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HRW urges India to investigate alleged border killings

  • Published at 07:48 pm February 9th, 2021
border bsf
Undated photo shows barbed wire fence along the Bangladesh-India border Courtesy

At least 48 Bangladeshis were killed in 2020, according to ASK

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has asked the Indian authorities to investigate and prosecute the newly alleged charges of abuse, torture and killings against the Border Security Force (BSF) along the Bangladeshi border.

The Indian government should comply with the United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials, which states that the use of lethal force can be allowed only when absolutely necessary to protect lives, HRW said in a report.

The Indian government announced 10 years ago that it would order the BSF to use restraint and rubber bullets, instead of more lethal ammunition, against irregular border-crossers. 

However, the BSF continued to commit abuses, including extrajudicial killings, torture and ill-treatment of both Indian and Bangladeshi border residents, according to nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) from both countries.

HRW South Asia Director Meenakshi Ganguly said: “Indian government orders to border forces to exercise restraint and limit the use of live ammunition have not prevented new killings, torture and other serious abuses.” 

Protesting the abuses at the border, the Bangladesh Foreign Ministry said in August: “Bangladesh flagged that this is in violation of all bilateral agreements and that the BSF must be duly urged to exercise maximum restraint.”

Also Read- BSF shoots teen dead in Panchagarh

The Indian government also issued public orders to exercise restraint and end unlawful killings as well as gave assurances to Bangladesh in this regard in December last year.

Even so, at least 334 Bangladeshis have lost their lives at the hands of the BSF since 2011, including 51 killings in 2020 alone, according to data compiled by the Bangladeshi rights group Odhikar.

Another human rights group, Ain o Shalish Kendra (ASK), said a total of 48 people were killed in 2020 while 26 were injured and 22 were abducted by the BSF.

Not held accountable

Despite a plethora of allegations,  the Indian authorities have not held BSF soldiers accountable for atrocities committed along the Bangladesh-India border, HRW said.

In 2011, the killing of the Bangladeshi girl Felani, 15, by the BSF and a picture of her body hanging upside down from the barbed wire fence on the border, carried by the international media, triggered an outcry across the globe.

After two rounds of trials in special BSF courts in 2013 and 2015, the constable charged with the murder of Felani was acquitted. A plea for a new investigation in the case is now pending in India’s Supreme Court.

HRW South Asia Director Ganguly said: “The [Indian] government’s failure to hold security personnel accountable has led to further abuses and the harassment of very poor and vulnerable populations.”

“The Indian government should demonstrate its promised zero tolerance for abuses at the Bangladesh border by ending the culture of impunity for its border soldiers. By prosecuting security personnel responsible for crimes, India can show its commitment to the rule of law in the region,” she said.

Also Read- Bangladesh sees highest border deaths in 10 years

In the report, HRW said as the BSF’s internal justice system had failed to prosecute its members for human rights abuses, the civilian authorities should investigate personnel of all ranks implicated in serious rights abuses and try them in civilian courts.

Actual number most likely higher

In India’s West Bengal, the BSF allegedly killed 105 people at the border since 2011, the Indian organization Banglar Manabadhikar Suraksha Mancha (MASUM) said.

However, the organization suspects that the actual number is much higher. 

Even Indian residents in the border area were harassed while suspects were randomly detained and tortured by the Indian border forces.

MASUM reported that on November 18, 2020, BSF soldiers beat and shot to death Samser Pramanik, 16, in Cooch Behar district in West Bengal for alleged cross-border cattle smuggling.

On August 9, 2020, a BSF soldier allegedly shot and killed Sahinur Haque, 23, in Cooch Behar district.

On the other hands, many Bangladeshis were victims of the alleged abuses along the heavily populated Bangladesh-India border.

On April 19, 2020, the BSF killed a 16-year-old Bangladeshi, Sumon Roy, in Thakurgaon. On July 4, it shot dead a 50-year-old Bangladeshi man in Chapainawabganj.

BSF soldiers frequently beat and torture people instead of arresting and handing them over to the police. 

Some BSF soldiers even arereportedly involved in facilitating cattle smuggling or human trafficking and target people who resist extortion attempts.

MASUM activists said when locals have tried to file complaints with law enforcers about the abuses, they have had to endure routine harassment by police and the BSF, including arbitrary detention and fabricated criminal charges.

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