisis Group (ICG) says the government needs to recognise that “it is in its interest to change course, lest it fail to either contain violent extremism or counter political threats”.
The independent and non-profit body also suggested that the US and the EU pressure Dhaka “using its economic levers” to respect civil and political rights. It has also called upon India “using close ties” to urge the ruling Awami League to allow the opposition legitimate political expression and participation.
“There is no time to lose,” according to its new report on “Political Conflict, Extremism and Criminal Justice in Bangladesh” released on Monday.
The Crisis Group is also critical to the International Crimes Tribunal (ICT), established in 2010 to prosecute individuals responsible for atrocities committed during the 1971 liberation war.
It termed the ICT “deeply flawed” and said it was “an important example of the dangers of using rule of law institutions for political ends”.“Perceptions of injustice are creating opportunities for extremist groups and fuelling political conflict,” the report, released on the heels of the gruesome murder of another secular activist in Dhaka, continued.It also looks at Bangladesh’s law and order challenges, which, it believes, are largely rooted in the “intense rivalry” between the government and its political opposition.
The report says “police tasked with targeting the government’s rivals and an overstretched justice system compelled to prosecute opposition leaders and activists now also face a renewed threat from violent extremists”.
“The permissive legal environment, however, is creating opportunities for extremist outfits to regroup, manifested in the killings of secular bloggers and foreigners and attacks on sectarian and religious minorities in 2015”.
The government’s reaction to rising extremism, including arrest and prosecution of several suspects without due process and transparency, is “fuelling alienation that these groups can further exploit”, it says.
“Reconciling with the opposition and hence stabilising the state requires both political compromises and an end to the repressive use of law enforcement agencies and abuse of the courts,” the report summarises.
Politicising the police and using elite forces, particularly the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), to silence political dissent, are laying the seeds of future violence.
By concentrating on targeting the opposition, the police are failing to curb criminality; the prisons are overburdened by the mass arrests of opposition leaders and activists; and the judiciary, perceived as partisan for trials and sentences based on political grounds, is losing credibility.
“The result is a justice system that swings between two extremes: woefully slow and dysfunctional for ordinary cases and speedy, undermining due process, in politically charged ones”.
The problems surrounding delivery of justice are further compounded by legal mechanisms to silence civil society and prevent media scrutiny and parallel processes that undermine due process in politically charged cases.
“If mainstream dissent remains closed, more and more government opponents may come to view violence and violent groups as their only recourse,” the Group warned.
The summary of the 41-page report begins with Bangladesh’s political context in which the ruling Awami League has a long political rivalry with the opposition Bangladesh National Party (BNP).
The report says as the rivalry reaches “new heights”, so does its “repression”. “At the same time, a deeply politicised, dysfunctional criminal justice system is undermining rather than buttressing the rule of law,” it said.
“Heavy-handed measures are denting the government’s legitimacy and, by provoking violent counter-responses, benefitting violent party wings and extremist groups alike”.
The BNP and its Jamaat-e-Islami ally marked the anniversary of the disputed 2014 elections with indiscriminately violent strikes and traffic blockades, which were “matched brutally by the state”.
The Crisis Group says the BNP now appears “less willing to resort to violence to unseat the government”.
Its decision to re-enter the political mainstream gives the government “an opportunity it should exploit by urgently resuming dialogue with the opposition”.
“To demonstrate sincerity, as a first step, it (government) should end use of the rule of law institutions to target opponents and silence critics”.
“Accepting legitimate avenues of participation and dissent would also help regain some lost legitimacy and the trust of citizens in the state’s provision of both justice and security,” the report suggested.
“So long as there is no independent court system to arbitrate disputes fairly, the parties are likely to continue taking those disputes to the streets, but a neutral judiciary could help defuse tensions by upholding fundamental principles and preventing executive excesses.”
The Crisis Group says it is committed “to preventing and resolving deadly conflict”, agencies report.